“The problem with kids today is….” Fill in the blank.
We live in a time of teen apathy. Or at least, we’ve been telling ourselves this for years now. “All teens want to do is hang out and play video games”. “Teens today lack character and work ethic.” “When I was young, I had to walk through the snow…” we all know the ending to that one.
Kids have it easy. Everything handed to them on a silver platter.
But how easy is it to be a kid today? We tell ourselves we give them every opportunity but do we? Do we really? There is no doubt that we give them ample opportunity to see, hear, experience almost everything. To play every instrument, and participate on every team. As parents, we work tirelessy to help them achieve every societal success, and add to their collection of trophies. But somewhere we are missing it.
The “it”, is passion.
Where is the passion? Not only is there no opportunity to actively pursue their passion, but no time to even discover what it is.
Over the years I’ve looked for ways that kids ages 8 through 18 can serve in a meaningful way that speaks to them, and outside of my own church, have found very little that they are allowed to do. They can pick up trash, fill bags with canned food, and collect coats for homeless people they never meet. All good things, but where is the humanity in that? Where is the excitement? Where is the connection? What kid leaves a session of envelope stuffing and says “this is what I feel God created me to do with my life.”
We want them to be passionate, compassionate adults, yet somewhere along the way have thwarted every possible avenue that could lead them there. Deciding they’re too young for such exposure to the world, we have protected them right into a state of human detachment. AKA: DISpassion.
So what’s the solution? I can think of a few things right off the bat. What if we asked them what their passions are instead of telling them what they should be. What if their opinions about the world, and what they could do to change it were taken seriously? What if we listened to them and encouraged them, even when their ideas seemed impossible?
What if we trusted them?
What if… and this is a stretch here… we allowed them to serve real people?
Well I can tell you, because I just spent 11 days in India with three teens that decided it was unacceptable for people to not have clean water.
Three teens who took matters into their own hands and acted on behalf of the poor. Three teens who said “this matters to me” and proved it with their lives.
I’d like to introduce you to Avery (18), Chris (17), and Tyler (17). Three seniors from Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa, CA. These kids sat on my couch and listened as I described the situation in rural India, and their minds exploded. They wanted to travel there and see for themselves, but with soccer and wresting, it was uncertain. They collectively, and without hesitation, came to agreement that even if they could not travel to see their project, they would work to bring water to a village. That was when I knew they were not in it for themselves. These kids were for real.
I think the first time I saw Chris (the quietest of the three) truly come to life was driving from the airport to the hotel. If you have ever driven in India, you immediately identified with that sentence. Not only is it the craziest game of Chicken ever, but the poverty you see just driving through knocks the breath out of you. Especially the first time.
Seeing Tyler with the orphaned kids on the streets of Trichy was enough to bring anyone to tears. His gentle spirit, and concern for their feelings as he snapped photos and showed them, knowing this could be the first time they’ve ever seen themselves.
Then there is Avery. The only girl. My heart soared as I watched her connect with the children, but it was in her breaking heart that I rejoiced all the more. I saw it when it happened and I’ll remember it as long as I live. It involved an old woman with Leprosy who was in a local hospital. As she passed by the woman grabbed her and pulled her close to her. I’m not sure what she wanted… prayer, a hug… but she wanted to be seen. See me. Don’t pass by without seeing me.
Avery hugged her and moved quickly out, unsure of what to do next. I swiftly moved in and prayed with the woman, all of those things you would pray for someone in that place.
Immediately in my head, over and over was a song by Hillsong United called “Hosanna”, with a lyric that goes:
“Heal my heart and make it clean. Open up my eyes to the things unseen. Show me how to love like You have loved me. Break my heart for what breaks Yours. Everything I am for Your kingdom’s cause. As I walk the world into eternity”.
For just a moment, God gave her His eyes. To see as He sees. He does that when we ask Him. But we are never ready for it. Not really.
Once we got to the orphanage, it was OVER! All three kids were lost to us. They belonged to the orphans. Nothing else really mattered but what they could do to make their lives better. What did those kids need?
They played with them, talked with them, held them, carried them on their shoulders, taught their English classes, and passed out countless sticks of gum.
When it was time to go dedicate their water project the excitement was over the top. Their village could not have been more appropriate, and as Avery’s mom described, could only have been Divinely picked. I agree. Hundreds of children. The largest village we had been to by far. The people lit fire crackers and played drums, and other instruments. It was an enormous celebration! When the kids spoke to the people they described how they worked to bring this project to fruition. Told them how much they mattered to them. That they cared about them… these three kids from America.
These three kids who, given opportunity and encouragement, changed the world forever.
“Get the word out. Teach all these things. And don’t let anyone put you down because you’re young. Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity.” 1 Timothy 4:11-12 MSG