Middle school is rough.
You feel like a ball of raging hormones, your social circles are changing more than ever, you’re in what feels like “maturity limbo,” you’re beginning to realize that life isn’t all about birthday parties and ponies, and to top it all off . . . the pressures to perform well in sports and at school are increasing. I know. I was basically a walking billboard for how awkward and difficult those 3 LONG years were. But you know what? I survived. I learned a lot from it all, too.
They say experience is the best teacher, and I would have to agree. When I approach ministry, I have a different vantage point and understanding than our kids do because I have been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. One of my best learning experiences came out of middle school. It was embarrassing and profound all at the same time, and that combination always makes for a good read.
Before I get started, remember what I said about the whole ball-of-raging-hormones thing? Yeah, keep that in the forefront of your mind.
I grew up a pastors’ kid, so I had always been at church and had longed to be in the youth group since as early as I could remember. But today, I had finally arrived. I was in the youth group. In fact, it was my very first event in the youth group at church.
My brother, who is 4 years older than me was an old pro. A 10th grader who was a pretty solid part of the group. His class was the largest. The coolest girls were his friends. I was set. I remember walking in with a confidence I had never felt before. I could just imagine them all saying to each other, Look! There’s Mendy. She’s Jonathan’s sister, she must be so cool. Today was going to be great. So what did I do?
I went crazy.
I went overboard.
I was annoying.
Remember that part about being in maturity limbo? I was there.
My brother was there to witness it all. He sat back in horror as I completely bombed my attempts at portraying coolness and confidence. So, my brother did what any loving brother would have done in a moment when his sister is making a fool of herself. He approached me calmly. He pulled me aside. He started to quietly talk some sense into me.
Looking back, he was being such a good older brother-so mature! He was protecting me and looking out for me by discretely calling to my attention that I was making a fool of myself; however, my 6th grade self did not see this at the time. I saw my older brother trying to embarrass me. I saw my bossy brother correcting me in front of all my new friends and trying to make me look bad. So, I did what any middle school girl would do.
I tackled him.
Yes, a 6th grade girl flattened her 10th grade brother. It was me. I did it. Ball of raging hormones moment.
And then I immediately realized what I just did. In front of the ENTIRE youth group. So, again, I did what any middle school girl would do. I ran from the scene and hid underneath a table and started to cry. Another ball of raging hormones moment.
But what happened afterward is what I remember the most from my first day in the youth group. What I vividly remember was my brother’s response.
Immediately after I had flattened Jonathan and ran away to cry under the table and hide in shame, he got up off the ground and started to search for where I had gone. He found me curled underneath the table, got in there with me, and started to again explain to me what he was trying to tell me from the beginning.
He told me that he cared about me. That he wants what is best for me. That he doesn’t want to embarrass me, but that he thinks I might need to calm down a bit. He was telling me something I needed to hear, but didn’t necessarily want to hear. Only this time, I was listening. I knew he was right. He was trying to save me from embarrassing myself, but instead my inability to trust and listen resulted in me making things worse.
So yeah, middle school is rough. At least my experiences in middle school were.
As I work with students, I often go back to this moment in my life. I try to put myself back into my 6th grade self and look at the world through that lens so I can begin to understand what our students face and how they might feel. How they might take the words I’m saying, whether it be a joke or a moment where I’m trying to speak words of truth into their lives.
When those conversations don’t go as planned, I look back to when I was underneath that folding table in the lobby of my church. I see how my brother made an effort to look for me and to get under the table with me. I see how, that day, my brother showed me how Jesus responds to all of His children-even the annoying ones. He searches for us. He lovingly calls us out of our hiding and our shame. And when we don’t have the courage to come out, he gets under the table with us.
This week, how will you seek out others? How will you loving share truth and let them know there is a life out there that is better than second-rate? How will you meet them where they are at, under the tables where their fragile hearts are hiding, and show them Emmanuel, God with us?