Experiencing God’s Love: A Young Adult Conversation with Mark Yaconelli

Photo by Mandy Garcia
Mark Yaconelli speaks with the young adults.

Nineteen young adults gathered for casual conversation with Mark Yaconelli on Saturday evening at Annual Conference in Charlotte. A circle of chairs filled the small conference room, and the group conversation was comfortable. Brief introductions were made before Mark told a story to set the theme for our time together.

A friend of his visited a classroom of kindergartners and asked them, “How many of you can draw?” All the children raised their hands. “How many of you can sing?” Again, all hands were raised. “How many of you can draw a picture of a pig in a spaceship, or sing a song about a turtle dancing on the trees?” After pondering only a moment, he faced a room full of creative, willing artists with their hands high in the air.

Later, that same friend visited a classroom full of university students and asked the same questions: Can you draw? Can you sing? But after each question, only one or two hands were raised, and those admissions came with qualifiers like, “I only do still life drawings,” or “I only sing a certain style of music.”

This led Mark’s friend to ask one final question: “What happened to you in the last 13 years?!”

The point of the story was that we all start out confident in our abilities, and empowered to be creative. But not too many years later we enter a society that measures our worth only by appearance, achievements, and affluence. That pressure leads to fear and anxiety, which is the opposite of love.


Photo by Mandy Garcia

To respond to this conclusion, Mark began two lists on a large piece of paper taped to the wall. One column was marked “Anxiety” and the other “Love.” Under “Anxiety” were words like “results,” “conforming,” and “control,” but parallel to those words were others in the “Love” category like “relationships,” “creating,” and “contemplation.” Each young adult in the circle identified times in their lives that fit into each category, and Mark’s conclusion was that each person has experienced moments of God’s love, but we rarely slow down enough to savor them–to see how they might change us.

So Mark invited the group to spread out, find a comfortable posture, and close their eyes. He then guided participants through a silent prayer exercise. It was a search through memories, a quest for sacred moments–moments when God’s love was most clearly present. He asked what those moments looked like, what they felt like, how they smelled and felt to the touch.

After several minutes of meditation, the group split into several smaller ones and shared whatever they felt comfortable sharing from the experience. For some it was difficult, for others it was a relief. For all it required vulnerability.

Mark posed one final question, which was met with quiet reflection and pondering: How can we make sure that we continue to experience sacred moments of love in a society driven by anxiety?

Though the time was brief and the room was small and unattractive, the Holy Spirit made the minutes precious, and moved participants to beautiful places. Perhaps for some, this experience might even be their newest memory of experiencing God’s loving presence.

–Mandy J. Garcia is staff for donor communications for the Church of the Brethren.