Years ago a leader in our local Young Life said to me, “graduation will be the happiest and saddest day. You’ll weep with joy over students who found Christ and you’ll mourn the reality of all those walking across the stage who don’t know Him.”

I didn’t understand those words then in the same way that I do now. I hadn’t loved students deeply yet.

But those words I heard over a decade ago were ringing in my heart this May. I was preparing to celebrate those seniors who have quite literally changed the culture of the campus and our ministry. As I remembered their faithfulness, I also saw the faces of their peers who have walked away from the Lord… those who never stepped into the fullness of life that Jesus offers.

My heart is undone when I think about those who will face the reality of what they’ve given their lives to in their college years.  Oh, that a holy dissatisfaction would lead them to the kindness and goodness of God!

We all know Jesus’ story of seeds falling on different soil. I hate that parable. I hate it because I hate watching the reality of those who have seeds that grow up and thorns and weeds take out the fruit. I hate watching seed fall on rocky soil that grow little depth.

This is one of the great heartbreaks of ministry. To see and know that there are those who have had a taste of how good He is and say no. To know the names and faces of those who settle for lesser lovers and worship the mute and deaf idols of our world. I pray that my heart is always soft to this type of heartbreak and that it never becomes normal to watch students live into less than all that God has called them to.

As I was grieving all of this, my heart shifted to gratitude. I am so thankful that we will never regret living for Jesus and pouring out our lives for the sake of His Kingdom. He is the treasure and once we find it we’ll buy the field to have Him.

How do you handle those heart wrenching moments of ministry? How did you grow in gratitude this year as you watched the relentless love of Christ pursue those in your ministry?

(A slightly more uplifting Part 2 coming later this week.)