I spent fifteen years pastoring to middle and high school youth in a congregational setting.
Those fifteen years held tremendous joy. All across this country are amazing grown adults that I was once privileged to work with–they are doctors and lawyers and nurses and businessmen and women. They are actors and writers and teachers. They are pastors and homemakers and artists. They are raising families and doing good and making the world better.
Those fifteen years also held tremendous heartache. That one kid who ran away from home and got caught up in the porn industry; the one whose family fell apart late in his high school years and I’ve no idea what happened to them all; the one who I once saw using drugs in a park, and I can still remember the look on his face as he turned away from me; the one who is a single mom to a special needs kid; the one who struggled mightily to maintain her mental health, and who I imagine still does; the one who honestly and truly felt something was not right inside her and so fought to figure who she was physically, mentally, emotionally, sexually; the one whose dad died during such crucial teenage years; the one whose girlfriend was raped after they’d been out one evening; the one whose dad was an alcoholic; the one whose dad skipped town before she could walk; the one whose whose own drug and alcohol use led to more awful situations than any young person should have to hold in their memories.
It’s the heartache I’m remembering this morning. Because all over the world, and right here in our own neighborhoods, our children are hurting, in ways seen and unseen, and we are, daily, failing to tend to their pain.
Lift the politics, the social norms, the tribalism, the opinions and whatever your someone’s someone says “This.” about on social media — it doesn’t matter. Our children are dying–if not physically, certainly emotionally and spiritually–and we keep yelling at each other about whose right and whose wrong, and who is to blame and who is not.
Look, it doesn’t matter what you think of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine–children are dying today as a result. And they sure as hell had nothing to do with the hundreds upon thousands of years of unrest and conflict in that region of the world.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand or agree with or are afraid of or feel sorry for children who are struggling with their gender or sexuality–hands down and regardless, anyone, and certainly a child, who is carrying such difficult and potentially painful things deserves first and only our compassion.
It doesn’t matter if you think it’s a mental health issue or a gun control issue, or a combination of both or neither–our kids learn “intruder drills” at their schools and that this is even necessary should bring us to a our knees in fervent prayer and willing redemption regardless of what we believe the root cause(s) to be.
It doesn’t matter what your own social media habits are, our children are being raised in an environment where “content creation” is more important than actual experience and real relationship–they are far too often losing any sense of who they are beyond their Instagram. Everything is meta, and they are so completely lost in it. We all are.
I could go on. But I’m going to assume you see my point. We’re sacrificing our children at the altar of our own political and sociological and theological wars, and it is costing them their lives.
And parents, grandparents, guardians, other concerned adults? I know how scared you are. I know how afraid you are of this world we’ve handed our children and how difficult it is to figure out a way forward that is less fearful, more whole, more of what we’ve always wanted for them. Every morning, when I drop my precious girl at school, I say, aloud, to her “Have a good day baby, I love you.” And as she walks away I whisper quietly, to myself, “And please God keep her safe until I am back here to get her.”
I know the dangers. I’ve seen them. Up close and far too personal. It is a terrifying landscape. And it is easy to lose hope.
I believe with all my heart that real kindness and true compassion and actual selflessness, combined, are capable of pretty much anything. And so, I am wondering, lately, what it would look like if we all made a consciousness decision to first, try compassion.
Set aside your disagreement. Your fear. Your need to fix. Your desire to change a mind or even a heart.
Try, first, compassion.
Look past the facade. The Insta-perfect image. Dig down past the political label, the address, the life choices, the depression, the anxiety and see the person.
And then try, first, compassion.
Maddy and I have radio station we typically listen to in the car. We adore the morning show on this station. We are often annoyed by the afternoon DJ. But yesterday, that DJ that generally drives us crazy stopped for just a second and went, I can only assume, off script to talk about Russia and Ukraine, and, truthfully, the world in general. He said there are folks in Russia and Ukraine who love their children, too, who only want the best for their communities, too, who want, just like us, to have a safe home and a decent meal and maybe a few good friends.
Maddy and I both listened, gape mouthed and wide eyed until a commercial break, and she said, “Well dang. Afternoon annoying guy is suddenly all brilliant and caring!” I laughed, long and loud.
But she was right. And so was annoying afternoon guy. We’re just not that different from each other. We never have been. And it is our insistence otherwise that is tearing us apart.
Y’all. Our kids are dying. Inside and out. And it’s all on us. And we have got to find a way of shoving past our own fears and insecurities and anger so that we can meet them where they are, offer a hand and say, “Where does it hurt and how can I help?”
Because at the end of the day, all of our kids, yours and mine and everyone else’s want the same thing: and that is to be loved and held safe, without question or merit or condition.
Forget everything else.
Try, first, compassion.
Nothing else is working.