i spent many years at our last church teaching a sunday morning class to middle schoolers. up until the point that i did it was a dry, dreary, confirmation-type class. the kids hated it and the teachers resented the duty they felt having to be strapped with the obligation to cram these heads full of the information they needed to grow up. i committed to the class only when i got full reign of what i was able to teach and how i planned on doing it.
it became 4 years of real joy. i found a groove with those kids that we all loved. i treated them like they had brains and wanted to learn and they gave me a place to begin to verbalize big thoughts and deep theology in a way that we both could understand it and grow. i loved those kids and they loved me. many stayed in my class once middle school was done because they enjoyed it so much. it wasn't the most popular class, but the kids who came really wanted to learn and knew that i could teach them.
it's one of the only things i truly miss about our last church. i knew i left those kids prepared to own their own faith, ask difficult questions and be okay with answers that weren't all about their heads and not their hearts. i still keep in touch with many of them to this day.
upon the entrance of my very own pink into middle school this year i realized that she was the age of the girls that started in my class years ago. i knew there really wasn't the kind of class that would help she and her friends prepare to own their faith in a real way that would help them navigate through their teen years. liam and i volunteered to do the middle school youth group on wednesday nights and i volunteered to teach sundays for the month of november.
the learning curve for mid-high is L.O.N.G. those boys have the attention span of a common house fly and earning the right to be heard with these young hearts was going to be the biggest challenge that i would face. it took me a week to understand that small tables wasn't going to be the best way to keep their attention. week 2 i circled the chairs and brought out 'the paddle of power' (sarcasm necessary) - a ping pong paddle that you needed to hold if you wanted to share your story with the group.
i decided that i might only ever get these four weeks with them, so i needed to pick my topics well. what were the things over 42 years of life that i would die for? what were the things that i believed were the most important.
i realized that giving them tools to help them build their own spiritual lives with god was what i longed for each of them, especially pink, to know. the first week we talked about being still, silence, solitude and even did a short ignatian gospel reading together. it's the most interactive, talkative class and it's like herding cats sometimes, but i know that there were real, live tools that these kids were taking into the future with them.
the second week we talked about the daily examen. highs and lows and what we can learn about ourselves and following god through listening to our best and worst. it was so lovely to sit with those 8th grade boys, new this week, who had no interest in being in the class, begin to share their highs with the class, then they felt safe enough to share their lows, without me even asking, and they unfolded their lives and stories before me. it was a sacred honor.
last week wires got crossed and i was given "relief" (that i really didn't want) but had planned on talking about confession, and following it up this week with forgiveness. so today i talked with them about both. i pray each week for a word picture or story to help me begin each class with. they always come and are so beautiful and rich as they help the kids engage in the process before they've even realize why i am talking about these things. today i brought a garbage can and a recycling bin into the middle of the circle.
they sat there for a few minutes ignoring them until finally one curious girl finally asked "what are these doing here?" we spoke of the gift that god has given us to be able to clean up the messes we make with confession and forgiveness. the garbage can was used in so many different ways to talk about what happens when we ignore our messes, or what happens when someone gives us their garbage to carry by hurting us.
i saw lights turn on in eyes today. bright beautiful lights. in bright, beautiful eyes. what a gift to be able to help these young souls understand the gift that confession and forgiveness bring to their lives.
i had a father come up to me after the class. he's a former pastor who's been through his long, laundry list of abuse by the church, and tell me how much his two kids like having me for a teacher. it's nice to hear from him, but i could see it in their own eyes today. i have missed that light.
years ago i thought that i was given children to teach because others thought i wasn't skilled enough to teach adults. what i found out was that i loved it. those young minds are such a joy.