Let me tell you something about middle schoolers that I’ve learned over the years.
They hoard food.
In every parish I’ve worked in or visited — no matter how well I know the kitchens are stocked in their homes — middle schoolers will stuff their pockets with cookies, chips and cans of coke before, during and after youth group. I’ve decided it’s because as sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, they’re being given the opportunity to pick out what they’ll eat and drink for the first time.
Until this point, they’ve always chosen their food under adult supervision. However, at youth group we’re giving them a taste of freedom — literally and figuratively — and they must find it exhilarating to both choose what they want for now and have the freedom to prepare for the unknown future.
I now give strict rules for middle school dinners like, “you must finish the first five slices of pizza on your plate before taking more” and “drinks must be consumed AT youth group, not taken home and stowed away in your room for this weekend’s sleepover”. It gets zooey when we take students to events where the organizers, wishing to show hospitality, don’t regulate what students take from the snack table. At a recent retreat, I caught kids stowing plates of cookies in between the bleachers for later, and one especially resourceful girl rolling up slices of pizza and stashing them in an empty chip bag she placed in her backpack.
“What is that for?” I asked her.
“I might get hungry later.”
I made a mental note to check the car seats very carefully after the kids were dropped off.
It’s easy for me to chuckle at the way kids act because I have the schedule for the day. I know that they’ll have plenty to eat, and I know that they don’t need to stash crackers in their pockets — we’ll give them everything they need (and most of what they want).
And yet, how many times must God look at me the way I look at these kiddos? I can talk for days about trusting God, but when the time comes for me to put it in practice, it’s scary. Trusting God with the deeply personal matters of family, finances and the future can leave me feeling like the kids hoarding pizza — I want to stay in control, who knows what could happen?
For example, just a few days ago, I had to enter some new banking information in our online tithing profile. When the time came to enter how much we would give each month, I panicked. “What if something happens? What if we need this? What if there’s a shoe sale I’m now unprepared for?” (I know. I’m very pious.)
“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you… plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future full of hope” (Jer 29:11). The words of the prophet Jeremiah resonate in these moments. God knows what I need, and His plans are better for me than anything I could imagine.
There’s no need to hoard cold pizza.