At the request of his parents, who are long time friends, I visit with Michael (not his actual name) a high school student, once a month, over food. I pick him up at his high school and we head to a local restaurant where he orders his obligatory burger and fries while I look on enviously as I sip my cup of vegetable beef soup. :-)
We spend the first 15 minutes just catching up, with me telling Michael things like, ‘I pulled something in my back this past weekend’ and ‘We babysat my daughter and son in law’s dog, Boomer’ and ‘I am not sure the Sixers have the horsepower to go very far in the playoffs.’ Michael, in turn will tell me things like, ‘I have practice after school which can make for a long day’ and ‘I like my classes, but physics is difficult’ and ‘I sometimes procrastinate when it comes to homework.’ It’s typically pretty innocuous stuff.
At that point I typically ask Michael an ice breaker question (that we both answer) like ‘If you were to describe yourself using three adjectives, what would they be?’ Then we discuss a few questions from the latest chapter of CS Lewis’ fictional account of a bus ride from heaven to hell entitled, ‘The Great Divorce.’ It's a fabulous book and a pleasure to discuss. Michael is very insightful and his answers to many of the questions I ask him always impress me. Michael is a believer and seems to enjoy talking about the practical implications of a relationship with Christ.
The reason I mention Michael is simply because the thought has occurred to me, on more than one occasion, that there should be more of this sort of thing. I wish every high school kid had a trusted adult to confide in and, one hopes, glean wisdom from.
Were I simply Michael’s Sunday School teacher, he’d be more of an acquaintance. I’d know something about Michael but I’d likely not really know Michael the way I do now.
Now, I realize that in this day and age, telling someone 'that you are in ministry and that you meet with a high school kid each month' would raise a few eyebrows. I get it. It should, for the simple reason that caution is always in order with regard our children. After all, we find ourselves (for you Tolkien fans out there) closer to ‘Mordor’ than ‘The Shire’ these days.
Having said that, it's a shame that intergenerational-mentoring (which is nothing more than a euphemism for faithful-friendship) is so rare. I don’t know about you, but I would have loved it when I was a high schooler. I’d have cherished the opportunity to meet, monthly, over dinner, with a man that my parents and I trusted...and with whom I could confide. Someone I could ask any spiritual question of without fear of embarrassment. Someone I might look up and see at one of my swim meets. Someone I could ask for guidance from, as I considered asking the girl I had a crush on, to the prom. Someone who’d tell me stories about his high school years that intersected with my own. Someone to whom I could say stuff that I’d be embarrassed or afraid to tell my own parents. Someone who’d help me to see that what I was looking for, in all the wrong places, was Jesus. I’d relish someone who would, in the healthiest way possible, love me when I felt anything but lovable. Someone who would remind me that God loves me even when I didn't even like myself, or failed an exam, or swam badly or, you name it.
In short, I would have cherished a Yoda to help me live a little more faithfully and wisely through the rapids we call adolescence.
I'm no Yoda, to be sure, but am thankful to so many of you who enable me to privilege of walking alongside Michael during these turbulent adolescent years.