I was sitting in the back row at our worship service this morning when a kid from our congregation came and set down next to me. I asked him how he was doing and he kind of shrugged and said, “Okay.” I said, “Just okay?” and he said with a long face: “Yeah.”
Well, my years in Chicago gave me plenty of experience in sensing when a child wants to talk about something. So I asked him, “Is something wrong?” He looked at me with the biggest eyes and nodded. “What happened?” I asked, and he told me I had to guess. I started running through some options: “Did you get in a fight? Did you get hurt? Did you get in trouble? Did something happen at school?…at home?” He shook his head for each of my guesses, and his only comment to me was this: “Did I sound like this last week?” I thought it was a strange thing to say but I figured he just meant that he didn’t sound sad or depressed when we had talked last week.
Meanwhile, the offering is being collected around us and I am straining to keep up our conversation with the music playing. I have run out of guesses at this point, and my friend can sense that I am stuck. “Okay, I will give you a hint,” he said, coming to my aid. “I am twelve years old now.” I look at him, not having any clue what he is getting at. “My voice,” he said finally, with a desperate look on his face. “Listen to my voice!”
The light went on for me, at last. “Your voice is changing,” I said, relieved that THIS was the thing that was troubling him (my mind had been racing through any number of horrible things a child can fearfully confess to a trusted adult). “You’re twelve now, and this is something special that happens to every boy,” I said putting my arm around him.
“Yeah,” he said, looking at me soberly, “I know.” And then he paused, and looked at me with his huge eyes: “I’m scared.”
It was such a tender moment. I felt entrusted with something so significant–the fears of a boy facing manhood; a boy without a father in his home; a boy who has already in his few years borne considerable burdens not meant for the young.
He reminded me what our life together as a church should be like all the time. That we should come to each other regularly with our weakness and our fears; that we should be quick to release and receive from each other those things that are painful and challenging. We should see each other as exactly who we need to seek out for comfort and listening and vulnerability. Too often we come with our game face on. My little friend showed me a different way and reminded me what kind of people we are called to be for one another.