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Embracing the Mid-Trip Meltdown

The introverts are feeling a lack of personal space. The extroverts are tired of being judged as annoying. The “highly spiritual” people are tired of the “not-so-spiritual” people (and vice versa). About halfway into the trip, you’d like to turn around and head back home. So what do you do?

The answer isn’t to go back but to open up. I just wish I hadn’t learned that the hard way…

When I was a rookie youth pastor years ago, my wife and I took 10 students on a nine-day road trip. The goal was to provide different service experiences each day in a variety of environments. We traveled through five states and logged more than 60 hours in a van with no air conditioning.

Halfway into the trip, the tension was evident. At first everyone just seemed a bit snippy. Soon, however, siblings were surprisingly ugly with one another. Then best friends became horrid antagonists. One night, when a teenager was ready to punch another for dissing a certain Christian band, everything culminated in a huge explosion.

The explosion? Yeah, that was me. I’d reached my breaking point. Pulling off the highway, I drove into a parking lot and told everyone to get out of the van. As they did, I quickly walked in the other direction to find my footing. Heartbroken over the situation, I needed a place to weep. So that’s all I did for several minutes.

Eventually I walked back and said, “What are we arguing about? We’re not debating how to win people to Christ or how to challenge each other in our faith. We’ve become mean. We’ve become cruel. And you know what? We won’t be any good for any of the service projects we have planned until we get it straightened out. Now I’m going back inside the van, and when you’re done working this out you can join me.”

Fifteen minutes later, everyone sheepishly loaded in. No one said a word. Apparently we hadn’t solved anything; we’d only named it. I figured I’d have to get serious again in the morning. But after a full night’s sleep, I woke up with a new idea: We headed to a mall.

My wife and I kept an eye on the kids but let them have time to do nothing. Instead of being crammed in a sweaty van that smelled like a moldy cheeseburger (there’s a reason for that, which is another story), teenagers could just walk around and be teenagers. A few introverts laid down on benches and closed their eyes. The two extroverts who’d argued about songs ended up in a music store together, listening to—guess what—music together. The highly spiritual students walked up to strangers and asked how they could pray for them.

And we eventually all came together for food. By that point, it was like the first day of the trip again, with everyone full of excitement and energy. Teenagers talked about what had happened and how ugly things had gotten. When they had room to open up personally, they eventually opened up to each other.

I’ve learned to plan ahead for the mid-trip meltdown and watch for warning signs , which show up as a case of the BLAHS:

  • Bored: Are teenagers feeling as if they have nothing important to do? Put them in charge of something that interests them.
  • Lonely: Are kids missing life back home? Have them call a family member or friend.
  • Angry: Are teenagers at the breaking point with someone or something? Introduce humor; for example, listen to a clean stand-up CD or play a crazy road-trip game.
  • Hungry: Are kids tired of the weird food they’re eating? Find pizza…seriously good pizza.
  • Sleepy: Are teenagers worn out? Give them a sleep-in day.

Embracing the mid-trip meltdown is part of the trip. It doesn’t mean catering to teenagers’ every whim but remembering that they’re humans with natural limits.

Have you ever had to navigate a mid-trip meltdown? What did you learn, and what do you recommend?

2 thoughts on “Embracing the Mid-Trip Meltdown

  1. Avatar
    Mark Simone

    Good article. Thx. We are nearly neighbors. I’m in Chagrin Falls. Thanks

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Embracing the Mid-Trip Meltdown

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