Sometimes I forget I'm not the boss of everyone.
A few weeks ago, I brought my youth group to a weekend conference. I'm not entirely sure why the organizers thought this was a good idea, but about 400 high-schoolers stayed in a beachside resort alongside guests who innocently booked a weekend getaway, unaware that they were about to share their coastal paradise with our 400 teenagers. Four hundred mouths who were not quite capable of whispering in the hallways. Eight hundred feet not used to walking softly through marble hallways that amplified their footsteps. Four hundred cellphones with ringtones they forgot to silence.
You get the idea.
We, the adults in charge, were given strict orders to be vigilant with not just our own youth groups, but the other groups at the conference. No Catholic teen was to be caught misbehaving, and we needed to be sure to regulate any youth we encountered contemplating a misstep.
As good Southern children, this group was unruffled by our zero-tolerance of tomfoolery policy. Most kids who choose to spend a weekend with their church aren't out to cause trouble, and a stern "shhh" directed at any group of teens talking too loudly will bring quick silence and a sheepish "very sorry, ma'am" from the offending party.
It was working fine until I stopped a teen running down the hallway. "Sir," I commanded, "what are you doing?" "Uh. Going to the pool?" He replied. "The pool? It's not time to go to the pool. Why aren't you with your group in your workshop?" I inquired. "Workshop?" He was obviously confused. Then it dawned on me. He was a kid on vacation with his family, not a kid at a youth conference.
"I thought you were someone else," I mumbled, and walked away quickly.
A few months ago, I heard Archbishop Tobin of Indianapolis address youth about faith, explaining that it is "first and foremost knowing a person and letting that person know us." Sometimes I'm asked why I choose to believe in God and live my life within the boundaries of organized religion. There are so many rules to follow, so many things I'm told I can't do.
However, like Archbishop Tobin said, I don't see religion as rules -- it's all about a relationship with God -- knowing him and recognizing that he created me for eternity with him, he's going to give me what I need.
When I stopped the random kid in the hallway, he didn't know who I was. When I told him he needed to go to a workshop, that meant nothing to him. He wasn't going to do what I said, and he was probably going to call 911 and report the crazy lady scolding him as soon as he got out of my vision. We didn't have a relationship so my words were meaningless and even a bit frightening.
In contrast, the teens in my group were happy to follow my instructions. I didn't even have to admonish them. They were so eager to participate and do what Miss Alison said. They trusted me, knowing I wanted them to have a good time and even though my "no packing 50 people in the elevator" rule seemed like a buzzkill, they figured I knew best.
The laws of God are important -- they bring us peace and happiness. They provide a structure for treating others with respect. It's our relationship with God, however, that motivates us to follow these laws. Knowing God and letting him know us makes obedience a joy -- not an obligation.
Follow columnist Alison Griswold at twitter.com/alisongriz. Read her blog at www.teamcatholic.blogspot.com.