Before I started volunteering with my church's youth group, high schoolers really intimidated me.
Lamest confession ever, right?
But I'm serious. I would have rather been in a room of twenty crying babies than stuck in a one-on-one conversation with these partly-adult humans.
Which is ridiculous on many levels. Number one, I was a teenager less than 5 years ago. Number two, I loved being a high schooler and my friend group was awesome and if we were awkward (of course we were) we were blissfully unaware. We were fun and our adult leaders loved us and laughter came easily and things were good. If an adult would have told me they were intimidated by me, I would have said, "Uhh wait, what?"
I remember being on choir tour with my university and talking with high schoolers before concerts at their schools. And I remember walking into the room where we would perform, wearing my long, formal, unflattering choir dress, wishing I could do anything, ANYTHING, but approach these groups of girls and TALK to them.
What in the world would I say? The usual hi-how-are-you and what-grade-are-you-in can only lead so far, and teenagers aren't usually the most talkative, and when they're together they giggle or stare or worse, both, and oh-my-gosh-I-was-reliving-my-high-school-experience-all-over-again. Reliving the bad parts, that is. Not the good parts.
I was falling prey to comparing myself all over again, and wondering if I'd be accepted, and wondering if they would think I was weird (newsflash, I am), and hoping there wouldn't be any uncomfortable silences (newsflash, there were).
This was only a couple of years ago, you guys. I was an upperclassman in college and I was worried what fifteen-year-olds were thinking about me.
But when I moved to Pasadena in September, I started attending church immediately and some of the first connections I made were with the high school students. Now, this is mostly because I was the junior-high pastor's girlfriend who was finally in-town and yes, real, but regardless of the reason, those initial connections changed my views of teens (and thus myself) in a completely new way.
First of all, I realized it wasn't the students who intimidated me. In fact, it wasn't a matter of intimidation at all. It was a matter of identity, it was a matter of people-pleasing, and it was a matter CARING. Caring what other people thought and caring how I might be perceived and caring that I could come across wrong and caring about all the things that ultimately get in the way of forming relationships. I did this in high school, I did this in junior high, I did this in elementary, I do this now (although it's infinitely better than previous years). Comparing has been my vice for as long as I can remember, and unfortunately, not even high schoolers transcended that insecurity.
My first Sunday at church, though, man. I was greeted by name by more than one student and wrapped into a hug by another. And that pattern continued, and continued, and continued, until what did you know? I was making friends and learning a TON.
In January I started volunteering on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings, and admittedly I was a little nervous. I was really excited, and I already knew a dozen of the kids, but my old fear still crept in. I shadowed another leader for a couple weeks, seeing how small groups worked and getting an idea of who everyone was, and now I can't even begin to imagine not being apart of these students' lives.
I can't imagine not listening to them process about the world around them, even if it's like pulling teeth sometimes, and I can't imagine not hearing them laugh at the most insignificant of things, just like my friends and I did. I can't imagine not teasing them for the number of selfies they take in an evening and I can't imagine not being there to see them perform their recitals, play their sports, or tell their jokes. I don't know if our church is lucky or if I'm unaware, but we seriously have some of the coolest, sweetest, most sincere students.
I've learned how important trust is. And I've remembered how important it is to NOT CARE. To be as weird and silly with them as I am with Ayden on a daily basis. It's true that bringing Jesus into the picture can bring a legitimate level of intimidation in a different way, but even with that I'm learning I have to establish a safe and trusting relationship before I can expect them to share or listen to this stuff called Christianity and this being named God (of which I have very few answers, which is also okay).
Getting outside of ourselves is crucial to living a full life. I'm outside of myself when I'm with these students. I'm outside of myself when I'm nannying. I'm outside of myself when the relationships around me encourage growth and new identity and grace.
Teenagers are cool. And they don't scare me anymore. :)