There were cars pulling in and out of the parking lot, when I showed up. Moms, dads, grandparents- guardians of all kinds dropping their teenagers off for a few hours of socializing.
I walked in, wildly aware of the fact that I was walking in alone and had no clue what to do once I passed through the doors.
Inside, boys and girls were aflutter with activity. Groups sitting down, some playing games, others were eyeballs deep in their electronics. I’m sure no one noticed me.
I, on the other hand, could hardly catch my breath.
I was intimidated, to say the least. Totally, annoyingly, soul crushingly intimidated by the sea of faces who were, by all accounts, at least ten years my junior.
Because, no… I am not describing my entrance into one of my own high school dances.
I’m recounting my very first experience serving at my church’s Sunday night Teen Service.
So, here’s the thing… I felt like a band geek attending prom alone. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t have any friends waiting to meet me. And I was painfully aware of how uncool I was amidst the crowd of old school converse and hipster haircuts.
Thank God for putting me in such an uncomfortable situation. If it weren’t for the first hour of my serving experience, I wouldn’t have remembered just how agonizing it is to be a teenager. To say I tapped into my young lady, ninth grade feelings of social awkwardness, rejection, and not fitting in, is an understatement. It was all I could do to keep from turning around, trotting back to my soccer mom SUV, and peeling out of there- leaving burnt rubber and painful memories behind me.
But I stayed.
Because I’m an adult, dangit, and I refuse to be controlled by my emotions.
And anyways, I’m sure that no one noticed me in my forever21 jean jacket and “weekend vibes” t-shirt (I was going for “cool mom”). In fact, I’m pretty sure most of the adults in the room were invisible.
Maybe that was the catalyst for my I-don’t-belong-here situation?
Here’s what I found, though, once the night got going:
-Watching those teenagers interact, with an alarming sense of confidence, reminded me of how easy it is to “fake it until you make it.” I used to fake it. I used to be really, really good at faking it. Maybe these teens are, too?
-When there was a break in worship and they had the opportunity to go up front for prayer, I almost had a breakdown. It’s so easy, at my old age of 31, to only notice how “annoying” kids can be when they’re in the middle of trying desperately to be seen as grown up, but have the same internal needs as my five year old… until you see the back of their heads bowed, their shoulders shaking with sobs, their hands reaching for someone to grasp hold of.
-Being around kids makes it impossible to stay focused on yourself. At the risk of being regarded as the creeper in the corner, I stayed back out of the midst of it, and just observed for the night. Every kid there has a story. Every teenage heart has a crack. Every eye has cried. Every face has frowned. Every head has doubted themselves. And every one needs to know that they are worth so much more than their peers will ever admit to them.
I was so uncomfortable, so out of place, so desperately aware that I didn’t belong…that I can’t wait to go back.
If I feel it, they feel it…and if they feel it, I’ve felt it. I know first hand what happens when you go through high school unsure of who you are and what you’re worth.
I’m praying one of them can learn from my mistakes, and hold on to Jesus’ promises before they try to hold on to anyone else’s.
How “cool” are you around teenagers?