A couple weeks ago I spent 5 straight days with middle schoolers, the most time I’ve spent with that age group since I taught social skills to emotionally disturbed middle schoolers 5 years ago. (I’m not trying to be cute… that was my actual job description). This was a far more positive experience, as I enjoyed it quite a bit.
When I became a teacher 5 years ago, I stepped aside from traditional youth ministry mostly because I couldn’t figure out how to be “Mr. Husmann” Monday through Friday and “Steve” on Wednesday nights and weekends. Teaching at a Christian school last year and having the opportunity to pray with my students and speak openly with them has reignited a passion to see youth experience the love of Jesus.
Jeff Mangum was the camp speaker, and I was impressed that he didn’t speak down to the students. Each of his 4 nightly sermons was at the same level as his Sunday morning sermons. To my pleasant surprise the students were at rapt attention. I underestimated their ability to listen to anyone talk for 45 minutes, much less a preacher. What was even more remarkable was how the students were able to take the words they were hearing and apply them directly to their lives.
My favorite example was a talk Jeff gave about forgiveness and holding grudges. One sentence that stuck with me was “when you forgive someone, you pay the price for that forgiveness.” Afterwards, we asked the students what grudges they had been holding.
Their innocence was stunning as they each held back tears and told stories about the kid who stole his lego 2 years ago, or the kid who threw water balloons at him and called him names, or the girl who broke his heart in 7th grade.
As adults with histories of “real life struggles” it is easy to minimize the impact moments like these have on a the life of an adolescent. The grudges seem small, but the emotional pathways are exactly the same. Through clenched fists and damp eyes, we prayed with the kids as they let go of the hurt and paid the price of forgiving those who caused them pain.
In the weeks since I am taking time to follow their example and examine grudges I still hide somewhere in my heart. God is bringing those to light and showing me where I have not let go.
Let us not forget to thank God for the unlikely tutors He sends us in sweaty middle schoolers!
Tomorrow I’ll share another story of what I learned from a middle schooler.