By Crystal Kirgiss (West Lafayette, IN)
WyldLife Leader, Regional Trainer
Middle school guys are my jam.
(You might be the only people who don’t find that hysterical, pathetic, or weird.)
Let us count the reasons, shall we?
- They are fun.
- They are funny.
- They are quirky.
- They are witty.
- They are creative.
- They are ridiculous.
- They are going through the most significant transitions of the life cycle, but still manage to laugh, joke, and have a blast.
- They’re willing to try almost anything.
- They can laugh at themselves (which doesn’t mean it’s okay for us to laugh at them).
- They are just starting to try on the mantle of manhood – (behold the nascent macho strut – it is awesome indeed).
- They don’t have everything figured out yet, and they’re okay with that.
- They are awkward, times a thousand, and they’re okay with that.
That’s just for starters.
As WyldLife leaders, we get to embrace the awkward (but must never imitate it). We get to celebrate the awkward (but must never mock it).
Alongside The Awkward (a non-personal collective noun understood by all WyldLife leaders), we must also recognize, embrace, and celebrate the journey towards maturity. It’s a journey everyone has to take – even Jesus.
When Jesus was 12 – the quintessential middle-school age – he did a few things that we read about in Luke’s gospel (2:41-52):
- He took his first big trip with his parents, a traditional first step toward adulthood for Jewish boys in New Testament culture.
- He decided not to go home with his parents when the trip was over, a reflection of his burgeoning early-adolescent independence.
- He didn’t ask his parents for permission to stay behind, evidence of his early-adolescent undeveloped wisdom.
- He was surprised when, 3 days later, his parents were upset and frantic about his absence (and also possibly his lack of regard for their fragile parental identities), typical of early-adolescent unawareness regarding parental authority and viewpoints.
- He returned home and obeyed his parents (perhaps they set up boundaries for asking permission and checking in).
- He grew in wisdom (meaning at 12 he didn’t have all of life figured out) and stature (meaning at 12 he was still, well, not tall).
Most middle school guys I know wouldn’t ditch their parents in order to hang out at the Local House of the Lord, like Jesus did.
But every middle school guy I know has questions about God, like Jesus did, even if they don’t realize it yet.
That’s right: Jesus-at-12 had questions about God, religion, truth, and other Big Things of Life. He wasn’t at the temple teaching the religious leaders about God – even though that’s how most of the paintings and Children’s Bibles illustrations depict it. He was there listening and asking questions (Luke 2:46).
He was experiencing just exactly what our middle school guys (and girls) need to experience – the opportunity to ask whatever questions they might have, with no fear of being laughed at or ignored.
Jesus was surely incarnate at 12. But he was also fully human, and as such, he was still learning, growing, questioning, figuring it out, discovering his identity, and maturing.
If we take the time to build deep relationships, to create safe environments, to share meaningful life moments, and to present the story of Jesus with clarity and grace, then I’m positive our middle schoolers (both guys and girls) will respond with unexpected observations, profound questions, and meaningful responses.
And if we listen carefully, I’m just as positive that we will be amazed at their understanding and their answers (Luke 2:47).