August 16, 2020
In the middle of this chaotic summer of 2020, I find myself one early Saturday morning at the recently opened pool that we use in the summer. Perhaps due to my vocation, youth ministry, I really enjoy and learn from observing and listening to young people.
On this morning, I’ve gotten to the pool early to swim laps. The middle school age swim team of the pool is heavily involved in practice. Lap lanes are full, with two to three teenagers a lane. Their coach, who walks quickly back and forth along the long edge of the 50-meter pool calling out instructions, stops the team and asks them to move to the end of the pool. The coach tells the team (who looks a lot like a herd of cats or kindergartners or flapping/squawking water birds) to quiet down. As the chatter quiets, she tells them about their final exercise sequence. They will swim the full length of the Olympic-size pool underwater.
There is an audible group gasp. I’m pretty sure I gasped out loud, too.
She says, “If you listen, I can help you and this will be an enormously beneficial skill for you to add to your strengthening this summer. Stop talking and breathe.” They stop talking. I see their shiny capped heads stop bobbing around and I hear them breathing.
Their coach says that she has three things for them to remember. First – stop panicking right now. Your heart rate increases when you panic. You need to slow your heart rate so that it feeds the oxygen consistently. And – you don’t need to panic. She then tells them some stories about how long the human body can actually be underwater.
Second, she says, “Stack your oxygen sources! You have oxygen sources throughout your body. In your lungs, diaphragm, heart, blood. Imagine as you swim that you are benefiting from each of these places and not just one bubble of air.”
Third – if you can see the end of the pool and you feel short of breath, blow out air. You are guaranteed another 5 yards at least. If you know you can’t make it, rise up, breathe and get back under. Forget shame. You are strengthening.
Off they go! Hauntingly quiet on the surface but you can see the ripples. I feel so anxious. So many made it to the end. A few heads popped up, looked a bit disoriented at where they were, but at the coach’s urging they went back under.
My brain and heart were on fire. To see so much in one morning. To be reminded of so much in one accidental observation.
Here is the takeaway for us! Right now, right now, today, our young people are practicing, panicking, learning, rejecting, celebrating, mourning, running away and perhaps most of all – enduring. I see myself and my youth worker colleagues in the words of the coach. How we can help our young people by offering concrete, simple, guidance for a swirling time. Stop panicking = get your heart to the place where it is beating so that you can be active, faithful, present. Stack your oxygen sources = find all of the places within you that provide the nutrients you need to go into the world. To face the crazy. To do justice. To deal with the confusion and not be overwhelmed by it or ignorant of it. When you see “edges,” try to reach inside to make it to the edge or do what you need to do to get there. But do not disregard what comes ahead. There will be celebration. There will be some disappointment. You might want to run away. But do not run away. Run filled with the breath of God. The love and instruction of people around you. Run because this church needs your joy, your presence, and your willingness to do new and scary things.
Gina Yeager-Buckley, Associate for Youth Ministry, Theology, Formation & Evangelism, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, August 16, 2020, the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
Today’s Focus: Youth in the Church and World
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
O God, your Creation is young and old. Your people are ready for your gifts at all ages and stages in their lives. Today we give thanks for the gift of young faith, young leadership and relationships with our young people. Amen.