During this season, our oldest child, Sydney, begged to go to youth group. I know it’s a rite of passage for a child who’s grown up in the church. You always see the older, “cool” kids sitting together during the Sunday morning service. You hear about all the fun field trips for youth group: amusement parks, movies, go-carting, late-night rave-style parties complete with DJ and glow sticks. (That last one wasn’t a humorous exaggeration… my comedic timing is pretty good, but I’m not exercising it at the moment.)
Confession: I said absolutely not. I think my exact words were, “Over my dead body.” But, my husband over-ruled me. His exact words, “You’re not being very Christ-like right now, if you ask my opinion.” (Well, no one WAS asking for his opinion, and I was a little disgruntled that he chose to give it as that moment. Second confession: I was WAY more than disgruntled. I was ticked.) But, he was right. My attitude wasn’t Christ-like. I should NEVER assume that even though things happen over and over, like a bazillion times… that they can’t change. They can. I’m proof of that. Sometimes I forget to extend the same grace to others that has been extended to me. But, then I remember that the grace extended to me was from Jesus, and I’m not Jesus…. so I cut myself a little slack. (I also want to confess that my feelings about youth ministry have changed. I had a pretty hard heart during that season, and it got a whole lot worse before it got better. But, it IS better now. So much better.)
So, we agreed to let her go to the first night, and by agreed, I mean Jamie won. But, the bright side: I had three “Proud Mama Moments.” The first happened as I sat at the back of the auditorium and watched the worship team sing Sweet Home Alabama as the welcoming song. My proud moment consisted of me NOT marching up to the front of that stage, grabbing Sydney by the arm and dragging her out of the building. (But, it probably had more to do with shock than any amount of self-control.)
I’m from the south and there are some songs Northerners should just never do. Sweet Home Alabama is one of them. Just, NO. (You probably thought I was going to talk about secular music being played in church, didn’t you? Wow, you guys are SO legalistic.) Just kidding… that bothered me, too. I’m not legalistic though. Honestly, I’d rather gouge my eyes out with a plastic spoon than listen to CCM (Contemporary Christian Music), but I do love a good hymnal throwback. Totally serious on that one.
I couldn’t make it through the first song, mostly because they were butchering it. As I walked out, the youth pastor chased me down. He wanted me to know that Sunday nights weren’t usually like this. It was only the first Sunday in the month, when they encouraged the teens to invite their “un-churched” friends to see what church is all about, loud music and crazy games like “Throwing a Pie at a Pastor” included. I don’t even think I responded. Probably because it took everything in me to keep from saying, “Well, it’s good to know you pull out all the bells and whistles for the kids who know nothing about Jesus so they can see what we’re actually about.” But, I didn’t. So, first Proud Mama Moment: I didn’t embarrass my daughter and I kept my comments to myself… my Herculean effort to promote unity in the church. (Self-Control: 2 points)
Moment number two came when I picked Sydney up. One of the volunteers, a parent I somewhat knew, came over to tell me how impressed she was that Sydney stood up and recited the whole passage about the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Honestly, I was a little surprised. Sydney was a shy kid; she would NEVER volunteer for anything. Later on, during the car ride home, I learned that no one at her table knew the scripture reference, including the two volunteers sitting with them who joked about not doing the prep work for that week… or any week. So Sydney told them the scripture. Days later, Sydney said she felt the bar we set at home for following Jesus was higher than it was at church. I asked her if she thought that was good or bad. At the time, her answer was “I don’t know.” It was a question we would ask her again 18 months later. But the answer would be completely different.
Moment number three stemmed from number two. After everything was said and done, Sydney made the decision not to go back to that youth group. She talked about it being centered around fun and games. She talked about the cliques and social barriers. She talked about how a decision to follow Jesus was never really underscored. In the end, after a long pause, she simply said, “It was just weird.” I remember feeling a sense of relief, but also this sense of sadness. Sydney had just left this life-changing season of ministry in Rhode Island. Small church, daily communion with other believers, serving one another, sacrificing for the sake of others knowing Jesus. Juxtaposing that against this entertainment driven, theologically limping, concept of church left her confused. I wish I could say that would be the worst of it for her… or us. It wasn’t. But, thankfully, with the bad, there was still a lot of good.