Recently I’ve had conversations with multiple young people who are all in very different seasons and venues in life. After listening to their stories, there are a few common themes which continue to keep me up at night and remind me of the power we pastors, chaplains, and mentors have to keep on working to make our churches better places for our young people. Ergo, a few ramblings, as I cannot pause the side-show of their young-full-of-potential-faces in my head today:
Bullying. It’s got to stop. And bullying happening in houses of worship? Should never be an issue. Shame on us who profess to believe in a God of love who created all persons in God’s image, yet do not treat each other as such. When young people turn to places of faith for refuge and support, only to be emotionally wounded, we’ve got a lot to answer for, Church. Young people feeling they cannot return to their place of worship because it’s no longer safe is not acceptable or very love your neighbor-ish.
Authenticity. We need an epidemic of authenticity. When a young person cannot openly share what’s really going on with their health because they are told it shows a weakness in their faith, that’s as bad as the physical ailment. We adults have got to model that being scared, worried, or nervous about health at any age is perfectly normal and perfectly faithful. Being fully human means fully experiencing a range of human emotions. God created us fully human, so how is naming and faithfully working through feelings a weakness? As my Mama always said, “Feelings aren’t right or wrong, they just are.” Perhaps we as the Church should model that mentality and teach young people how to cope and wrestle with feelings in authentic , healthy, and faith-filled ways.
Sex. Start talking about it. Sexuality is also part of being fully human. Society sure as heck starts talking about it early on, so why aren’t we? As I told a group of parents recently, “Plenty of people will be glad to tell your child all about sex, sexuality, and orientation. Who do you want them to hear it from? You can control that they hear about hormone changes, resources, and safety from you.” A teenager should never be in the position to say-months after their child has already been born-that that they felt since pregnancy that they weren’t equipped to best raise their child, but never knew there were resources and counseling for adoption. When I heard that from a teen recently, I apologized to them. Not because I know them well, but because that’s on all of us. We owe it to our young people to teach them and allow them to ask honest questions about real life. It takes a village and they deserve to have one. And, in the church setting, it’s called fulfilling promises of baptism to be there for them.
Mental Health. It matters. Directing young people to counselors and/or medical professionals who can best help them is necessary. It’s not a weakness to refer young people (or any aged people) if it’s not an issue pastors are equipped to handle. Nor is a chemical imbalance something that may simply be prayed away, or something that will work itself out. There are many changes in brains and bodies as part of appropriate teen development, and we have to direct them to the resources and help they need when they feel they cannot control their own mind or emotions. Also, pastors are not physicians. I was appalled when I heard recently that a pastor prescribed “just find something that makes you not feel sad,” to a young person who asked them for depression resources. As pastors, one of the first things we should do in a new congregation/city is to learn about the hospital systems and best local counselors and their specialties. That way we are always ready to be a helpful guide in ushering about fearfully and wonderfully made healing and wholeness.
Thus endeth today’s ranty ramblings. Back to your regularly scheduled Holy Week.