Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. These are brave words to trot out when we want to deflect hurtful words, but do they really reflect our true selves? It stinks getting hurt. I got beaned in the eyelid last night – with an actual bean. A student made a poor choice to aim his straw directly at me and blow an uncooked pinto bean, from close range, in a game where the participants were supposed to wear goggles… for a reason. Don’t even get me started on how much it hurts to dislocate a shoulder. I’ve done it at least six times, and there may be a seventh I’m blocking out.
The sleep I lose replaying what I could have done differently never makes up for the disappointment I feel in myself…
Getting hurt, and causing hurt, is not limited to physical pain. While the impact is not as obvious as a skinned knee or a bruised elbow, there is another kind of pain that all too often we in youth ministry can cause and not even realize it until much later. Sometimes we will only know about it when a parent calls us on it, or communicates it to those higher on the totem than us.
Proverbs is full of pithy reminders to choose the wise path and eschew foolishness. When I looked up the familiar admonishment, Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows is a man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I was only joking!” (Prov. 26:18-19), I found myself lingering over the whole arsenal of chapter 26. Quarrels and gossip lead to all kinds of trouble… does that sound like any young teens you’ve met? (Or been?)
Be aware at all times of how each student is experiencing what you say, and how you say it.