My middle school son returned last week from a missions trip his school took down to New Mexico. I, of course, was full of a million questions the second he walked through the door. I remember those seventh grade camps and church things clearly enough to know there’s always a solid mix of Jesus and drama, spiritual food and junk food, Bible study and peer studying. I still carry a picture in my Bible of my middle school crew up at the church camp that changed my life. The concern for my hair was admittedly almost equal to that of learning anything Biblical, but God is good, He understands middle schoolers and shows up anyways.
With some careful prodding, I was able to start a conversation and get a feel for what he experienced. Seventh grade boys are smart, they know what moms are after… push too hard and they head for the hills like a scared gazelle. It’s something I’m not very good at, but when I put myself in his shoes, I remember.
There had been the usual drama, but he shared with me some things I found pretty amazing. First, they focused on just two Bible verse the entire week:
“And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for the do not know the voice of strangers.”John 10:4-5
Learning to hear the voice of Jesus over all the others. I needed to hear that in middle school and I still do. Think back to all the times in your life when this could have saved so much heartache. The opinions of friends, the crowd, the magazines… how easy it was to take them over Jesus. In order to know His voice, we have to know what He says about us in His word. My son told me that they would have time alone to just sit and journal and be in the Word. I wanted to ask him what he was writing about, but I held my tongue. My seventh grade journal was a goofy mix of Jesus, a boy, and friend drama best left to the pages and certainly not shared with any parents.
My son told me that on the last night, they had a giant bonfire under the stars. It was a time of prayer and reflection. He said the girls all cried. Because that’s what thirteen year old girls do. The boys felt awkward, because that’s what they do. But in spite of it all, God shines through. He told me he looked up at the stars and was noticing the constellations. The Big Dipper was above them, but it was upside down, like a pot being poured out. He’s really into astronomy, and he explained something about the earth’s rotation in springtime that I couldn’t understand. It had been raining a lot on them, which everyone said is pretty rare. So there they sat in the rain, under an upside down Big Dipper and came to the conclusion that God was pouring out some blessings on them and that this was a moment they would always remember.
I don’t give Jesus or my kid enough credit… they will find one another just fine with or without my poking and prodding. I’ve been a tool, a useful one I hope, but it’s the Shepherd’s voice they need to hear and heed now more than mine.
I almost didn’t send him on this trip, for about twelve very valid reasons. After praying, we got some peace about it and let him go. That may not always be the case, there’s plenty of things we may pass on in the future, but I’m learning that our kids deserve time to get to know His voice. My voice is loud, ever-present, and well-intentioned, but my kids aren’t created to always hear me first. Let them swim out a bit into deeper waters and experience some life. If they flounder, I know I can always yank them back in to safety. But what if they become stronger? What if they really start to swim?! (Or take giant leaps… as was the case here…)
That’s what I want for them, as hard as it is to admit. I want them out with the Shepherd who is infinitely more protective and loving than I could ever be. My dreams for them aren’t that they get perfect grades or make every team… I want them to know His voice and live by it. I pray that they will always see God in the stars, the rain, and everything in-between.