Yesterday afternoon – yes, on Halloween – Doug and I had to go to his younger sister’s confirmation service at the Lutheran church he grew up in. Being Catholic, I’m never too sure how I feel about other denominations’ services; they just don’t feel structured enough for me, and there’s too much standing and swaying and raising of hands to the heavens. (And yes, I’m aware that other Christians say equally special things about the structure of the Catholic Mass, or, as Doug refers to it, “stand-up-sit-down-kneel-repeat.”)
But this service, because they wanted to give every confirmant a chance to read a chosen Bible verse, state their vows to God and the church, and receive an individual blessing while their families and friends laid hands on them, was three hours long. And where I come from, we just don’t do that.
That being said, we got through it all, and were rewarded afterwards with cake. But my real prize was the booklet the confirmation class had made, wherein each one of them “reflected on their life’s verse.” Some of them were general: they stated the verse and then reflected on what it meant for society in general – Doug’s sister’s was one of these.
But some of them were more personal, using specific examples – like dozens of religious little Mushroom columns! One girl talked about having to play in the Varsity soccer game because their goalie was out (she was the JV goalie) and feeling responsible when the team lost; another talks about her friends not wanting to be friends with her anymore; a few talk about medical scares – bee stings and appendectomies and grandfathers undergoing surgery. And then they stop sounding so much like Mushroom columns when they tie it all back to Jesus, because that was the point of the assignment:
I remember that Jesus died on the cross so that we may have an eternal life in heaven and this is a joyful, happy and amazing thing and so it seems silly to feel lonely, unenthusiastic and sad over something so temporary as a piano grade.
I loved reading about these 14-year-olds’ worries and fears and drama, because it made me remember how huge and immediate everything seemed when I was in high school. Not that I ever really lost sight of that. My orthodontist, who’s known me since I was two and my mom was in braces, likes to tell me how easy kids have it compared to adults. And every time, I remind him that kids don’t know they have it easy, because to them, their lives are hard. And I guess that’s what they mean when they say we’re not given more than we can handle.
That must also be true for me, as it’s true for those 45 kids. Ending my marriage, losing my pregnancy – these events seemed like the end of the world at the time, and they still hurt now, but one day I’ll look back and see how much smaller they’ve become. And undoubtedly, some new enormous-seeming trial will have risen up to take their place. Which is why it’s so important to hold onto the moments of joy and moments of clarity when we get them, because they are how we chip away at the overwhelming sorrows and struggles life bears.
And now I want to share with you part of my very favorite of all the reflections, the essay that would get the A if I were the teacher, the one that is the most Mushroom-sounding of them all, written by a 14-year-old boy:
When I was in seventh grade my confirmation group went to serve at the Soup kitchen in downtown San Diego. My job was to greet people and help them with their food trays if they needed it. One of the people that I met that day gave me a new perspective on others and I believe God planned it that way. He was about 60 years old and asked me my age. I told him and he replied, “Oh, you must be in 7th grade.” He went on to say, “You must be studying medieval history.” I was surprised that he knew what I was learning. I asked him how he knew that and he told me that he had been a teacher and had been laid off and could no longer pay his bills. I was shocked that this was an educated man who needed help. Maybe there was more to his story but the lesson I learned that day was not to judge other people…
God humbled me that day. Here was a normal person who ended up in hard times. God has commanded us to help others and to share the good news. This experience has made me thankful for what I have…
Amen, teenage boy. Amen.