The Cure

This is terrible. But, I’m going get on my soapbox regarding middle-schoolers.

Pretty sure this breaks some type of blogging rule made up by people who are all about having a “platform”, “life plan”, and “international leadership.” (I really do not understand the international leadership part…I digress)

One step forward, twenty-three steps back.

So the soapbox bit. And I promise there will be a life application wrap up (although at this point I have no idea what that will look like either, because I’m just set on getting on my soapbox).

Wednesday, 8:47pm. I sat in my car, face in hands, thinking I’d burst into tears of frustration. Because everything isn’t perfect.

Everything isn’t perfect at youth group. And truth be told, “perfect” and “youth group” do not belong in the same sentence. That’s my beef. I found myself wanting to butt-heads with a newer leader who apparently did (think that “perfect” and “youth group” belong together).

I’m six solid years into working with middle-schoolers. Personally awarded myself with a Purple Heart. At the beginning I took the whole thing super-seriously…in an insane way. I had rules, a binder, checklists, lions-tiger-and bears (oh my).

Six years later, I still take my work seriously, but I’ve learned so much about what works and doesn’t. Especially when it comes to control.

Despite experience, training, books, and hand-to-hand (or heart-to-heart) combat, sometimes you simply can’t control middle-schoolers. Like quicksand, the more you struggle the deeper you sink into be choked to death. On a side note you CAN attempt to control them, if you’re in an authoritative position: teacher, parent, truancy officer…

But that’s not the role of a youth-worker. At least not in my book. And maybe my youth pastor will tell me I’m wrong—but from my shoes it’s all about earning respect and trust. Not demanding it.

So Wednesday night. I’m sitting with some of my seventh-grade girls. They are mostly unchurched. Wednesday night and the occasional text exchange with me are about as often as Jesus enters their life. Sure they try to pray, read, but mostly they are sponges right now lacking seriousness. And when one of them brings a friend who also doesn’t come to church, I count that as a step in the right direction.

Last night one of my girls brought a new friend. {insert the sound of a choir of angels with a little dubstep background}

New kids don’t know what to do at youth group. They talk during the worship music, they text during the mini-sermon. But they are there. And in the beginning that’s all that matters.

So the new girl is rambunctious. Being giddy with a boy next to her that she knew. It really wasn’t bad…because trust me I’VE SEEN BAD. But apparently the newer leader doesn’t know “bad” because she’d decided this girl and boy were “bad”.  I was 5 seats away… They. Were. Not. Bad.

In a string of events I watched the new leader instigate the help of another new leader. One of them sat in-between the new girl and her friend. And they were doing nothing wrong. I tried to stop the leaders. I explained that the girls were sitting together. But I was met with her righteously quippish response, “oh that little girl and boy are being rude and disrespectful.”

When I tried to interject, she repeated the same line to me. I did EVERYTHING in my power to not say, “I’m sorry but middle schoolers ARE rude and disrespectful and you will not separate them.”

Instead I bit my tongue and watched the next 50-minutes of discomfort of a new girl feeling scolded, humiliated, and uncomfortable as she was separated from her friend. Again, her and her friend did nothing wrong—if anything was wrong it was the interaction between the new girl and boy. Who still sat together.

Power—authority—misused. And that’s what had me in my car after youth group with my face in my hands. Fighting off tears.

Youth group missed the mark of perfect, not because of kids who WILL be imperfect, but because some parents come and lead while their kids are in youth group. They wrongly determine that their parental authoritative position can be placed upon any kid at youth group.

Wrong.

Wrong.

Wrong.

That girl was damaged Wednesday night. I hope she comes back. Kids are more tender than they act. Leaders are there to walk along side, to earn the right to hear the untold story, to show love and be kind.

And really, we’re all more tender than we act. And we could all stand to be more kind.

Plato said it best, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

I’ve seen new managers demand respect and offend employees. I see customer service staff make customers feel like idiots. I see spouses lack grace, because they fail to see the tender heart in their partner—the insecure person—the one who is fighting a hard battle they don’t talk about.

Kindness. Being Nice. Trying to understand and see things from “their” shoes. It matters.

Don’t be damage. Be the cure.

It always matters.

© 2009-2012 Sherry Meneley All Rights Reserved
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30 thoughts on “The Cure

  1. sweet young thing … so sad … I hope she will give (Jesus) a chance because she may not be back to church for awhile!

  2. Oh wow. Crazy how “shoulds” got in the way of grace.
    They “should” be respectful.
    They “should” be quiet.
    *sigh*
    I hate it when people should all over the place.

  3. You describe here the continual battle of being the Church… Called to be a people of Love and to show that Love to the world, we get caught up in the rules and the reverence trying to protect that Love from being muddied. Yet we forget that that same Love came down and took up our form (demeaning itself), surrendered itself to a cross (the shame), and still conquered death and shame! Like we need to protect Love? Love has ransomed us and shown us that the path of Love (which we are invited to follow) will always involve a cross (sacrifice) of some sort.

    I am sorry for your pain. But also glad to know (like I had any doubts?) that your heart is broken enough to recognise the irony in the way we live.

    Thank you for this powerful testimony and encouragement.

    • Thanks Jer for your input. It is a strange dichotomy loving the unlovable, the dirty, the rude, the indignant, the unworthy. I’m not sure who coined the phrase – but its true “We hate most in others what we see in ourselves.”

