Two things that every teenager can identify with are a lack of hope and a deep sense of loneliness. Joy is the remedy, but how do you find it?
LACK OF HOPE
When classes get hard, school seems totally pointless, friends betray you, you get cut from a team or fail a quiz… all of this can make a teenager feel hopeless. Hope is when a person has reason to believe something good is going to happen to them. Teenagers, because of the roller coaster of emotions and disloyalty among peer relationships, often do not feel like anything good is going to happen to them today, or tomorrow. Because emotions are heightened in adolescence, it is not uncommon for them to either hate or love school, depending on the day or month. This is a normal pattern, but it is not a helpful one. Those of us who really love teenagers can do something to help our teenage friends experience hope even if their circumstances stink.
Because everyone wants to feel included, teenagers tend to run in small packs. Unfortunately to preserve their sense of belonging they often cut down or make fun of other kids who are not in their group. The devastation of this pattern is insecurity for just about everyone. When a kid cuts someone down or does not show mercy toward someone who messed up, the result is deeper loneliness because everyone intrinsically knows that they are no better than anyone else. Eventually this “pack mentality” catches up with everyone. Each of us will mess up and get made fun of or ridiculed, its just a matter of time.
So how do you break out of this vicious cycle, and maybe help another teenager get free from this joyless trap of loneliness and fleeting hope?
Bragging is a temptation for all of us because everyone wants to feel special and noticed. This is a basic human need. Since God wants us to feel highly valued through friendships and family, we all need to learn to avoid bragging. When we feel insecure, our first sinful instinct is to take things into our own hands and brag. The irony is if we just trust what God teaches about bragging, and follow his guidance, then we will eventually get the very thing we are seeking: relationships. But if we ignore God’s teaching and seek relationships in our own flesh, we will get the opposite: no relationships. After all, who wants to be around someone who is bragging all of the time?
In working with young people I like to tackle crippling issues like this in a short devotional style called PALS.
Most of us remember what it is like in the lunchroom. After you get your lunch you scan the room for a table to sit where you will feel welcome. Adolescence can be a season of devastating insecurity, and the lunchroom can shine a spotlight on your loneliness. Kids are just waiting for someone to shine and share the Gospel with them.
I have spent a lot of time in lunch rooms with kids. Today as much as ever we must not abandon the lunch room and other places kids hang out. We need brave young leaders who are willing to go into the world of kids to be authentic representatives of Jesus. A song by John Michael Talbot casts a compelling biblical vision for those who might go offer the Bread of Life of the Gospel to kids in middle schools, high schools, and colleges:
Come to the table He’s prepared for you
The bread of forgiveness, the wine of release
Come to the table and sit down beside Him
The Savior wants you to join in the feast,,,
And here at the table, sit those who have loved you
One is a traitor and one will denyBut He’s lived his life for them all
And for all be crucified (John Michael Talbot song, “Come to the Table”)
REMEMBER THE LUNCHROOM SO YOU DON’T LOSE YOUR HEART FOR ADOLESCENTS & THE GOSPEL
Imagine carting your lunch tray out of the food line and as you look over the crowd you see a popular kid smile at you. With the wave of his hand he invites you to come sit at his table. You probably feel awkward. Like crossing the street you look side to side wondering if he is waving at you. Glancing back, you see his eyes look right at you. He nods and beckons you to come sit next to him. Sheepishly approaching his table, his friends shift a bit to make room for you. And they all give you a warm welcome. This is a picture of the Good News of Jesus. It symbolizes the ministry of reconciliation Jesus has given to his disciples to share with the world through warm hospitality.
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” (Isaiah 55:1)
WHEN SOMEONE INVITED ME TO THE TABLE
When I was I was in high school, this scene happened to me, but it happened on a soccer field, not the lunch room….
If you are a college student, student ministry leader, or parent of a college student I want you to read this post. College is a window of opportunity. With just a bit of intentionality your college ministry experience could be the difference between a bowl of oatmeal and a Belgian waffle with strawberries and whipping cream. Our college campuses are of course intensely secular places, but there’s really nothing new about that. Followers of Jesus have always been on the outside, a little strange in comparison to the dominant culture. Yet one thing that does seem different today on college campuses is the scale of erosion in the soil of Christian community.
The concern is that without context, it is hard for a young believer to grow and progress in Christ. Without an adequate alternative culture of Jesus-loving friends around you, there is a good chance you will be impacted more by the dominant culture around you, rather than you impacting it. Context to live out our faith is absolutely crucial.
As a youthworker or parent, to give hope and solace to teenagers, we need to tell them how to find peace. The world has questions. The Bible has answers. Students, ages 13-25 in particular are beginning to shift from a totally concrete view of the world to a more abstract perspective.
This means that adolescence is a time where we begin to process our environment and relationships by asking lots of questions. Most of these questions go unspoken, but they are there if you dig for them.
The best way to keep the communication lines wide open with teenagers is to consistently show them respect. Distance is what adolescents often feel from adults. They think adults don’t understand them, are vastly different from them, and don’t struggle with what they struggle with.
This could not be further from the truth. Here are three things that teenagers need to constantly hear from you through verbal and nonverbal vibes…
Youth are significantly influenced by their friends. This is why it’s important to have youth leaders who can model what it means to be a good friend.
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. -John 15:3
Friendship is important in every stage of development. But during adolescence friendship becomes central to everything. This is a critical stage of development because teenagers are building a foundation for having good friendships the rest of their lives.
One of the most powerful benefits of healthy youth ministry is that we can help kids understand God’s design for relationships. Jesus talked alot about friendship, and we know that he nurtured model friendships in his disciples. A teenager’s intense preoccupation with friendship is a good thing. It is an opportunity for the adults in their lives to imprint in them a road map for a lifetime of good friendships. Here’s how…