If you've ever been a middle school kid, you've been through the pain of betrayal.
You know what I'm talking about--that day when a classmate suddenly decides to forsake the seat next to you at the lunch table and make a beeline for your arch nemesis instead?
Or that time when your "friends" ganged up on you in gym and turned you into the living target for a game of dodge ball?
Perhaps, for you, it was the moment in which you found a note gossiping about you on the floor, and you spent the rest of the day wondering why people hated you for seemingly no good reason.
Look at that--we relate. We've all been there, and felt the pain of a friend who turned on us or walked away from us.
Why do middle schoolers carry out this act of betrayal so well? Well--we all know about our sinful depravity. Brains aren't fully developed yet in junior high. As a result, our little cherubs don't always make the best decisions.
Besides, they're stuck smack dab in the middle of the awful in-between years. They're desperately trying to figure out life and relationships and everything else under the sun. They're confused, they don't know who they are yet, and they don't understand boundaries, social graces and how to handle stress very well.
It's a difficult stage of life to battle through, and the most challenging part is that each of our students must do it for themselves. We can't step in, as adults, and knock the bullies to the ground--or tell their friends to shape up. We're unable to force their brains to suddenly mature, or to make every decision for them. It's part of the experience of growing into a mature, functional adult to face these challenges and overcome them as an individual.
While middle school boys tend to tackle each other, put the offending party in headlock, and throw the occasional punch, it's more subtle but just as painful for young teenage girls. Their battle consists of gossip, verbal aggression and bullying, and social ostracizing.
It's a "trial by fire," you could say.
However, what do you do when a student turns on you--an adult?
Let me be candid, and share that I am still reeling from this very situation with one of the students I've always been closest to in my ministry. I'd be the first to admit that it's not easy to deal with, even as an adult. It's certainly something I haven't figured out---but judging by the other youth leaders I talk with, it's something that many of us have faced.
And as much as we'd like to pretend that we aren't hurt when a student suddenly turns on us, betrays us or walks away from us, we are.
We're human. Our feelings and emotions are fragile, too, as much as we'd like to believe that the years of adulthood have transformed us into hearty individuals that can withstand everything.
Isn't it ironic how we can counsel kids who are dealing with divorced parents, eating disorders, self-injury and suicidal thoughts--and then be so hurt by a single person betraying us?
Although I am by no means an expert, my instinctual advice to both us leaders and adults and to our middle school student, hurt from the pain of betrayal, is the same.
As Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote in his book Life Together, "The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists of listening to them. Just as love of God begins with listening to his word, so the beginning of our love for our brothers and sisters is learning to listen to them."
God has blessed us with a community of believers around us, and one of the incredible benefits of this community is the ability to share things like this that hurt us. We can show our support to our students, co-workers, fellow leaders, parents and others by being a good listener and offering sage advice when sought. Sharing our pains, frustrations and hurt feelings with others allows the light to break through into a darkness that could very well fester inside of us. Our words, presence and prayer for each other can make such a difference in these distressing moments in our lives.
At the same time, I think we need to be shrewdly aware that Satan will do everything in his power to twist the situation to make us feel inadequate, worthless, bitter, beat down, jaded or a complete failure. I suspect that many amazing leaders have been cut down early in their ministry by these unfounded lies.
Is it despicable that Satan would prey on us when we're already wounded and down? Yes--we can never forget what John 8:44 tells us, that the devil is "a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies."
In the midst of our painful hurts, we can cling to the knowledge that Jesus Himself faced the anguish of Judas--a dear friend--rejecting Him. And knowing that our Savior knows how it feels to be callously discarded, it seems to mean something a little deeper and sweeter when He promises that He will "never leave you nor forsake you" (Joshua 1:5).
Even in the storm clouds of such a sorrowful time in our lives, whether we are twelve or seventy-two, there's a silver lining of hope. Our comfort in these times of earthly tribulation is that they are temporary, and we have the promise of eternal bliss with our Savior, Jesus, to look forward to.
And knowing that, we can withstand anything that this world--or our friends, students or associates--can throw at us. As Psalm 119:50 says so well, "My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life."