Over the years, I've sat in a number of counseling workshops and classes. Inevitably at such places, we talk about the importance of establishing boundaries with the teens we serve as youth pastors. As part of this, trainers often suggest that you either don't give out your cell phone number to students or that if you do, you establish clear times when it's acceptable for them to call you. Of course, as part of this conversation, trainers are also always quick to say something like, “During crises, you might want to give a student permission to call you 24-7.”
Throughout my time in youth ministry, there have been a handful of times in which I've granted teens permission to call me 24-7. I do so because I understand the importance of being present in a teen's life. I know that when we're walking with teens through tough stuff, there are seasons in which it makes sense for them to have more access to us than others. Never has this permission to call me 24-7 been abused.
Truthfully, this has always surprised me; I've always wondered why this is.
Recently, though, I was on the receiving end of this permission to call someone 24-7.
Since the arrival of my beautiful baby girl, we've been working hard to teach her how to breastfeed – an act that's far less natural than you might think. As part of this, we sought help from a lactation consultant at a local hospital.
After four visits and lots of tears, Kathy, our lactation consultant, recommended that we “bite the bullet” and go all in for 48 hours. As part of this, she told us to stop pumping, stop supplementing, and stop using a nipple shield (something that can make it easier for the baby to latch). She'd seen this method work before and thought it might work for us as well.
Kathy must have seen the fear on my face. Up to that point, we'd depended on all the things she'd just forbidden us to use in order to keep our baby fed. So she offered me her cell phone number and gave me permission to call her at any point during those 48 hours that I needed assistance. I was floored that a hospital professional would do such a thing but she said she'd given her cell number out a few times before and it was rarely ever abused.
Upon returning home from our appointment, I set the paper containing Kathy's cell phone number down on the table. Later that night, it got moved. When I couldn't find it, I panicked and searched the house, in tears until I found it. Then I moved it to a much safer location.
When the weekend came, we hunkered down for our bite the bullet breastfeeding weekend. It was hard and there were tears.
While I knew where Kathy's phone number was at all times and came close to calling it a few times, I never did. Simply having it was a lifeline for me.
You see, by giving me her cell phone number, Kathy communicated trust in me. She also tangibly showed me that I wasn't alone – that she was in this breastfeeding mess with me. For me, that knowledge was enough to get me through the weekend.
Thanks to our 48 hours of breastfeeding bootcamp, my daughter is now breastfeeding like a champ.
And thanks to Kathy's willingness to give me her cell phone number and more importantly, permission to call it, I've learned something about youth ministry, too.
When we give teens in our ministries permission to call us 24-7 during periods of crises, regardless of whether or not they actually use our phone number, we give them a lifeline. We entrust them with a piece of our lives and in so doing, tangibly show them they're important; That they matter so much to us that they can interrupt us; And perhaps most importantly, that they're not alone. Instead, we're with them – even when we can't physically be with them. That's a powerful message to give a teen in crisis.
I know because it was a powerful message Kathy gave me.