It was one of those crazy Edge days where we decided to “change it up” instead of the normal Edge programming. “Changing it up” always seems like a good idea at the moment until you’re in the middle of trying to corral 150 middle schoolers as you take them through a tour of the sanctuary. I remember this moment vividly. We were amid rotations, guiding each small group through a tour. While I’m attempting to keep the middle schoolers off the pews, asking them to stop knocking on the chapel windows, and preventing them from taking every brochure and bulletin they see, I’m also trying to help facilitate an encounter with Christ. Just as I was mumbling under my breath that “I don’t get paid enough,” one of our Core members walked up to me with a teen by their side. We will call him Zach. They look at me, look at Zach, and with a heavy sigh, says, “I can’t handle him today.”
I’ve lost count of how many times that has happened to me. With 150 middle schoolers in one room, odds are at least one (on a good day) will misbehave. How you react in these moments can change everything. I learned a lot about how I chose to react.
Zach was a teen that I knew fairly well from being in Edge, so I remember being frustrated with Zach. Thinking about everything I do, all the time I give, sacrifices I made for him, he can’t seem to keep it together for a 10-minute tour. During a transition, I asked him what had happened, giving him a chance to share his perspective. He just shrugged and remained quiet. During the next rotations with other groups, he proceeded to distract other groups, touch everything he could get his hands on, and when I asked a question, he would yell the answer out loud before anyone could take a breath. I finally said, “Zach, if you know all of the answers, you can lead the tour.” And so he did. For the next three groups, he proceeded to lead his peers through the Church, explaining everything from the ambo to ambry. He passionately explained what we see as we look at a crucifix and even stole some of my jokes, and didn’t give me credit. He probably learned more that day than any other Edge session, and so did I. I learned the following:
When these moments arise, be patient. Raising your voice and reacting vocally is not always as effective as we think it would be.
Ask why they acted the way they did. They probably won’t have an answer, but it will open a dialog with them. Listen to what they have to say. You never know what their home life is like or what happened at school that day. I learned from Zach that he recently had been fighting with his dad. Was this the cause of his misbehaving? I cannot say. But, I learned about him and gained insight into his life.
By being both patient and listening, it lent to me building a relationship with Zach. It created a foundation to continue this relationship and walk with him closer to Heaven. And now, with a relationship built, we have mutual respect for each other. His relationship with Jesus grows daily because he now believes he is loved and cared for. Is Zach a perfect Edge teen who listens respectfully, doesn’t talk out of turn, and is kind to everyone? No, but he’s trying to be, and for a middle schooler, that’s all I ask.
I always think about how Jesus would react to middle schoolers. Every time they misbehave, I imagine that Jesus would say to them, “You have no idea all that I have done and will continue to do for you.” And so I aim to love them just as Christ does. So most importantly, I continue to pray for them.