By Brad Hauge
We’ve all probably heard some version of the line, “Well back in my day…” where some older, supposedly wiser, person in our life is gently mocking us for our perceived hardships or trials.
You know, times when we might say:
“Ugh! I texted Jimmy 28 seconds ago and he hasn’t responded yet! I hate him so much!” And they reply, “Well, back in my day we had to walk 28 miles just to get to Jimmy’s house and tell him he left his suspenders on the playground!”
Or we might say, “Come ON! I’ve been trying to post the selfie I took in my bathroom to Instagram and it is taking for-ev-er!” And they reply, “Well, back in my day we didn’t know what cameras were so we just drew pictures of each other’s faces on tree leaves using dirt and spit mixed together for ink!”
Or we might say, “Give me a break! I can’t get this graphing calculator to work no matter what I do! I’ve even googled it and read three different threads on reddit and nothing is working!” And they reply, “Well back in my day we had to invent math. Because I’m old and numbers didn’t even exist yet!”
Here are two things that are true:
* In a lot of ways those “well back in my day…” responses are fair. Truthfully, in many cases we have it so much easier than our elders ever did. They didn’t even have selfie-sticks!
* At the same time, kids you are working with are dealing with hardships and burdens their elders were blessed not to have experienced.
Standardized testing, the pressure to get perfect grades, be class President, volunteer with both elderly folks and abandoned kittens, know four languages, ace your ACTs and SATs while starring in your school play just to eventually have your transcript looked at by a college—while knowing that one bad grade on a test could take that opportunity away in an instant.
And this doesn’t even touch on the stress of navigating social media and creating an acceptable replica of yourself for the world to cyber-stalk. If you work with teenagers you already know this. Their burdens are real, and it can feel like they are robbing them of life.
Here is where we come in: kids are desperately searching for something different. This is good news! And here are three truths that will hopefully leave us both convicted and energized as we walk alongside burdened teenagers.
1. Students are looking for an antidote to their stress-filled lives.
I recently had the opportunity to guest-lecture in a youth ministry class at the local university on the topic of “experiential and service learning.” I’m pretty sure I was asked to come speak simply due to the volume of ways we experiment with that concept in our specific high school ministry context. But as I prepared for the lecture I couldn’t shake a feeling that we needed to talk more about the why than the what.
And as I reflected on why we provide the many experiential and service-oriented opportunities we do, such as 30 Hour Famine, I ran through all the usual suspects: getting kids outside of their comfort zones, expanding their worldviews, introducing them to realities of the world they haven’t yet been exposed to, and so on. But what felt different about this year, about this time, about this group of truly burdened students, was that they are looking for a break. They feel stuck on a treadmill, going through the motions of what is expected of them. They are looking to be part of something bigger than their transcripts. They are thirsty for a reason to matter than goes beyond their social status. And the good news? They are finding a partnership with Jesus within service to be a compelling reason to step off of their treadmills.
2. Jesus says, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
This is a fairly well known chunk of Scripture, but at times I think we allow our familiarity with certain texts to rob them of their power and beauty. What Jesus is offering here in Matthew 11 is an invitation to come to him, to be like him, and to then receive rest. Is that not truth that will resonate with kids who feel stuck on the treadmill of expectation and success?
The Message translation puts it this way, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.”
It is important to note that rest does not equal sloth! There are only so many days we can lay in bed watching Netflix before we start to feel like amorphous slugs. Real rest comes when we allow Jesus to help us recover our life, when we allow our lives to be filled with the Jesus-y things of justice, mercy, love, and service. Much like the kid at the end of an impactful 30 Hour Famine who is completely exhausted, yet completely at peace.
3. Opportunities like the 30 Hour Famine can be the exact antidote kids are looking for.
If you are reading this blog, more likely than not you a part of leading a 30 Hour Famine weekend, so don’t miss this piece. In the midst of the Tribe Games, hunger, and sleeplessness, make sure to provide time for rest and reflection. Give students opportunities to play connect the dots with what they’re feeling and experiencing. Give them space to connect their “Famine dot” of experiencing usefulness, peace, and purpose with the dot of truth that this is who God created them to be. This is the life Jesus wants us to recover. This is the rest that Jesus promises when we step off our treadmills of expectation and participate in bringing heaven to earth.
We’ve seen again and again—you’ve seen again and again—that the 30 Hour Famine matters. It matters for those who receive the funds raised, and it matters for the communities that are changed by them. But don’t miss the truth that the Famine also matters for your students because it allows them an opportunity to step off their treadmills and, well… matter.