This Post Is Mark Oestreicher Bait

This weekend was the Presbytery of Chicago’s Work of Love (AWOL) event for about 65 middle school youth, in which we learned about food insecurity, spent the night in a church, and then rode public transit to a community garden on Chicago’s south side, where we shoveled and raked and picked up trash in 30 degree weather.

I slept well last night.

An analogy for adolescent development occurred to me on the Red Line, as I urged a triad of squirrely seventh grade boys to pay attention to their surroundings and stop swinging from the hand straps. Early adolescence is a photograph with a blurry background but a clear foreground. Viewing it means focusing intently on the sole object in focus to the exclusion of everything else contained in the image. Development happens as the ability evolves to take in more of the photo and shift one’s focus from the foreground to the background and then back again.

Foreground: one’s immediate group of peers; the hand straps on the train; soda; Bible stories.

Background: the person addressing the group; the other riders on the train; dinner; the Biblical narrative.

It feels like the intensity of focus early teenagers have is an asset and not something to be disparaged until they grow out of it. But the challenge of working with adolescents still feels like nudging them toward adjusting their focus to take in more of what’s in the picture.

Oestreicher, I know you’re out there. Is this analogy helpful?