I was recently watching an episode of The Simpsons (the writing is sheer genius). In it the kids on Bart’s school bus were singing a song I hadn’t heard in years:
Hail to the bus driver, bus driver, bus driver
Hail to the bus driver, bus driver man…
I won’t finish the chorus but if you know it, feel free to finish the song at your computer.
It took me back to my bus riding days in my cool parochial school uniform with Toughskin pants. The smell of my fresh plastic Trapper Keeper overpowered the stench of my bologna sandwich. Oh, those were the days…
I rode that bus for several years. Now, you’d think that I would have learned my way around town – all the different streets and routes – riding on the bus every day but nothing could be further from the truth. I was so busy interacting with friends that I never really paid attention to where the bus driver was going. I just trusted him to get me to my destination.
A couple years later I found myself behind the wheel of my first car. I felt liberated. I felt exhilarated. I also felt directionally discombobulated and completely lost. All those years riding around town on the bus and in my parents’ cars had left me with little to no sense of direction. Everyone else had driven me. I was so immersed in music, handheld games, friends and conversation that I was never forced to navigate on my own.
I see the same happen to middle school and high school youth in some parishes I visit. They’re being “driven” within the youth ministries but rarely empowered. I see this especially when it comes to prayer. I would offer that many Youth Ministers I meet are more “bus drivers” than they are “Student Driving Instructors.” Many leaders instinctively take the reigns in leading prayer for and within the group without ever inviting the teens to do it, instead. Before anyone takes offense, please allow me to elaborate.
I know that sometimes a teen doesn’t feel comfortable leading prayer aloud. I realize that other teens can become overly ornate in their wording and appear as though they are seeking attention. I have witnessed many teens attempt to lead a prayer and freeze, get distracted or offer a seemingly nonsensical, five second prayer that might leave you feeling like it makes the Communion of Saints cry.
All that being said, we are called to teach these souls how to pray on their own (driving instructors) not just get them where they need to go (bus drivers) every time.
Driving Instructors are brave. They are out on the streets, seated right beside a young soul with little more than a second brake to protect them. As a driving instructor, you might need to work your brake at times. You will need to prepare them before you “start.” You might need to pull over and walk them through how to do certain things. The point is that you are actively helping them and empowering them to do it on their own. You’re not just teaching them a skill; you’re growing their own confidence in that skill.
Here are a few questions to consider:
- Do you invite teens to open and close Life Nights or other meetings in prayer?
- Do you begin and/or end other conversations with teens by praying? Are you always the one who leads it?
- Which do you do more often, pray with teens or assure teens of your prayers for them?
- Are your small group leaders trained to invite the teens to begin in prayer?
- Do teens feel empowered or encouraged to lead prayer on their own in a group setting without being asked?
- Are your teens comfortable praying aloud with one another and leading prayers for one another without you present?
- Have your youth been exposed to various forms of traditional Catholic prayer or only the ones you find most edifying?
- Has their “prayer vocabulary” been developed beyond just petition?
- Is their worship dependant on music? Is silence a desire or an obstacle for them?
I realize this isn’t rocket science. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. It’s the simplest reminders that reap the greatest rewards sometimes. Invite your teens to take a more active role in the youth ministries’ prayer – give them the keys – and they’ll take you on routes the predictable old bus driver never dreamed of going.