I had an interesting lunch conversation with one of my senior high youth today. This young person particularly wanted to share about challenges he was having in his home life and with his parents. Several weeks ago, during youth group, he'd mentioned in our circle sharing time that his parents were having troubles and he was bothered that none of the other youth really had anything to say about it. His revelation just fell like a silent bomb in the room, and then we went right on to the next person. Perhaps most troubling to him was that he knew other youth in the room were likely experiencing similar home life challenges, yet everyone was reluctant to share them.
We talked about how challenging it is to create an atmosphere in any sort of small group ministry where people are willing to be real. This is true of adults in the church as well and teens. I actually had a senior pastor I served with once tell me that two things he never discusses at church are politics and religion, because both just start arguments (and he was serious!). So much of the time at church we are trying to be polite, to come off as the "good people", the "whole people," as the ones who have their acts together. After all, isn't that the advantage of being a Christian? Of course, we know that's not reality. As Christians, we may in fact be even more keenly aware of the troubles of the world and of daily life. And we need to know that the church is a safe space to come and really talk about the hard parts of life, about the issues and concerns that we struggle with daily. Relatedly, our youth programs need to be more than just places where kids come and have fun and laugh and recreate. They need to be spaces where they can genuinely express their deepest questions and concerns and know that, though we may not have all the answers for them, we will love them and embrace them in their struggles.
I remember realizing not too long ago that this, in a way, is the value of confession in the Catholic Church. When we come before God and admit our mistakes, it's not that we are telling God something God doesn't know. It's that we are being completely honest and open with God about who we are, and at the same time realizing that, despite it all, God loves us and cherishes us. Would that all our youth knew this experience of unconditional love.
(Cartoon courtesy of the Toothpaste For Dinner site.)