It was meant to be a fun warmup question, but I could tell a few students in that it was actually super stressful. So many glances being shared around the room, and person after person demurring and saying, “I don’t remember.” I butted in after the fifth admission of lapsed memory.
“Is this question stressing you guys out?”
I’d used the same warmup question the previous hour, with the 6th and 7th graders, without any great difficulty. The skies hadn’t parted or anything, but they hadn’t crawled beneath the tables in fear like this.
And what was the question?
“What was the last song you listened to before walking in the room this morning?”
I pressed my investigation of the high schoolers’ fear further: “Does this stress you out because you’re self-conscious about the music you like and what your peers will think of it?”
They’re a pretty self-aware bunch.
You get far away enough from adolescence and you completely forget about this kind of stressor. You forget that teenagers are walking around everyday certain that their peers are judging them negatively and terrified that something they love will out them as a phony or as uncool (how uncool!). The luxury of talking ceaselessly about the music you’re into at 42 is lost on me.
One of the urgent tasks of youth ministry, then, is the maintenance of a community of teenagers and adults that makes explicit that lack of judgment. We do that as leaders by modeling both kindness and vulnerability. So I shared my answer to the warmup:
Of course they all groaned, “I hate that song!”
Isn’t it great?