“The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1) We are instructed by Scripture 365 times not to be afraid, yet we are afraid. We fear those whom we do not understand and who live contrary to the Word of God. We fear the tough issues with which our young people are wrestling. Because of these fears, we fail to love our neighbors even to the point of ignoring or condemning them to the challenges they face each day.
Jesus reminds us that “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” (Matthew 9:37) Have you ever neglected a vegetable garden, while on vacation perhaps, only to return to a bunch of rotten produce? The harvest can either be reaped by the Kingdom of God or be rotted by the world. Unfortunately, our fear of those who are not like ourselves has allowed the later to prevail.
One of the challenges that many of our rural areas face is a culture of drug and alcohol addiction beginning even in our elementary schools. Here is the irony: There are signs posted which declare our schools drug and weapon free zones. As Christians, we have been convinced that our public schools desire to be Jesus-free zones. Thought no such signs are posted, we stay away out of respect for the misunderstood laws or out of fear of rejection and/or negative consequences.
Instead of turning a blind eye to the difficult issues facing our young people and their families or passing judgment upon them, we ought to be asking why and learning to empathize with them. Only then will we be equipped to build life-changing, world-transforming relationships with these new generations.
In the book Growing Young, authors Powell, Mulder, and Griffin state that we “…need to understand more of what’s going on internally, beneath the surface, as well as the external cultural forces that influence (young people’s) lives and direction.” (pg 92) We see students engaged in unsavory, unhealthy, even dangerous behaviors, but we never ask why. We simply blame parents and shake our fingers at them.
Loving our neighbor means asking questions and listening for the hidden and painful truths buried beneath the surface. Then, discerning God’s call to action and doing something to walk with these young people (AND their parents, if possible) in their search for identity, belonging, and purpose.
The next time you see a young person engaged in some behavior or dressed in a way that causes you to shake your head, roll your eyes, choke back tears, or even boils your blood, stop and ask why. Is this an experiment with identity, an attempt to belong, or a cry for help in a failed search for purpose? How might God use you and/or your congregation to help these young people find their identity, belonging, and purpose in God’s grace, love, and mission?