Tonight was one of those nights with middle schoolers that I actually brought on myself because I served them soda someone had donated (if only they would donate caffeine free organic chamomile tea, right?) and allowed them to eat the oreos they found at the end of the scavenger hunt. Then, inspired by the family dinners at Covecrest, I put out some big paper for them to doodle on during dinner. In hindsight, the combination of caffeine + frosting + magic markers was a bit much.
This resulted in no “discussion” time where deep thoughts were shared and insights into the Christian life were gained. No, this was a night where I had to actually say, “there is nothing funny about Hitler jokes” and assure a seventh grader that Mark Hart—the guy on the video leading bible study-- was not one of the guys in “Hangover 2”. One of those nights when lots of words were being said but very little conversation actually occurring.
It was during one of those monologues that a newer student said quietly, “I’m just still trying to figure out how I’m supposed to be here” and I snapped back, “a good way to do that is talk less and listen more”. Then I tried to, again, reign the conversation back around to the point about keeping holy the Sabbath that I was trying to make.
It was only an hour later, when they had gone home and I was scraping oreo frosting and frayed nerves off the floor that I realized I had totally failed.
See, middle school youth ministry will make you mental, but it’s also truly a gifted moment to be present in these kid’s lives. They ARE figuring out how they’re supposed to be. Not just at youth group but everywhere. Church, school, family, volleyball… You name it, in every area they are in a state of becoming. Tonight, I missed my opportunity and focused too much on trying to control the chaos and too little on the doors the kiddos were opening with their questions.
Should middle schoolers be allowed to interrupt or make Hitler jokes? No. But do they know that yet? Maybe not. I forget that for some kiddos, this is the first time they’ve sat at a table of peers and adults and been invited to simply share what’s on their mind and heart. It’s going to take them some time to learn what’s appropriate and not appropriate to say and do.
Meanwhile, I need to be patient while they figure out how they’re supposed to be—correcting when necessary but encouraging in excess, realizing that these small moments are a small part of the foundation of who they will be as mature Catholics.
I also need to portion those oreos.