You know what I’m talking about. That little event or situation that puts you in a bad light. Makes you embarrassed. Leaves you looking foolish.
Admit it. The time you left your kid at the store. Or when you totally burned the roast and served the nastiest dinner of the year. Or the joke you told where the entire party didn’t understand it . . . or maybe misinterpreted it. Badly misinterpreted it.
OK, we’re on the same page. You get where I’m coming from.
I am now going to tell a story that I could never share when I was a youth pastor. I am embarrassed to admit it, but the first camp we attended almost ended in disaster. On the very first day.
One of my kids fell out a three story window.
Let me back up. I’d better explain.
The year was 1981, and I had just graduated from Bible college, fresh and eager to serve the Lord. What an exciting time for me! I was going to be ministering to young people, helping them make decisions that would direct them in their careers. I could make an impact in each of these young lives! I imagined them sitting at my feet, eagerly grasping for the spiritual pearls of wisdom I would kindly toss their way. What could be more ideal? I was ready to serve. I was ready to teach.
I soon found out that I was also ready to learn.
My first ministry work was overseeing the youth ministry in a small church in Holliseter, Cal., then a quiet burg of about 10,000 people. One of my first tasks was to take the fifth- and sixth-grade kids to Bible camp in the northern part of the state. It didn’t seem like too hard of a task, and I looked forward to spending time at the week-long retreat.
I remember the final miles of the trip to the camp.
“Hey, Pastor Brad, when we gonna get there?” yelled Shawn.
Shawn was my hyper kid. His usual school-time activity at recess was to run laps around the yard, just to wear off energy. Come to think of it, he ran laps in the classroom as well. Lots of energy, that boy. He was sitting there in the back seat of the van, chewing on a pencil.
“Calm down, Shawn, we’re almost there,” I said, turning onto the exit ramp. “Calm down.”
“He’s telling Shawn to calm down,” said Shelly. “Like that’s ever gonna happen.”
Shawn glared at her and started chewing on the back seat upholstery.
We arrived at the retreat center in our little church van, and the reaction was immediate: gasps of delight came from each of the middle schoolers.
“Hey,” said Ricky, “this isn’t a camp. It’s a giant hotel!”
Shawn gazed up. “Unbelievable.”
The retreat center stood at the edge of a lake. Ricky was right. The middle of the center was a 1920s-era hotel, bought by the local Christian group decades ago when the hotel went bankrupt. It was massive. It was impressive. It had over 100 rooms and two towers. The main lobby had wicker chairs, and, so help me, a giant moose head on the wall.
“Welcome!” cried the head counselor. “Kids, grab your stuff and find a room. We’ll meet down here in two hours.”
I stepped forward as the kids were being led away. “What happens in two hours?” I asked.
The head counselor winked. “We’ll let the kids have free time.”
“Um, I don’t know,” I protested weakly. “That means the kids don’t have an activity for over three hours. Maybe I could take them on a hike or something.”
“No, no,” insisted the counselor. “We’ll take care of all that. We don’t want the kids to feel like they’re burdened with too many rules. Now, you go and take a nice walk.”
My stroll took a leisurely half-hour. I glanced back and saw kids milling about, staring at the lake and talking idly. I ambled up the brick walk toward the main entrance. “I’ll check and see how my kids are doing,” I thought.
I glanced to my left and saw some kids who had discovered a soccer ball and were trying to get a game started. I looked to the right and saw Shawn walking toward me with a glazed-over look. Ricky came running up behind him, his expression frozen in shock.
“Shawn,” I said, bending over. “What happened?”
“We were playing hide and seek in the building,” said Shawn, still staring in the distance.
“Which they weren’t supposed to do,” yelled Shelly, walking over.
“And they trapped me at the end of a hall on the third story,” mumbled Shawn. “I didn’t want to get caught, so I climbed outside of the window and hung on the windowsill by my fingertips.”
“What?” I cried.
Ricky shook his head. “I couldn’t find him in the room,” he said, “but then I heard him yell.”
I stood there, shaking my head. “W-what happened next?”
Shawn looked away. “I fell.”
We stood quiet for about 20 seconds.
“Shawn,” I said, “you’re telling me you fell three stories?”
“He landed on his back,” yelled Shelly. “I saw it.”
I was, as you can guess, stunned. “How come you’re not hurt?” I asked slowly.
“Bushes,” said Shawn, gulping. The realization of this was still creeping into him. “Lots of ‘em, right below me. They broke my fall, just enough.”
He wandered around for a few more minutes, allowed me to take him to the nurse to be checked, and spent the rest of the afternoon on the front row of the chapel room, waiting for the speaker that night. Shawn wanted to make some serious decisions. A man doesn’t go face-to-face with death and not come away changed.
In the ensuing days I chatted with Shawn about the danger he faced (along with the sheer stupidity of it all) and why the boys were running around the hotel playing hide-and-seek in the first place.
“There was nothing else to do,” said Shawn with a shrug. “Nobody was giving us any directions.”
Through the years I’ve considered Shawn’s words many times, and I’ve found them striking when it comes to the area of teens having difficulties. Lack of direction. Shawn and the kids got into trouble when they weren’t given a clear set of guidelines or responsiblities. Could it have been that hard for two or three counselors to have planned an informal kickball game while the rest of the churches showed up?
But this problem extends beyond camp. It also plays a part in a teen’s approach to devotions. Having been in youth work for over 20 years, I found out that one of the most frustrating spiritual steps for an adolescent is their daily “God and I” time.
And it’s a study in contradictions.
I detect a specific paradoxical undercurrent among teens that goes something like this: “I want some direction, but then I want to be left alone to grow spiritually on my own.”
In other words, the teens want to be recognized as maturing Christian adults, but they also would like a little advice on how to take the next step into self-directed spiritual disciplines.
For parents, this is a wonderful opportunity for you to encourage them to take the next steps. Here are some ideas for starters:
- Christianity Today‘s Campus Life website has a long list of devotions that will talk to teens on their level
- A good strong devotional book is Daily Grace For Teens: Devotional Reflections To Nourish Your Soul. The straightforward-yet-gentle approach will appeal to the teen who doesn’t want bombastic, fashion-led writing.
- I’ve always enjoyed the writing and instruction of Susie Shellenberger. She’s written The One Year Devotions for Teens: DEVOS–a heart-to-heart “talk” for teens who want a time of reflection with their reading.
- Joe White has written a fine devotional that can be used as a discussion time between parents and teens. Fuel: Devotions to Ignite the Faith of Parents and Teens can lead discussions that can be a few minutes or a good half-hour long. With Scripture studies mixing well with anecdotes, White has assembled a thought-provoking presentation.
- A good source for Christian parenting can be found at Christiananswers.net. It’s not a devotional resource, but rather questions and answers that will help you develop godly steps as a parent.
Using the above resources for yourself and your teen will give you some in-depth help in directing your teen toward maturity. Give the devotional books as a birthday gift or as a reward for a particular achievement.
Your teen will soon make new discoveries in Scripture. When he or she wants to comment on those new insights, stop what you’re doing, listen and give encouragement. If you find other Bible helps, pass them on to your teen. Then step back and let your teen learn.
Like with the story of Shawn and the three-story fall, don’t assume that a hands-off approach is what every child wants. Help your child focus and reach a spiritual objective while recognizing their spiritual maturation. You are helping train a child in the way he or she should go, and that will benefit them well into adulthood.