“Lots of balloons popping will give me a panic attack,” cried my student as she walked into our prayer station room in tears.
Moments before, I’d given students directions about how to complete our prayer stations, urging them to take them seriously, go quietly, and pray throughout. I’d also warned them that the room wouldn’t be silent; that one of the prayer stations involved popping balloons.
Hence my student’s comment.
Upon seeing my student’s tears, I simply reacted. I ushered her out of the room into a neighboring one that was quiet… And empty. She assured me she’d be okay journaling so I left her to it, telling her we’d leave the prayer stations up so she could do them later, during free time.
I then slipped back into the prayer station room to ensure all was going well. A few minutes later, I began doing the prayer stations myself.
Every few minutes, I heard the popping of balloons – each designed to represent the shattering of a stereotype and our desire to be “one in Christ”.
When I’d written the prayer stations the week before, this was one I was particularly excited about. I expected that each time I heard a balloon pop I’d feel a sense of satisfaction.
Instead, all I felt was sorrow as I pictured my student sitting alone in another room, unable to bear the constant popping of balloons.
As I continued to progress through the prayer stations, my mind raced ahead to our next small group discussion when we’d be sharing about our prayer station experience. I wondered what we should do with this student. I figured she could skip the discussion, but then she’d be missing another part of the retreat. Or she could just listen to her peers’ reflections on their prayer experience.
Neither option felt good to me.
So I continued on, hoping a better alternative would come to me.
A few minutes later, I found myself thinking about a devotion one of my leaders had given earlier during our retreat. In it, he suggested that rather than ask What would Jesus do? we should ask, “What would Jesus have me do?”
A subtle, yet important difference that I found myself contemplating as I silently shuffled from one prayer station to the next.
What would Jesus have me do?
Suddenly it occurred to me that I could simply remove the balloon popping prayer station. Doing so would allow my student to participate in the prayer stations and subsequent small group discussions with her peers.
Immediately, I knew this was a good solution. It was what Jesus would have me do.
In Scripture, Jesus routinely goes out on a limb for one person. He goes out of his way to heal individuals. He speaks of a shepherd leaving his flock to find one sheep. He looks at the crowd and finds the one person who’s been marginalized and then figures out how to include them.
Having realized this, I removed the balloons and directions for that prayer station and then went and got my student. I apologized for how long it had taken me to figure out what to do and told her how much I wanted her to participate in the prayer stations. She came and eagerly joined in.
As I continued thinking about this, I realized my excitement over this particular prayer station had prevented me from seeing the best – most obvious – solution.
How often, I wonder, does this happen in our youth ministries?
How often do we allow our excitement over an event, talk, activity, or illustration to cloud our judgment? How often does the time we put into preparing something make us reluctant to change it? How often does our excitement cause us to sacrifice one student for the good of the group?
Probably more often than we realize… Or at least more often than we want to admit.
But it doesn’t have to.
Unexpected situations will inevitably arise.
When they do, the key is not to let our excitement overpower our ability to make good decisions. Instead, we need to slow down and ask ourselves, What would Jesus have me do? Then do what needs to be done in order to minister to the people in your ministry, even if it means sacrificing a programatic element you’re excited about.
In the days leading up to our prayer experience, I prayed that God would use our prayer stations to transform people.
God also used our prayer stations – and the removal of one – to transform me.