So, last week in confirmation class, we were going around the room doing “kyries and alleluias” (highs and lows) and it occurred to me that a goodly number of the kids in my class seem to actually hate school. Just in general. They hate their classes, they hate the books, they hate the subject material, they hate their teachers, they hate that they have homework, they hate that they have tests, and on down the line. A good number of them even hate the organized sports that they choose to play!!
I started pondering, as they were talking…and I noticed that the ones who most hate school also most love gym class…
And then I asked every single kid when the last day was that he or she had “nothing to do” – no plans on the calendar, no place they had to be, no homework, no sports practice, nothing.
And the ones who most hate school, and most love gym class, were also most likely to tell me that they simply couldn’t remember the last day they didn’t have anything to do.
Conversely, the kids with the least jam-packed extracurricular schedules seem to like school more, and were more able to identify their last “day off”.
Now these kids – all of them – are smart, good kids. When they are focused, they can laser in on some awesome stuff (once, one of them called me out on saying “God” when I mean “Father” or “First Person of the Trinity” because it sounds like I’m saying Jesus isn’t God). So it’s always been a mystery to me why they are so opposed to school and to learning, and why they are just so…restless…all the time.
But that evening, the whole thing hit me like a ton of bricks. They hate school because it is one more place they “have to be”. They hate homework because it is one more thing they have to “do”. They hate teachers because they are each one more person who “expects performance”. They hate the sports because even though they enjoy them at some level, they don’t ever play for fun, they only ever play to win. Or the sports that they actually do not enjoy at all, they play because “everyone else does” and everyone else “expects” them to do so, as well. And I think the thing about gym class is that it’s very low pressure. It’s activities they enjoy, without a teacher grading them or a coach challenging them to better. It’s a relaxed environment, with no pressure.
And so I tried an experiment. We blazed through the lesson, hitting the high points, and then, I told them to be quiet, to put everything – books, papers, pencils, bags, capri sun packages – everything down. Put it all down, and we are going to rest. We are going to rest, and relax, and have quiet time for 3 minutes.
Three minutes was not nearly as much rest as I needed, but I sat on the floor, watching the clock, and praying for these kids. They, however, were fidgety as all get out. Constantly changing position on the couch/chair/floor, sighing, tapping their feet, looking at the clock. Now, I know that three minutes is not enough time to truly get in the relaxation “zone” – but this whole experiment was telling for me. When a person is exhausted – just done, burned out, no more gas in the tank – 3 minutes of quiet is glorious. When you’re that tired, you know exactly what to do with 3 minutes of quiet, and it goes by in the blink of an eye. When a person has no idea how to just. stop. for 3 minutes, that 3 minutes feels like an eternity. Which is exactly the feedback I got. When I finally called time, what I heard was, “That wasn’t 3 minutes! That was 30 minutes!!!” No, honey, it was 3 minutes. I promise. And so I responded, “You guys just don’t know how to relax,” to which they replied, “Of course we don’t know how to relax! We never get to! There’s no time to relax!”
Wow. Okay then.
These kids are so far beyond "tired" that we'd have to peel back several layers to even get to "exhausted." Which leads to me to wonder if perhaps the greatest faith-gift we could give our “youth” is the gift of rest. My kids don't harbor objective hostility toward “church”, God, confirmation, the Bible, etc – at least no more than any of the rest of us poor in curvatus se souls do. But when “confirmation class” and “memory work” and “going to church” and “taking sermon notes” and “doing service projects” and even “fun” events like bowling or pizza that they are “expected” to do and attend and “take seriously” and “put effort into”, then the more turned off they are likely to become, just as they are about school, and even the sports they claim to enjoy.
How many of the so-called Biblical heroes heard from God in their sleep? Off the top of my head, I can think of: Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Samuel, Elijah, and NT Joseph. Even Jesus took time to get away and rest. Are we stunting our kids’ spiritual growth (and by extension, our own) because they have no downtime, no ability to relax, no way to hear God in the quiet and still – because there is no quiet and still in their lives, and even if there was, they wouldn’t know what to do with it?
My plan for this week is to start in our normal classroom with kyries and alleluias, followed by devotions, as we always do. Then I’m going to take them into the dimly lit sanctuary, and give them time to relax. The only rules will be “no talking”, and “no touching or otherwise disrupting other people”. They can sit, kneel, lay, stand, on the pews or on the floor. They can read (Bible or hymnal), they can sleep, they can pray, they can just be there quietly with their thoughts.
I want to give them 20-30 minutes. My thought is, they’ll be stir-crazy for the first 10, and after that, they may be able to settle down a little. Then I’ll bring them all back to the chancel to talk about the experience.
And then I guess we’ll see what happens. It’s an experiment, and it may fail, but it doesn’t strike me as a foolish idea. What if we made it a goal to teach our kids that “here” – church, the Body of Christ, Christ Himself – you will find rest for your souls, and for your bodies? If that was their “takeaway” from “youth ministry,” their heart-knowledge about Jesus, that He’s the one who gives them rest when they are tired and weary, well, I’d put that one in the win column.
What do you all think? Am I crazy? Is this going to just not work? Or am I maybe on to something? Feedback, please!