Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit.
After almost four full years of spending one afternoon per week with a group of junior high, and then high school, guys, we gathered yesterday afternoon for the beginning of their senior year of high school, and our last year of work together. My feelings on this are mixed.
This group has been a source of great fulfillment for me, because these youth are so eager. They don’t require multiple email reminders; they troll me with texts and tweets, and on weeks when I’m away and can’t do the youth group, they complain. They like each other. They play hard and laugh hard and keep coming back for more.
But I’ve never felt completely up-to-snuff with this group, because it is so lacking in any kind of “spiritual” direction from me. I get the spirituality of hospitality and play and all of that, but I have wondered from the very beginning with these guys if I wasn’t failing them in some way by not confronting them with Big Questions or teaching them the Bible and by defaulting so much of the time to Scatterball and The Game of Things.
So yesterday I prepared a kind of meditative exercise for them as a way of owning their senior year of high school. I gave them paper for jotting down notes, and I asked them questions like, “What word or image captures your posture towards this school year? Excitement? Fear?”
“What’s something you’re hoping will happen this year that will disappoint you if it doesn’t?”
“Who do you need to be for this year to matter in the way you want it to?”
The exercised devolved into giggling fairly quickly, which didn’t surprise or upset me. But it showed me how anxious these guys are about their senior year. They’re more stressed than excited.
They’re stressed about what comes after high school. They’re stressed about their parents’ expectations (one kid is stressed about prom: “If I don’t go to prom this year my mom’s going to be really mad.”).
Then in the middle of it, one kid walked in and reported that he’d just been in a fender bender. They’re stressed, man.
Here’s to the school year. Here’s to holding space for stressed teenagers in whatever form that takes and for being grateful for the time while we have it.