During college, I was a member of the Baptist Student Union. On weekends, we traveled to small churches in our state to help with their youth groups. Being a preacher's daughter, I knew sometimes youth ministers needed help motivating their middle school and high school students, coming up with fresh ideas that would keep their youth involved at church and out of trouble elsewhere.
I had fun, helping with weekend retreats, leading lock-ins, preparing Bible studies for small groups.
One spring weekend, my friends and I from the BSU carpooled to a small church in a neighboring county, each of us armed with an Easter basket filled with empty plastic eggs. We had more eggs in a shopping bag; and several more baskets stacked in the trunk.
The youth minister met us at the front door of the church and led us to the multipurpose room. We arrived early, before the youth group members, in order to hide the eggs. One egg was covered with golden glitter. I watched as our director, Amy, hid the golden egg. I knew it would be difficult to find.
No sooner had we hidden the last plastic egg, the middle school and high school kids began to arrive.
After a few get-to-know-you games, Amy announced that we were having an egg hunt. A few of the older youth group members groaned. One girl rolled her eyes. They thought they were too old for an egg hunt.
Amy explained that the eggs were empty...no candy inside. Now even more students seemed to disengage. Why would they try to find empty plastic eggs?
I felt a little nervous. We were losing our audience. Tough crowd.
Amy forged on. She was only 22; but she had a measure of confidence that could only have been Heaven sent.
Ignoring the teenagers' crossed arms and bored expressions, Amy instructed us to hand each participant a basket. Then she announced to the group, "In just a minute, I'm going to yell 'Go!' and you all are going to try to find as many eggs as you can in order to WIN THIS GAME. Each egg has a point value, which is written on this piece of paper I have folded in my hand. I won't reveal the points for each egg until AFTER the hunt. You need to know, there is ONLY ONE GOLDEN EGG!"
I'm not sure if it was her enthusiasm or the mention of a golden egg or the appeal to their competitive natures or an actual miracle, but most of the disinterested teenagers perked up a little.
By the time Amy shouted, "Go!," most of the kids were hurrying around the multipurpose room.
Some grabbed every egg they saw, piling their basket with a rainbow of plastic. Others were more selective, going after only certain colors...interesting strategy; but several kids ran right past colorful eggs that were in plain sight. At first, I thought maybe they had somehow missed the eggs; but then I realized, they were focused only on finding the golden egg. Their goal had become specific...win the game with the golden egg.
Of course, one youth group member did, eventually, find the golden egg, holding it high over his head triumphantly. The hunt continued for a few more minutes while other participants half-heartedly gathered the rest of the plastic eggs. After all, the coveted golden egg, had already been found. Amy gathered the youth group members back in a loose circle around her. Those of us from the BSU mingled in.
"Great job!" Amy said, enthusiastically. We all applauded.
"Take a look at your eggs while I read the points values," she said. She unfolded the paper in her hand.
"Pink eggs are worth two points!"
"Awwww!" - this from one kid who had collected mostly pink eggs.
"Green eggs are worth five points!"
"Orange eggs - 10 points!" A couple of kids with orange eggs in their baskets high-fived each other.
"Blue eggs are worth 15 points!"
Amy continued to announce colors and point values. The kid with the golden egg looked smug. It was the only egg in his basket.
"And...finally...," Amy said, "Drumroll please..." We all slapped the tiled floor in an exaggerated drumroll, "the GOLDEN EGG is worth...NEGATIVE 500 POINTS!"
The kid who found the golden egg was holding the egg in his hand, a smile frozen on his face. Stunned silence filled the room.
This game had not turned out how anyone had planned. I was worried for Amy.
The kid with the golden egg didn't look stunned anymore; he looked angry.
Amy didn't miss a beat.
Other kids in the room were now recounting their eggs. A few asked Amy to read off the points again. Their yellow, and pink, and blue eggs now seemed worth counting.
The kid with the golden egg just stood there.
Amy walked over and gently took the golden egg. She stood beside the kid who found it. She held the egg in front of her.
"How many of you tried hard to find this egg?" Amy asked. Most of the kids raised their hands.
"I see that some of you only have a few eggs in your basket even though there were plenty of eggs hidden in this room. Do you only have a few eggs because you mainly wanted this one - this golden egg?" More kids sheepishly conceded that yes, in fact, they thought that was the only egg worth finding.
The boy who had found the egg looked a little less upset.
"I bet most of you thought that the golden egg would be worth more points than any other egg. Is that correct?" the kids nodded.
"And someone found it...even though I thought I hid it pretty well." The kid who had found the egg was still standing beside her. She patted his shoulder. He stood taller. He was part of the lesson now.
"Of course you thought this egg would be worth more points than all the others. It was the only one of its kind - the golden egg," she paused for a moment.
"Life is like that," she continued. "We think certain things are of great value because everyone thinks those things are valuable; so we rush around, blind to other important, valuable things around us...searching for that golden egg that's just out of reach. Don't get tricked by the glitter," Amy advised. "Don't spend your lives looking frantically for wealth or fame or power...the fanciest car, the biggest house, the most money or glory or glitz. Don't spend all your time and energy going after those things that everyone else wants, that everyone else deems to be most valuable."
Everyone was quiet. Some of the kids were looking at Amy. Some were looking at the eggs in their baskets.
Amy's voice was quiet but clear, "Don't let that golden egg be the only thing in your basket when the game is over," she said. We finished the day with several other games, then loaded the eggs and baskets back into the trunk and headed back to campus.
Twenty-eight years later, I still remember Amy's words...the lesson about the golden egg. I stop and think, every now and then, especially when my basket feels empty. Am I running right past kindness and leaving joy and love hidden in plain sight? Am I overlooking important things around me while I look for the golden egg?