I received a phone call yesterday from a parent of 3 girls (1 high school, 2 junior high) who are in my youth group. The family has 7 kids and the 3 I have are heavily involved in sports, including club teams over the summer so they miss Sunday meetings pretty frequently. I don't like it - they are very sweet girls and have some good leadership potential which I could probably leverage if they were here more often - but I accept it. That is how that family is and I am not going to be able to change it.
Anyways, I get a call from this mother who is upset because I made a joke when one of her daughters came into class late. I get it both barrells right off the bat, barely even a hello before she's on the attack. "Do you think this is the right way to run a youth group? Do you think kids respond to it?" Etc, etc. Not expecting an attack, she caught me off guard and I got defensive. I wasn't rude or angry, but at the same time, I wasn't very contrite. In all honesty, the joke I made was about the girl coming in late, not missing some Sundays as the mother assumed. And the mother was upset because I asked her daughter to read something - not knowing the girl has a learning disability and gets very embarassed about reading in public. I was never made aware of this, and when I pointed this out to the mother it made little difference. So I fumed for a while.
Then I got thinking about it. I joke around a lot, which is almost a requirement in youth ministry, but maybe there are times when my jokes cross the line of being funny & light-hearted and could be perceived as being hurtful. I don't ever intend, but I can admit that it happens. Now, that's not so bad - anyone could and should be able to admit to that. What really, REALLY wounds my fragile pride is that this woman was right in what she said, if not in the way she said it. I have never wanted to admit error in the face of that kind of barrage, but I know I need to. Not just because my joke hurt this kid, but because it is what God expects of me. I was reading St Isaac the Syrian's teachings on the ascetic life and he says always blame yourself first; take responsibility for the actions of others. He's right - that is the path to holiness and he wasn't lying when he said it ain't easy.