Each week on Sunday evenings I help lead a junior high church youth group. Though many are intimidated and even frightened at the prospect, I for one am grateful for such an opportunity.
One summer during seminary, I worked as a counselor at a private day camp on the South Shore in Massachusetts. My charges were the CITs--counselors in training--ranging in age from 12-15. Since they were usually busy with their own projects, I was often assigned to help out other age groups. One day when I was with the preschoolers someone asked me if it was any different. I said no, they're just shorter.
I had forgotten how childlike a middleschooler can be. We play amoeba tag, all of us holding hands, none of us too cool not to play. This past Sunday during a Halloween-themed meeting, they bobbed for apples, getting their hair soaking wet. They sat in the dark as one of the other leaders read ghost stories by candlelight, eating doughnuts and drinking apple cider. And they still have that need for acceptance and attention from those older than they while at the same trying to reject it and strike out on their own.
But they can also be maddening as hell when they gravitate toward their individual selves like a star that's about to go supernova. They wheedle and cajole us grownups, trying to eke out any advantage that they can. Sometimes they can be cruel when they exclude the more uncertain and different ones of the group. Most Sundays after our meeting is over I wait for the Sr. High group to finish so I can talk to them and remind myself of what those middleschoolers will grow out of and into.
I also think about my own daughters, especially the oldest one who just turned nine (this is just not possible). Soon it will be time for "The Talk" and the sunset of her childhood will begin. I hope that I will be able to glimpse those childlike moments in her when she is in middle school and be able to play with her yet let her go at the same time.
When twelve-year-old Jesus got left behind in Jerusalem, he answered with typical preadolescent arrogance: "Where did you think I would be but in my Father's house", as in "Duh, Mom!" Perhaps Jesus was born old but I'd like to think that he derived some perverse preteen pleasure out of outfoxing his parents, while at the same time wondering when they were coming back for him.
I sometimes wonder if we aren't all 'tweens, proud of our self-sufficiency to the point of arrogance while at the same time just wanting to be held and loved and have time to play, living between the now and the not yet, between the dark mirror and face-to-face.