When I was asked to teach the youth girls Sunday school at my home church, I was 23, newly back to the area, starting a graduate program in counseling psychology, not sure if I even wanted to be at my home church, and had absolutely no idea what I was saying “yes” to.
I thought I was saying yes to an hour a week on Sunday morning, plus whatever time it took to prepare the lesson – which, honestly, in the beginning wasn’t much. I’d read the plan from the book, read the verses, check the cross references, come up with a couple of questions and call it a day. I thought it was going to be an easy ride that I totally had a handle on before I even got into it.
It took approximately four minutes after Sunday school ended that first week for me to realize that I had a handle on exactly nothing. Turns out, I had said yes to giving out my cell phone number, being friends on Facebook, and picking girls up from school to take them out for cups of coffee or frozen yogurt. I had said yes to questions about whom I was dating or why I wasn’t dating, about what I was like in high school and college, about whether or not I thought their gay friends were going to hell. I had said yes to chaperoning other events, teaching even more Bible studies, and counseling in ways I couldn’t have anticipated.
Turns out that when you say “yes” to working with teenagers, you say “yes” to being someone in their lives pretty darn quickly.
And hands down, it remains the best “yes” I’ve ever given in my life.
I haven’t been actively involved in youth ministry in over a year. I haven’t chaperoned camp, or retreat, or a Friday night game night in more than twelve months. I haven’t prepared a lesson, or made notes on a white board, or shushed someone for talking too much. But, I don’t think I’m any less their teacher. And I think they still have a thing or two to teach me too.
I tell my girls, most now in college, that the time we had in youth group was special – a gift from God that He used to grow us all up. And it seems to me that He’s not done with that particular task just yet.
Because the texts messages I get from them wanting to tell me a funny story about their days haven’t stopped. They still want to get together for coffee to talk about the boys they like, and the fights they’re having with their friends, and the ways they are or aren’t seeing God moving in their lives.
Because I still pray for them all the time, their names always on the tip of my heart. I still always want to hear their funny stories and boy dramas. I still want to sit with them as they’re figuring out who they are in their relationships, and who they are in the world. And I still want to know what they’re thinking as they think about God, and church, and this whole faith thing.
Seven years ago in that Sunday school class we built a little community. And God’s still showing up in it.
He’s showing up even though we’re in different churches, and in different states, and in different life phases. He’s still using us to encourage each other, and to pray for each other from the deep heart places, and to prod each other forward in this race that is life.
Seven years later, they’re not teenagers anymore, but they’re still my girls. And I can’t think about them without crying, because apparently part of my growing up is becoming mushy and because I’m so grateful for the gift of our little community.
I’m grateful for the questions they ask that challenge the things of God I accepted just because I was taught them as a kid. I’m grateful for their abilities to laugh easily and loudly, and I’m grateful that they’ve taken it on as a kind of game to make me laugh until I can’t catch my breath. I’m grateful for the wide open way that they love, often expressed in hugs that are more like flying into each other. I’m grateful for their honesty, and the ease with which they ask for help. I’m grateful that they know me well, and I’m grateful that even after all these years they know sometimes I just need time all to myself. I’m grateful that they blow up my phone with text messages and tweets, and I’m grateful that as they move into adulthood that they still want to include their old Sunday school teacher.
Mostly though, I’m grateful that when I said “yes” seven years ago that they said “yes” to me.
Yes, we have things to learn together. Yes, we want you here. Yes, you’re welcome here.
Now, I’m just thinking out loud here, but…
What if the church at large starting saying a similar “yes” to the world at large?
I think maybe that would be the best “yes” ever.