During the past year or two we've been down one staff member at church so I've stepped in to provide care and programming for our young people. That hasn't been a big ordeal for me, mainly because I love spending time with them and sharing life with them. They are amazing, passionate, easily distracted, loud, hungry for love, lonely, dealing with changing bodies, people. And I love them.
Sometimes God will show me their insides. Sometimes when I'm thinking of them or praying for them, or even watching them act out from across the room, God will show me their hearts. The truth is that in those moments of deep exposure, my breath is taken away. The deep personal rejection they deal with, the pain from parents who are in crisis, the struggle to be normal and to not stand out for the wrong reasons. The utter aloneness they feel sometimes, and the fear that those feelings have come to be a regular part of their lives is like looking into the abyss.
Sometimes God just peels back the thin veneer of one of these kids lives, and I am staggered. Then in my staggering response I bring them back to God for his attention and love. I carry what I've seen in my heart and I check up on them and I pray for them again and again. But I'm never quite the same, for what I've seen.
I know that this is a critical time in their lives. A part of growing from children into adults is the part where we learn to hide or disguise our pain. We find distractions that are unhealthy for us or we dull the pain, so we can live. Soon after those years we become experts at hiding our pain, or decorating the disfunction so it looks normal and we blend in.
Maybe that's one of the reasons why Jesus always loved the young ones best. I'd have to agree with him there. The younger ones are honest and forthright and if you have integrity, they will want to learn from you.
And that's the deal breaker for many of them. Integrity, or the lack of it, will send them running in the other direction. Lecture at them, tell them one thing and do another, be dishonest, and they start to shut you down. And honestly, that's refreshing.
Probably if you see them as another life form or you think that teens = trouble, or if you think you can change their lives with a good lecture, I'd encourage you to make friends with one, and just listen to them. Ask them questions and listen. Don't tell them things unless they ask you. Maybe, just maybe you will catch some of what they have, and they have a lot to offer.
There are so many good opportunities to be involved in young peoples lives these days. They don't require much expertise. They just need to be loved, and treated honestly, by people who can look at them and see real people.