Recently I have been thinking about the danger of familiarity with sacred things. As I was on my trip, I started coming to the conclusion that part of our struggle is that the sacred is too comfortable and common for a lot of our church kids who have been in church all their life.
There are benefits of feeling at home in a church. Part of coming to a church is coming to a place where you feel loved and accepted. It should be a place where you feel God's love and blessing. But sometimes, especially for kids who have been in church all their lives, the things of God almost become too common to these kids and they lose their spiritual potency.
On Thursday night, we were experiencing a foot washing service. Now usually, this is a beautiful, sacred moment on a mission trip. People are moved to tears by the Spirit.
At the beginning of the service the instructions are given. First, the leaders feet will be washed. Then the leaders will go and wash each students feet, and individually pray for them. As you are waiting for your feet to be washed, you are asked to sit in silence, listening to the music, and wait. Well one student started crying. This was normal. People often cry in footwashing services. Another student went to figure out what was going on. The first student was mad at a third student, who then was nagged to make up with the first student. Verbally. In a moment of silent prayer. And, while everyone else was following the instructions and getting something out of the experience,our group was running to the bathroom to yell at each other. They came back and were talking back and forth the whole time. Now, this is generally not all that unusual with middle schoolers to to not be on track and pay attention. But, trust me, in this setting it was unusually innappropriate.
I reiterated the instructions and asked them to refocus several times. I got a lot of attitude. I THOUGHT of standing up and screaming at them, "SHUT UP YOU LITTLE SNITS! THIS IS A MOMENT WHERE YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO EXPERIENCE GOD'S LOVE. SO GET BACK IN YOUR CIRCLE, SHUT UP, AND DO WHAT I SAY AND FEEL THE ACCEPTANCE, GRACE, AND LOVE GOD HAS FOR YOU YOU SELF ABSORBED SPOILED BRATS!" But I thought that would be counterproductive, especially to the other groups seated around us. I have rarely been so frustrated, so heartbroken and so at a loss with something like this in 10 years of youth ministry.
The other leader tried to understand what was causing the drama. Trying to brainstorm how to address it. And I came to the conclusion that part of the problem is that they have become so familiar with these types of things that they no longer respect them.
It made me think about Moses. When the Israelites first entered the desert they were thirsty. There was no water. God commanded Moses to hit the rock with his staff. He did. Water flowed from the rock.
As they were about to enter the Promised Land several years later, God commanded Moses to speak to the Rock. Moses hit the rock again. For his disobiedience he was not allowed to enter the promised land.
I have always thought God was a little too harsh about this until I was thinking about it recently. I think he things of God for Moses had become so common place to him he moved in his life to being a leader that listened to and carried out the commandments of God to a religious functionary. He had become to familiar with the miracles to see them for miracles anymore. He had become so familiar with being God's mouthpiece that he mistook his habits and experiences and traditions for the word and the will of God. And when you get to that point, like Moses was, you are in big trouble.
So now I am wondering, how do I lead youth and people out of a religious routine and a church game that brings them comfort, and into the presence of a living God that brings them awe. And right now I am not sure what the answers are except for to start with myself.