The Secret Lives of Teens
They scare me sometimes, I confess. Or they have in the past.
The tough-looking ones who are angry and sad at the world, bristling for a fight. Bored teens milling at store entrances, or jostling each other on the side of the road.Or the teen girls on the cutting edge of fashion, as I am suddenly aware of my thrift store bargains.
My mom is a petite woman with dark swirled hair and blue eyes in a lovely Irish combo. Walking out of her yard to a commotion recently, she saw several inner city teens look up guiltily from where they had been throwing rocks and kicking over garbage cans in the alley. Stepping near, she chose a disarming gentleness, pausing to greet them, look them deep in the eyes, and asking how they were doing. They stopped, flustered.
“I wanted to diffuse the situation, and let them know someone cared,” she told me later.
She knows a secret. Because the truth is: everyone is a bit terrified. Not of teens (well, maybe that too some days) but of what they see in themselves, and the questions about whether they are loved and loveable, or beautiful, or man enough, or valuable.
When we stop and get that answered for ourselves about who we are — who Jesus says we are, and who he says He is– then we can inhale strength, and turn to answer that question in another’s eyes.
Because they are all asking it. The teens in front of the grocery store and on the city bus, and the ones who live next door to you. That sullen macho mask? It just hides the questions they are all asking. The questions we are familiar with too.
This weekend I had the opportunity to spend three days with 65 teens and adults in a camp setting. I saw them interacting in ways that delighted and amazed me. They tied on red and black aprons and ran tray-loads of dirty dishes through industrial-sized dishwashers. I saw them tie on orange-striped aprons and sweep floors, wash down tables, help prepare meals, and scrub pasta-encrusted pots. In between gagaball games and polar bear plunges, I watched teens reach out to special needs children and shyer new people on the fringe and pull them in to join the groups of happy conversations. I heard teens cry as they broke down and shared stories of God talking to them through Bible verses and worship songs, and I observed nearby friends lean in for comforting hugs.
The teens around you? They can change the world. They just need to know who they are. Only Jesus can completely answer their questions, but we get to gently disarm the teens and adults we encounter with our words, lives, and humble care.
And watch them transform this world then!