I’ve said it time and time again: our youth are facing incredibly huge issues today.
Over the last few weeks, our 8th grade confirmation students have been writing and preparing their faith testimonies–their stories of what they believe, how they’ve seen God work in their lives, and what sort of relationship they have with their Savior.
As the confirmation program director, I daily tackle the complex issues surrounding the leadership of 100 youth and over 30 adult leaders in our confirmation program. But, for these brief few weeks, I get to sit back from the heavy administrative side of that job and spend some serious time with many of these kids, as they walk through their testimonies with me.
Hearing what these kids have gone through in their relatively short lives is inspiring, and sometimes jaw-dropping. I’ve sat in stunned silence, listening to kids tell me about the death of parents and the impact of divorce on their lives, about diseases and depression, and about dealing with constant bullying and aggression directed towards them.
I’ve been shocked to find out that some of my biggest “headache” students (those that my kinder friend, Tam, would label “EGR” people–”Extra Grace Required”) have walked through situations that would likely rattle my adult faith. Yesterday, I met with a student who confided to me that he has spent his life dealing with Asperger’s, a syndrom that he tells me feels like he’s “constantly searching for a missing file in his brain” to come up with even the simplest response to a question–but since he’s been in school, he’s been mercilessly taunted and shunned for this. Yet, his identity rests so securely in God that he told me he refuses to respond to these cruel bullies, and instead reminds himself every time they tease him that “he’s a child of Christ” and it’s a “privilege” to suffer on this earth just like His Savior did.
Wow. Get me a box of Kleenex.
The more I immerse myself in the youth world (even when it requires painful things, like listening to teenie-bop Justin Bieber songs), the more clearly I see the challenges that our youth are facing daily. It’s like throwing a newborn kitten into a dangerously murky ocean teeming with ravenous sharks–they are doing their best to save themselves with their limited knowledge, but everything around them tempts them to succumb to the dark waters and the carnivores waiting for them.
Does that mean it’s any easier for me, a 24-year-old? Not necessarily. I had to tread a lot of those same dark waters–as did the many generations before me.
But do I think it’s gotten worse? Judging by the middle schoolers I spend the majority of my time with, yes. When I was in 8th grade, it wasn’t normal to have friends who cut, tweens who were suicidal, and boys who had access to porn on their cell phones. We didn’t have our own private lives via Facebook, and didn’t spend every waking second texting our every thought and emotion.
But, at the same time, I see so many of these kids navigating these dangerous waters and keeping their heads above the water. I see them clawing at those sharks and slowly looking heavenward more and more often.
It’s an exciting time to be a part of these kids’ lives. They’re growing up so fast, and grabbing hold of their faith as their lifeline right now. As one of my boys put it, “It’s like my faith used to be a little piece of yarn…but in the last two years, it’s grown to a giant coil of rope that you can’t cut easily.”
Now, if only I could convince them to listen to some real music…and now I sure sound like a crotchety oldster, don’t I?