The six of us, all girls, piled into the old sedan that had been someone’s grandmother’s car a little too recently. We had big hair and teased-out bangs because this was the late-eighties. (About that . . . it was not as great as you girls today think it was. Please do not bring that junk back.) I was jammed in the back between two girls who lived down the hall from me in a dorm at Abilene Christian. I’m pretty sure U2 was playing through horrible speakers.
I remember feeling blissed out, surrounded by friends for the drive that had become a rite of passage for ACU students. U.S. 83 to U.S. 180 to the old cemetery to the crossroads. Ease to a slow roll and stop. Mind yourself, stay quiet, turn off the car, lock the doors, and don’t breathe. Flash the headlights twice and wait.
Then . . . the mother, the poor ghost mother who’d lost her boy in a snowstorm will shine her lantern. Still searching. She will never stop searching. Because . . . would you?
The Anson Lights, ever strong, ever drawing bored college students.
I could feel the girls next to me trembling. I trembled sympathetically. And I smiled bigger than I’d ever smiled. I was having fun. These were girls that I’d pulled around me like a warm blanket. I missed my parents and my friends back home, but I was beginning to feel comfortable. I had a group of new friends who wanted me around and kept me guessing.
My conversations with them often stretched long into the night in our dorm rooms. We laughed until our stomachs hurt. Usually past the midnight mark, our thoughts pulled thread by thread toward eternity. We marveled together at what God had done, was doing, would do. We shared our first, timid hopes about heaven. And we felt transcendent together. Not awkward. Not weird. Just right.
To me, this camaraderie with Christians who were my age was relatively new. I’d grown up in a small church with the loose beginnings of a youth group but no true direction or plan. That was fine, but I was a little behind the curve when I got to a Christian campus. The kids from big churches had cut their teeth on youth activities and, for them, it was as natural as breathing.
What I want to say to you is that if you’re blessed enough to worship with an active youth group, take advantage of that. Even when you’re feeling shy, show up. They want you there, I promise.
If you’re not in a church that offers a youth group, make do. Find the kids close to your age and organize. Even if it’s only a handful of kids, you will be blessed by being close to each other. There will be times when you need them and they need you. Be Christ to one another.
I recently caught up with beautiful youth director Kelly Edmiston from First Colony Church of Christ in Sugarland, Texas. I asked her about how cool it is to have fun with other Christians. Here’s a bit of our
Hey, Kelly, when you’re not formally “youth grouping” what do your kids like to do for fun?
They want to be together. Even in the “off time,” they all hang out at a house, or they meet at a restaurant. They swim or see movies. They also love to get into a bit of mischief together, like pranking someone or wrapping a house. They can get pretty sarcastic but it’s always fun because they know each other so well.
What’s the appeal of a clean life when you’re a teen? Are they missing out on all the fun?
What a great question! My students who are living a “clean life” will tell me that they have found something better than the “fun” the world has to offer. Most students who are indulging in worldly pursuits, when they’re being honest with themselves, will say they’re not really having fun. Those things aren’t making them happy. I really believe the appeal to living a clean life is the beauty of having a clean heart and a clean mind and a clean conscience. These kids who do that have hearts devoted to God and they truly desire a relationship with Him.
Okay, here’s a big one. Do you think it’s possible to hang with non-Christians and skirt the edges?
Of course it’s possible. But here’s the thing—for kids who want to know and follow Jesus, they must match every decision they make with that goal. The goal of getting closer to Jesus instead of further from Him. Every decision counts. If you keep inching closer to the world, pretty soon, you’ll look like the world.
Teens need to determine who they want to be. They need to see themselves five or ten years from now as successful and happy in Christ. They can’t be steered off course by temporary things if they see their future clearly.
How does a youth group help? Is it okay if you’re at a church where the youth group is small?
A youth group is helpful because it has the potential to model a reality that is contrary to the world. One person living for Christ might look strange, but a community of teens living for Christ is a reality that strengthens and encourages each member. This is especially important for kids who don’t go to school with their Christian friends. They know they get to touch base consistently with their youth group. They always have that tucked in their pockets. And it doesn’t matter the size of the youth group, even one or two solid Christian friends can live out the reality of Christian community together. That’s all it takes.
So, this summer, go, have fun. Hang on to your friends. Be smart. Be silly. Take care.
“You use steel to sharpen steel, and one friend sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17 (MSG)