As my role has temporarily expanded from worship to also encompass youth ministry, I have spent a bit of time thinking about one of the most awkward stages of life – middle school! When I look around at the middle school students at our church, I wonder what I could do differently to connect with them and help them feel grounded at Hope, even as they navigate this life stage filled with transitions. The article below is geared toward small group leaders, but I believe there is some valuable insight for parents of this youth demographic as well as the broader church body. I would like to encourage us all to remember the eternal implications of investing in the lives of our children and youth!
by Kristine Herring
Let’s face it. Middle schoolers can be difficult. They are in such an uncertain time in their lives – one foot in childhood and the other in adulthood. Unsure of who they are, they spend their time trying to figure it out and that process can be a little rough. They can be awkward and annoying and sometimes, even, hard to love.
They actually remind me of my favorite flower, the Gerbera daisy. Although their blossoms are magnificent, Gerbera daisies are not pretty plants. Truth be told, they are fairly ugly. Their leaves resemble something much closer to a weed than a flower. They are jagged and rough, a stark contrast to the soft smooth flowers they surround. Only when the stunning, captivating blooms open is the true beauty of the plant revealed.
Often times, this is true of middle school students as well. Right now, in this tumultuous season of their lives it’s easy to only see their leaves. It can be tempting to dismiss them and get distracted by their ungainliness.
And yet, we are exactly the ones who need to dig and search further. We need discerning ears to hear them as they beg us to look closer. We need clarity of vision to see past the unlovable. We need soft hearts to be sure we don’t miss the very best parts of who they are.
I think one of the richest, most affirming passages in all of scripture is Psalm 139. From first verse to last it is full of promises and glimpses highlighting the glorious intimacy between God the Father and His creation. Sandwiched in the middle of that chapter is verse 14.
“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
As if that simple truth weren’t enough, there is further treasure to be found here. One of the possible translations of the Hebrew word for “wonderfully” is “show marvelous”. “Show marvelous or show extraordinary or splendid,” according to Webster’s dictionary. Again I was reminded of the daisy. Despite it’s ugly leaves, if you wait patiently and give it a chance, it will most definitely show itself to be marvelous. If you look past the unappealing mess that encircles the heart of the plant, you will be struck by just how marvelous it is.
This is true of these students we have chosen to share our journey with. If we withhold our judgment and wait patiently we will see that there is vibrancy beyond the baseness, there is softness amidst the roughness and there is beauty despite the awkwardness. That amidst all the unsightly tangles surrounding them, they are divine creations and in God’s time, He will complete them, reveal them and show them marvelous.
My 7th grade small group is full of Gerbera daisies. There are days when I wonder if they’ll ever bloom and have to remind myself of their great potential. And then there are days when I get glimpses. Days when the Creator gives me a hint of what’s to come and shows me a preview of their magnificent blooms. In those moments, I am profoundly grateful for this role I get to play. I am humbled by my unique opportunity to watch as they unfold and “show marvelous.”
Do you have Gerbera daisies in your group? Which leaves are the hardest to see past? Have you perhaps, amidst the awkwardness, caught glimpses of beauty and splendor? How is God moving your heart to nurture and encourage their fragile hearts and spirits?