Teenagers today have it tough. That’s one thing my husband, a student pastor, and I know for sure. We’ve each spent a significant chunk of our time over the years meeting one-on-one with students, and often these Starbucks meet-ups develop into a weekly thing, and the weekly thing develops into a discipleship of sorts. He’s pretty structured about his approach, and I’m less-so about mine, but we both come away with a full heart and a renewed sense of purpose when the person on the other side of the table begins to fall more in love with Jesus.
I’ve been meeting with one girl in particular for about four years, and two years ago, she brought her friend. The three of us have been getting together every week ever since. They’re the cutest girls you’ll ever meet, and hanging out with them is one of the brightest spots of my week. We started out at Starbucks, but now I have two kids who terrorize coffee shop patrons, so the girls come to my house, never caring when it’s messy or if the babies are grumps. I think that’s cool of them. Sometimes we don’t really know what we’re doing, but we talk about Jesus, and we try to be honest about what’s going on in our lives even if it isn’t pretty. Their names are scribbled in the margins of my Bible next to scriptures that have knocked off our collective socks, and when I see those scribbles, I smile. They are brave and fun and genuine, and I love them to pieces.
So one day we’re talking about all the struggles girls their age endure, and it all gets pretty overwhelming. I don’t know if you are aware of it, mamas, but middle and high school girls don’t have silly problems. They have big, real, scary problems. Sometimes when I hear the extent of it, I get afraid for my girl. She’s not even two, and I regularly contemplate ways that I can make her weird so that she won’t be one of the cool kids. The cool kids have it the hardest. The plan is to dress her in whatever is out of style and ill-fitting, never give her a phone ever ever ever, chaperone her to every social function, and be loud and embarrassing all the time, which I am very good at anyway.
When that backfires, I have no decent plan at all except to beg God for mercy on her life, so I ask the girls: “What am I supposed to do, y’all? Adelaide is going to go through so much when she’s your age, and she needs more than just me to guide her! I am her weird mom, and I know she won’t always want to talk to me!”
And then they say it, the magic words: “She can talk to us!”
That’s when I realize it: student ministry is not just about the students. It’s about the kids who aren’t students yet. It’s about my kids, it’s about your kids.
Sometimes we miss whole generations of people because we only know people our own age and the ages of our kids. But these inbetween-ers, those are the ones your kids will look up to. Those are the ones who will be teaching and leading during your kids’ most formative years. Those are the ones your kids will want to call when they need to talk and a parent just won’t do.
There are a lot of hurting girls at my church, and I’m willing to bet they are at your church, too. Some of them are reeling from a parents’ divorce, and it freaks them out about marriage. But maybe your parents got divorced when you were younger, and with God’s help, you’re in a loving marriage now and you work hard to keep it that way. I bet those girls would love to hear about it, would love to tell you about how their world feels like it’s flipped upside down, would love to know that there’s hope.
Some of them are struggling with crippling insecurities, and as a result they make decisions that don’t line up with their Jesus, and they are caught up in a torturous cycle. Maybe high school was like that for you, too, and maybe it would have been easier if you’d had someone to talk to.
Maybe we need to be who we needed when we were younger. Maybe we need to invest in those who will invest in our kids. Jesus discipled twelve men, and they changed the world. Your living room may not be big enough for twelve, but I bet it’s big enough for one.
I pray someday when Adelaide grows up, inevitably cool in spite of all my trickery and uncoolness, she’ll follow Jesus. And I pray that as she realizes how hard it is to follow Jesus in middle school, in high school, and beyond, she’ll have girls to talk to. Girls who know how to be honest and brave and godly because we showed them how. Because we invited them into our homes and pushed aside the toys and made the living room a sacred space. Because we tried to be Jesus for them, and as a result they wanted to try to be Jesus for someone else.
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