Sunday, May 24, 2009

Life in Death Valley

Located along the California-Nevada border is a remote desert place called Death Valley. At 282 feet below sea level, it averages 1.96 inches of rain per year and boasts temperatures upwards of 130 degrees Fahrenheit. It is one of the lowest, driest and hottest places on the face of the earth. Because it is a land of such extremes, it is a difficult environment for life to flourish.

During the winter of 2005 Death Valley received an unprecedented 8 inches of rain. Seeds that once lay dormant, now exposed to life nourishing moisture began to germinate causing an outbreak of foliage. The explosion plant life prompted throngs of reporters, photographers and others to witness in person the outbreak of life in a valley of Death.

Sometimes the young people we minister among come to us from harsh environments. Their worlds can be unforgiving, un-nurturing and unloving.

This is not always obvious. Kids don’t walk up and hand us their transcript from the school of hard knocks. They show up as suspicious, defensive and jaded young people who pretend to not want our involvement in their lives. They’ve formulated a veritable laundry list of well thought out reasons to not be a Christian and they dare us to prove them wrong.

In reality, they are thirsting for Truth. Their journey through the desert of doubt, neglect and abandonment has left them in dire thirst for meaning, purpose and love.

For years I would recognize those thirsty kids, grab them by the back of their hair and shove their heads into the truth trough in the hopes that they’d drink deeply. Looking back, I can see that many suffocated from my arrogance.

Those kids didn’t need a spiritual head slam. They needed the proper conditions wherein their souls could flourish. We are instrumental in creating those conditions. So how do we create such conditions? There are five things we can do to create optimal conditions for spiritual growth.

Observe them and their culture. I learn something new about kids everyday because I watch, I look and I seek to learn. Kids like to be watched and studied. It makes them feel special. Before we can be their teacher, we must first be their student.

Ask questions. Many people don’t ask questions because they fear appearing stupid or ignorant. When we take the time and energy to ask them questions they are flattered and usually enjoy talking about themselves and their world. If you’d like some effective opening questions and other tips for having conversations with kids email me at

Listen carefully. It’s natural while listening to be formulating what you want to say. Resist that temptation. Whatever you fail to mention as a result of your careful listening will be outweighed by your attentive presence.

Be accepting. This does not mean we condone immoral behavior or poor choices. It does mean that we consistently communicate love and acceptance for who they are regardless of what they do.

Appreciate them. Before getting into “fix it” mode ask “What’s good about this kid?” I’ve yet to meet a kid who’s not gifted in some way. We must take the initiative to find out how—and then repeatedly show it to them.

Even in the harshest of environments, given the right conditions, life can flourish. This is true in Death Valley. And it is true in the lives of our kids.

Thanks to Roy Petitfils for contributing this article. Roy is a syndicated columnist and counselor at St. Cecilia School in Broussard, LA.

For more of his writing or to contact him, go to

More Great Stories from Roy Petitfils on this site:
Albert Einstein Highlights the Need for Ongoing Education, SFS.
Smashing Down the Garage Doors, SFS.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Located along the California-Nevada border is a remote desert place called Death Valley.