      This week I was reading Isaiah 6 – it’s on the reading plan and I was certain I knew what I would focus on (here am I, choose me). But, as things would go, I didn’t focus there – I’ve focused there too many times. Instead what struck me HARD LIKE A BRICK TO THE HEART was that Isaiah was sent on a mission to love and not be heard. WHAT?!?!?! God sent him on a mission of failure? But at the end of that chapter you realize that it wasn’t failure. There was still hope. “…[nothing will remain except for] stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.” (vrs 13)

      And that’s when I realized Isaiah was planting seeds. It wasn’t a commission of failure – but long term plan of projection. That’s what youth ministry is for me. Long term stuff that I might never see the result of. And so even in life, everywhere we go, be kind, leave those seeds. Because we don’t know the plans God has in-store – – but we have to leave seeds and be the cure. Be light, be salt, be love. Be kind.

  4. Sherry,
    I love your heart, I love that you love middle schoolers and I love that you are so real.
    Not all of us are called into youth ministry or working with middle schoolers, so I have great love and admiration for those of you who are!
    Thanks for the reminder that all of us no matter what our age or status in life are more tender than we act! BBEEEE kind sounds like a great motto for all of us! 🙂 ~b

    • Thanks Bridgit – I think if we had a taser attached to us (all of us) and we got a little zap when we weren’t kind… we’ll we’d all be walking around a little kinder, because we’d get tired of all the zaps. (self included)

  5. When people start saying “should” I stop listening. Especially when it comes to telling kids what they “should” do. This breaks my heart. This young thing gave God a chance – lets pray that she comes back and doesn’t lump this experience into the “Church isn’t for me” pile. Ugh.

  6. It’s part of the unjust world. Through our entire lives we have the opportunity to feel unheard, judged, unfairly treated by some of the people we encounter. It happens at youth group, in churches, in workplaces, in families, sometimes while doing errands or even favours. I’ve even witnessed it in the “self-help” community.

    I grew up believing the world was fair, because my mother told me so (she lied). My spiritual practice is to find grace despite that fact, to be true, loving and open, despite that unfairness.

    The young ladies were not treated fairly. It had way more to do with the fears of the new leader than with the kids’ behaviour. You quietly set an example, Sherry, of why she should come back, and of what she can become through her choices in the future. Thanks for a very sweet share. It can be so difficult when you are aware in a room full of other’s who are not.

    • Thanks friend. And I do hope she’ll come back. Honestly (oh oh, here comes vulnerability) I wondered if my frustration was for the girl, me–feeling unheard/disrespected/unworthy of my input, or the new leader. I knew the leaders reactions were out of “her needs” and not the girls. But my response…? Would it be for me, the girl, or the leader? It was a hotttttt mess of spaghetti – all those thoughts. And in the moment of mess, I tried to do what you strive for… find grace. For the new leader, for me (who at the moment needed it most), and somehow show it to the girl later.

  7. I am so glad you wrote on this topic. I have seen this in youth ministry as well. I have been that girl who felt awful and not wanting to go back and I have witnessed adults do exactly what you have described. Having been there, it is hard for me to reign in the protective mama bear part of me. I have to trust that one day that sweet soul will realize that what happened is not a reflection of who Jesus Christ is, but another one’s humanness and brokenness.
    Thanks Sherry! Another home run!

    • Thanks Lindsay. Be it at youth group, or ANYWHERE, we’ve all been shamed and put in our place because someone else used their “control” in ways that only hurt.

  8. Love your heart, and the dialogue your post has inspired. I am in the midst of reading a book right now that talks about the benefits of Respect-Based relationships. By building our relationships with others on the image of God and grace, we experience these benefits – powerful message, perspective, proper motivation and protection. I believe everyone needs these benefits, but especially pre-teens/teens.
    Thank you for being a light and a voice for these girls. ❤

    • Ah Sharon, so true. Engaging is not enough, just saying/being in a relationship is not enough. It requires respect, authenticity, and vulnerability if any trust and deepness is to result.

  9. This smacks on so many levels! But before I get too far away from the heart of the matter and your heart-wrenching insight, I just happen to be wearing a shirt today that says “Cure.” And I am thankful for your reminder to be kind, to be the cure. I wish God had given us all insight into these incredible middle schoolers. It’s all about their hearts and loving them. I think of 1 Corinthians 13. Preach all the sermons you want but if you have not earned their respect through love, then we are just clanging cymbals lost in the noise of their world. Be the cure!

  10. Sherry- you are an incredible asset to the youth group and a beautiful mentor to those girls. It was always a pleasure serving with you and I pray the new, overly ambitious (in the negative way) leaders will learn from you and your grace. You’re awesome, thanks for sharing. Miss you!

  11. Oh, Sherry, my heart cries for those precious kids.
    It also silently sobs with some leftover remorse – because I was that efficient, organized, self-righteous youth leader once. Well, more than once. Unfortunately, order and control and rules and reverence seemed more important to me than the tender spirits of those beautiful, boisterous, obnoxious teens.

    God forgive me.
    And may God bring healing to those kids for whatever damage I caused way back then.

  12. Oh my that young leader chose to take those actions and the defend the choice because of fear. Fear of not being in control of the situation.
    I have been teaching for decades and know that when the students are given the task to come up with the ground rules that respect everyone, they are more likely to honor those rules. Everyone take a big breath….and try again.
    Pauline

  13. i don`t even remember how I found you, but I have followed you for a while cause I love the way you write. rest assured this girl will find her way… He has a way of making masterpieces out of our mistakes…. on that note, know that you wrote: “I see spouses lack grace, because they fail to see the tender heart in their partner—the insecure person—the one who is fighting a hard battle they don’t talk about” …for me! your words made cry and finally accept how unfair I have been lately! see? that`s how it works….

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