My husband and I serve as substitute Sunday School teachers for the youth at our church. Prior to Sunday, my experience was limited to subbing for teachers' assistants. I have happily accepted the role of backer-upper and encourager-of-dialogue and other, mostly easy things. I dig teenagers.
Sunday, however, I was the Boss. The Teach. The Clueless One in Charge. I have some experience with substitute teaching in public schools, so I'm familiar with the dynamic. I was not afraid. A wee bit sweaty, perhaps, but not afraid. I arrived early and set up my props (an apple, a pocket knife, a squirt bottle of water) and chatted with the regular teacher's assistant, who assured me that this would be a small class, no more than four or five kids.
And then the kids came. All fifteen of them. They were predominantly female and ranged from excessively chatty to crossed-armed stony silent. I began the lesson, which was from John 12:
I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
Here is what I learned:
After we made a big whiteboard list of things they enjoy doing, ways they spend their time, the students were supposed to draw a line through the things they would give up if God asked them to. There was a ton of discussion--girls willing to give up video games (which they didn't play) and boys willing to give up candy (which they didn't eat), but no one, not one child was willing to give up FRIENDS or MUSIC or FOOD. One person was willing to give up Facebook, but then changed her mind.
We talked through the meaning of hating your life, because I remember being young and confused on this topic. Did God want me to hate the life He gave me? I thought I was supposed to appreciate it, live it fully, accept it as it was. I guess I was a slow kid. These kids totally got it. They knew that hating their lives was a comparative description: love versus hate. Jesus versus not physical life, as in breathing breaths in and out, but Jesus versus the things of this world, the things on our list. They intuitively understood that hating their lives means loving Jesus so much that they are willing to give up every comfort for Him.
Even though, according to the list, they are not willing to do that.
Instead of disturbing, I found this strangely comforting. I loved their honesty. I'm pretty sure I didn't have that, or know myself so well, at their ages. I'm pretty sure I would have spit out whatever answer I thought proper and then carried on with loving my life.
The thing is this: God was not finished with me when I was a dim, selfish, life-loving teenager. He is not finished with me now (I'll withhold appropriate adjectives). God is not through with the students I taught on Sunday, not by a long shot. We're all running this race, getting closer to Jesus with every step. My prayer is simply that they continue the journey. May God keeps us each on His path.