I have never been a sports fan. I wasn’t brought up around sports. I was horrible at them. To this day I trip over my own feet.
That was until I got into college. I went to UMass Amherst, during the years that we had a close to amazing basketball team. I got totally caught up in the games, the fun, and the midnight madness. I shouted the names of my favorite players along with everyone else. We became fanatics. We bought the shirts, and proudly donned maroon and grey in honor of our school. Players took the court. Thousands of us were there to let the team know they were loved and we were all in this together. Like these guys, we painted our faces and tripped over each other to let the team know we were their greatest support.
In my own life, I never experienced the power of crowds calling my name. When you are in the band the masses do not show up to yell, “WOOOHOOOO PLAY THAT TRUMPET!” But, my parents did. Every concert. They were the first ones to their feet with applause. Every play, they came to all the showings. Every science fair, my Dad would stand in the basement helping me analyze things like nuclear energy, often until the wee hours. Every good grade I brought home… Every triumph…they were there cheering.
They were also there with every tear I cried. They were there when my first boyfriend broke my heart. They picked me up when the bullies knocked me down. They had my back and supported me. When I didn’t really want to go to that party? You know the one that would get me in trouble anyway. The one in high school no one should have been at but everyone wanted to be? They were my excuse.
Recently I heard an interesting quote about teens. The gentlemen speaking said that most parents do a great job of celebrating our kids when they are babies. Everyone takes off of work to see the three year old sing, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” However, the older they get the less we show up. They tell us they don’t want us there anymore and we believe them. Yet, as children we have told them to “look to the bleachers,” where we will be cheering them on. We have shown up at the five-year-old’s soccer game and told them they were great. Somewhere along the way we stop. They are still looking to the proverbial sidelines waiting for us to scream their name.
I remember being in about fourth grade. My dad took off work to chaperone a field trip. I can’t even tell you where we went that day. I think it might have been Plymouth Rock, maybe. What I remember vividly was my dad coming to school with me. He was the only dad who came. All the other chaperones were moms. He came in and sat down and looked around, very seriously, then broke into a smile and declared, “Who wants to be in the most fun group?” I distinctly recall a classmate whispering in my ear on the way home that day, “Your Dad was right; this was the most fun group.” I was so proud. There was the time my mom was one of the only parents to accompany our group to the Boston Pops. I recall falling asleep on her lap on the ride home.
Sometimes with kids it is as simple as showing up. Just this week my son told my husband, “Dad I like it when you come to my soccer games. You are sort of like a coach that cheers me on.”
As parents that is what we are. Coaches who cheer our kids on.
However, in the youth ministry world, let’s face it, we see not every parent is good at this. I often grapple with my place in these kids lives. Do I become their biggest fan? Isn’t it more important for them to have at least one fan as opposed to no fans? If the parent won’t be there, shouldn’t I step in?
Every story is different. Sometimes there is just one parent with multiple children. They are so exhausted with life, they forget to cheer. Others believe it when their children say, “I don’t need you.” Backing away is how they are teaching them to grow up. I could sit here and tell scenario after scenario that explains why parents aren’t showing up. Some are and just feel inadequate as they attempt to “be there.”
I think the answer is two fold.
1. I remind the parents that their kids want them to show up. They are saying, “GO AWAY,” with their mouth. They are saying, “BE HERE!” with their hearts. I provide some ways that parents can show up with their kids. I have family game night, and family dinner night. I do all that I can to get as many parental figures in the room. I might need to use creative communication to get them there. It starts with me believing they will show up. I can easily say, “Well that kid will have no one there.” They might. However, I believe that kid will have someone until they are NOT there. When I am with parents I pass out easy ways to “show up” in their kids lives. We forget sometimes it is just as simple as taking the time to make time with our kids. In our house every Friday is “Pizza and a Movie Night.” That’s it. When we don’t have it the kids revolt. Even my 19-year-old.
2. I become the “2nd” biggest fan. I find out from my youth what they want people at. Is there a big game or a show or a recital? Then I intentionally find out the names of other kids on the field as well. I become the Aunt to those. I am cheering for the kid I know as loud as possible. For others I am letting them know, “Someone in the stands knows your name.” They might even have a parent there with me. That simply doubles the cheering section.
Our youth are “looking to the stands” for those who will let them know they are worthy. They are listening for their name with excitement above the crowd. There is something inside of each of us that longs to know that we are worthwhile, because we are. We are made to be in relationship with a God who has always known our name.
Just this weekend I was dropping a student off of the van after our programs. I said to him, “Hey Travis, I just want you to know how much I appreciate you coming. You are faithful every week, and I see you growing into a leader.” He barely looked at me when I spoke. It was quick, less than a 15-second interaction. A smile flashed across his totally cool and put-together exterior. He jumped off the van with a spring in his step. Sometimes “showing up” is as simple as reminding a student who they are in Christ. They can’t always see their true reflection as “Creator’s created,” and we have to show them what it looks like. It is one of the most powerful ways that we let them see that their true “biggest fan” has been rooting for them since the beginning of time. They can always look to the stands, for all of eternity and he has lost his voice screeching their praise.
If we can be crazy at a sporting event, how much more do you think its going to be when we see the Lord? We will be ecstatic as we see him. Yet, he will be waiting jumping up and down, screaming our name, donning our colors, not able to hold back how glad he is we made it. Close your eyes and think of it for a second. Isn’t that what you are waiting for?
When we show up… we are helping our kids learn that is for today, every day and all time. They may not be able to imagine that day face to face with the Lord. Every time you cheer as a parent or a youth worker we can say, “That was just a shadow of how God feels about you. Isn’t that awesome?”
I think it is.