This past Sunday I was reminded about the reality of the bigger picture, even the “more real” world that The Matrix gave us a great picture of, although it was quite allegorical. Much of my world is nice and neat, surrounded by what I would imagine are God-fearing and God-honoring people. If I want to really reach out into the hearts of teenage kids, I need to go hunting for them outside my church doors, right? I mean, these guys and girls are doing fine, doing great, and loving and worshipping God at any chance they get… right?
Dead wrong. And I should know better. I’ve seen how “hurt” a heart can get by just putting a mirror on my own. Not just hurt by mean people, but hurt by my own false impression of myself, of God, and my picture of what others think. Even if it’s totally false, I still bought into it. How much more so the young men and young women I’m getting to know better and better. While it’s not a mid-life-crisis as we often think of it, it certainly is a crisis, at least according to the definition Google gives me: “an unstable situation of extreme danger or difficulty.” How many kids get lost in the high school years? Lose their way? Lose respect for (or of) their parents? Lose hope? Lose confidence in themselves? It’s all over the place, and I saw a glimpse of it this Sunday.
I grabbed a whiteboard this past Sunday as I taught Sunday School and asked the kids three questions. We were wrapping up a video series called Gospel Journey: Maui. It was an attempt at a reality series where they brought a group of several open-minded people together from different faiths and talked openly and honestly about faith, God, and life. It was actually pretty good, if I say so myself. I especially learned a lot from Jasser, the Islamic guy, who had a great respect for his god, and while my faith, beliefs, and God tell me he’s headed in the wrong direction, this boy was utterly sincere, and it shone through.
So at the end of the series, I asked our kids three questions, and had them write their answers, completely anonymously, on a sheet of paper I then collected and transferred to the whiteboard. The questions:
- How would you describe Jesus (in a word)?
- How would you describe Jesus’ message?
- How would Jesus describe you.
The answers tell a story that I knew was real, but was suprised to get out of these guys at 9:00 AM on a Sunday morning. Check it out below:
All sorts of great things about Jesus, right (I added the “offensive” and “divisive” words about his message later on). High words. Lofty words. True words. But look at the words they used to describe how these kids feel Jesus (God) feels about them:
- A Child
- I’ve never talked to him about it.
For the first time ever, I could hold something up in front of these guys and authoritatively say, “Look around you! You don’t have to go hunting broken hearts. You don’t have to go searching for someone who needs to know the Jesus you have, or the Jesus you want to have! They’re right here!” I know these kids, and I could probably pick certain people to go with certain words, but then again, I might be totally off base, as they might with me. We hide things so well, and it appears that we do so at a very early age. Many of the kids in this group have grown up in this church, and here they are, 15, 16, 17, 18 years old, feeling that God thinks they’re pitiful, ignorant, and lacking.
Let’s get real, because this is real. This is the most honest set of words I’ve ever gotten had them give me, and I choose to accept it, and let it change me. I’m not going to pretend like everybody’s alright. I’ll accept that from them if they tell me, but just like me, there’s always more to the story. And I can do something about that. I can care for them. I can pray for them. I can let them know absolutely, without a doubt, at least one person believes in them, and so does their Heavenly Father. We all have earthly parents that fail us in one way or another, and I think we wind up attributing that to our Heavenly Parent, and then suddenly he’s looking down on us, disappointed in us, and unwilling to ask us to do big things.
I totally get that. Because that was much of my own life. I now know my Heavenly Father AS my True Father. My earthly father introduced me to him in his own way, and I appreciate that beyond words. But until we realize that that’s not all there is in the God that really loves us, we’ll be bound up in these words.
I truly loved this lesson. It opened my eyes, and the anonymity and randomness of the mixed up answers made it even more impressive to me that the fields truly are white for the harvest. I don’t even have to walk out the door to my “back yard” (the Plainfield High School is literally in our church’s back yard). They’re here, waiting, wanting, and fearfully wondering if there really is more out there than life is promising them.
Let’s show them that there is. THERE IS LIFE. FREEDOM. And JOY.