The Balancing Game
When I look at the lives we are cultivating today, there is one consistent theme throughout; most of us make decisions in our lives based solely on what will help us get by, survive, or fulfill a need at that moment. I learned to lean into anxiety as a child to feel safe and in control, which is unnecessary but has become a companion I cannot seem to kick.
We all have the propensity to choose things in life we may not want, but find comforting or exciting at the moment. For teens, this happens in a variety of arenas: sex, relationships, mental health, and self-esteem, or body image. Currently, science and the CDC (Centers For Disease Control and Prevention) say that Gen Z is the most depressed, isolated, and stressed-out generation. They also connect on a global level in an unprecedented way. Why are they struggling, and how does the Church and Christian community support and help them as they navigate these situations?
This is the question we need to answer and engage with immediately to guide youth lovingly as they make choices about these issues. I wish we could find a message that speaks of love, hope, and acceptance in today's Christian culture because history has not always shown this to be true. After decades of harsh messages and hypocrisy, the Christian community has sadly pushed itself out of having an impact or voice in most young lives. The mistake most churches made in previous decades was to hammer home truth. It was swift, harsh, and without regret. All done in the name of ministry. It’s time for us to understand that unless we tie love, acceptance, vulnerability, and truth to our message, the words we speak will continue to be hollow and unforgiving.
How do we help youth make different choices in their interactions with others and work through the tough topics in their lives? We look at what being a friend and neighbor means through the eyes and role of Jesus in the New Testament. Jesus was a friend to sinners and the disenfranchised, but he was also a friend to his close-knit group (the disciples). Jesus spoke the truth but did so in a loving way. We have all had someone in our lives try to talk to us about tough things by solely focusing on truth without love. We have also had people who only speak from love with no truth, and what they say has no impact on our life. Why? When we speak the truth without love we can be harsh or mean but love without truth is meaningless.
Jesus balances love and truth in a genuine and meaningful way, as displayed in John chapter 8 and Jesus’ interaction with the woman caught in adultery. While every other religious person surrounding her wants to pelt her with their self-righteous indignation (or rocks), Jesus sits in the dirt with her and begins to write in the sand. Though we may never know what he wrote, we know he meets her and is WITH her at that moment. Jesus then says to her accusers, “Let any of you that are without sin cast the first stone." Jesus calls out and chastises her accusers. Jesus defends her! When her accusers slowly leave, he couples the truth with the love he demonstrated and says, “Woman has no one condemned you? Then neither do I. Go now and leave your life of sin."
Jesus sees the broken ways she’s been living and invites her to leave the life she didn’t want but felt she needed, behind. He does the same for us all and invites us to start anew, to make different choices, and understand that no matter our past, we can find support, hope, and love in the truth of Christ and make new choices. We MUST do this within our communities and with youth today so they succeed. This means the Church and parents must step up and embrace the uncomfortable to make real change and connection happen. We meet youth where they are, engaging non-judgmentally in their world (movies, music, social media, and video games) with real authentic conversation and empathy. To be with someone is to know them. By doing this, we can speak into their lives much like Jesus did.
Jesus calls us, loves us, and never leaves us. I would ask the Christian community and parents this, “Are we ready to do the same for the youth of today who are choosing things they feel they need but know it is not what they truly want? Are we willing to be courageous, vulnerable, and open with one another as we ask for help in making different choices in our future? Can we extend grace by admitting we all struggle, and run this race together with truth and love as our companions?”
My goal is to see this happen and pray you consider leading this charge of change in the lives of your youth and the lives of those in our community. Don’t waste the opportunity to engage by letting fear or embarrassment stop you from having a chance to change the lives of those around you, those you care about, regardless of what their struggle or difficulty may be. Youth need to know someone cares; someone authentic, vulnerable, and real who shares with truth and love. Let’s start doing this for them today.