Adults who work with young people are accelerating down the on ramp into a new season. Those in my Youth for Christ family toss their biggest nets during this time of year, seeking to make connections with kids they don’t yet know, eager to move from introductory acquaintances into authentic Christ-sharing relationships.
For many of us a stadium full of adolescent strangers is more intimidating than energizing. If the assignment is to ‘work the crowd’ we are naturally wired to panic. I have a vivid memory of my first appearance in the high school cafeteria where I launched a new Campus Life ministry some years ago. In spite of having decent social skills and feeling pretty secure about myself I felt the dismissive stares of hundreds of eyes, all locked onto my feeble heart like so many S.W.A.T. team rifle lasers. I was an extra in Mean Girls right then.
In the heat of the moment I lost my keys to all things cool. Feeling the need to say something…anything…I quick-stepped to the nearest table and asked in a haltering voice, “So…how’s the food today?”
Apparently my haltering voice is not exactly a whisper. From a table 10 yards away a kid hollered above the din: “It tastes like sh**!” Laughter erupted, but only momentarily. There was still sh***y food to be eaten in a short amount of time.
Romans 8:26 propels Christ’s followers into the chapter’s fantastic finish, a wondrous consideration of how the love of God overrules every other reality. “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” My cafeteria culture cluelessness had me awkwardly fish-flopping on the tater tot-tatted floor. But I was not for a moment alone.
What follows next is simply lost footage on my memory reel. I recall moving toward the food critic without really having a plan. My follow up effort with the outspoken dude was anything but James Dean artistry: “Don’t like the food, eh?” After that, I’m a blank. All I remember is that after a few minutes of conversation Monty (that was his name) and I were the only two in the cafeteria and it seemed like I had made a new friend.
During these months of meeting teens some may be tempted to rely on their well-honed relational skills. At a deeper level I recommend trusting the Holy Spirit, who tethers us to the amazing love of God with a bungee cord that’s secure enough, long enough and flexible enough for any cafeteria, anywhere.