A few weekends ago Trinity’s Youth Group, along with the numerous leaders and a crew of daring parents, embarked on a journey down to the wintry sands of Virginia Beach. Having been thoroughly exhausted each Sunday evening this year because of the two hour Oasis/Wired D-Group sessions, the idea of spending two days at a beach with my rambunctious renegades that some people call 6th graders was unsettling to put it mildly. Not to mention, that inevitable departure date just happened to fall on the Ides of March: I do not believe in superstition, but the Soothsayer’s fateful words from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar were ringing in my ears the week prior. All that is to say, my mind constructed a wildly fearsome weekend involving sleepless nights, grueling wrestling matches, and frigid Atlantic waters. Upon reflection, I realized that my fears came true, but in the way that prayers are answered. God flipped my anxieties on their head; He made beautiful what I found unappealing; His presence at Beach Weekend was amazing and gracious.
It all began with the bus ride. Colin Davis (my co-leader) and I learned we were in charge of five kids. Neither of us lives by Machiavelli’s principle “it is safer to be feared than loved.” It is not that we choose to be loved- simply our methods of discipline do not stand the test of rebellious middle school boys. Therefore, we must feign affection as we are tackled to the ground rather than relegate the insurgents to a time-out. A three-hour bus ride, a giant bucket of Dum-Dum lollypops, and boys who have been sitting through school all day eagerly anticipating this vacation seemed like a deadly combination for the defenses of Colin and me. Keep in mind these deep-seated conceptions of 6th Grade Devotion Group when I paint the next scene.
James (a kid I normally associate with the helicopter game where I grab his arms and spin him around until I get dizzily sick, and then launch him away as if I were performing the Olympic hammer throw) sat down next to me midway through the bus ride and asked, “What do you want to talk about?” These exact words were the start of every bunk bed pillow talk with my little brother as we grew up together. I had not heard the innocent, loving words in ten years. James did not ask me a question regarding an earlier prayer request; James did not have a planned conversation with an agenda; James did not talk about himself. He selflessly inquired what it was that me, the 22 year-old leader, would want to talk about with him, the 12 year-old disciple.
Queue the brain racking sequence! I remembered what it was like to be in the 6th Grade. Certainly chaos was fun: cafeteria food fights, finger jousting, the shouting game, etc. But also I did have deep friendships; I was pretty darn sure that I would marry Jessie Miller; I had realized that marriages were not always destined for constant and perfect harmony; I worried about the way that I acknowledged friends in the hallway; I had lost my grandfather, Papa, and my dog, Tucker. Despite these mature feelings, my dominant form of communication, especially with older guys, was friendly combat. I realized that amidst the games of musical chairs, shoe relay races, capture the flag, dodge ball, dodge frisbee, and helicopter spinning, James and I had become near and dear friends. I had just viewed our relationship (and that with all of my D-Group boys) through a faulty cultural lens that situated me as the giver, and them as the receiver. Not to mention, my work was in vain. To me, it was a task of the Fellows Program: an hour in the morning, and two in the evening, then Sunday is finished. It is easy to wear yourself out when you think that you are the center of everything. God had been working in me through these kids all year and I was blind to it- talk about grace!
Back to the bus ride: After my middle school recollections I realized that James is not a ball of energy that I am to entertain for three hours a week. He is my brother. He pours into me, as I try to pour into him. We grow together in our knowledge of God, and our love for Him and each other. I had intentions of praising Beach Weekend (most notably Susie Marotta’s sweet potato biscuits), but I suppose this is more of a reflection on Youth Group as a whole: that all the wrestling outside in the grass to retrieve the keep-away ball does lead to a greater wrestling match: one that allows friends to reach in and lend a hand in our walk with our Lord. I hope that I am teaching my kids something, whether it is through the study of Scripture, or knockout on the basketball court. I know however that the kids are teaching me how to love.
As parents arrived at Trinity to pick up their children, James walked up to me with his sister and dad. “A hug?” he asked as if it was a request that needed granting. It is funny to me that 6th Graders feel welcome to climb all over me, but a hug requires permission. Needless to say, it warmed my heart. I had to fight back a few tears as I opened my arms.
And a little child shall lead them, indeed.
--Woody Granger, University of Virginia '12