When I was in youth ministry I used to be amazed at the power held by the front seat of the car. Not just those annoying squabbles that would start the moment the car came into view about who got "shot gun" but the power the front seat had to turn the quietest kid into a veritable fountain of words. It was not the wisest decision to drive teens places by myself, I recognize my naivete looking back, but those moments driving kids home were precious and so important.
Of course, the car phenomenon also occurred when other teens were in the car but it took on a different twist. The adult driver, whoever they were, ceased to be a person with ears listening to the conversation. I learned more about the youth in the youth group I was leading driving on a 2 hour car trips than I did at youth group nights for two months. Only the shrewdest of youth members would remember that I was driving the car, but usually it was like I wasn't in there or suddenly couldn't understand their language, the fountain of words would just flow. I would pipe in from time to time with a comment, especially when the conversation got a little too iffy for a youth group trip, or burst out laughing at the most absurd parts of the conversation just because I could not contain the laughter any more. Those conversations are why we had monthly youth group excursions to places at least a half hour away.
A few former youth members, whom I now call friends, and I headed out to the Big City this past weekend. It was about an hour and a half car ride. The topics of discussion were varied and fun and we reminisced about the days of long youth group car trips. They are at a point now where they are the adults taking youth group members places and they experience what I experienced. It was awesome.
But the moment that clinched the whole day for me came in the 10 minute car ride from dropping one person off to the other persons house. I was driving, they were in the back seat (too tired to move) and the power of the back seat was immense. The fountain of words began to flow, so much so that we sat in their driveway for 10 minutes just talking. I looked in the rear view mirror at this former youth member, who I now call friend, and tried really hard not to cry. For sitting looking back at me was an adult, but also a teenager I had shuttled home for years, and there I was listening to them share their heart all these years later.
While much has changed, the phenomenon of the car remains.