Tuesday, October 26, 2010

the need for hope

One of the things that I have learned during my time at seminary has been the importance of having hope. Hope is what will encourage people to persevere when life seems overwhelming. Hope is more than just a faint silver lining on a dark cloud, it is the reason for being - the reason to hold on.  Recently I have been confronted with stories of teens whose lives are full of hurts. I see them searching for meaning, hope - something to help them get through. The tough thing is that for many of them their search is coming up lacking. In short they are failing to find hope. 

This weekend I was once again face to face with hurting teens needing to find hope. I was part of a youth retreat at my camp. The theme for the weekend was about helping the students understand who God made them to be - basically we wanted our campers to understand that they matter deeply to God. During one of the sessions we asked our campers to write out some prayers to God. This is an exercise that I both love and hate. I love it because it teaches the students a lot about prayer and gets them involved. I hate it because it usually reveals a lot of brokenness and hurt. This time was no exception. Our prayer boards were covered with all sorts of concerns and cries to God. It was beautiful and heart-wrenching. Perhaps my favorite thing that was written was not a prayer but a short comment that simply read..."I had no reason to live 'til you told me I matter to God."

This sentence has been something that I have been reflecting on for 48 hours now. I was brought to tears when I read it the first time and I have been awed by it every time I have read it since. It very plainly relates the pain, brokenness and lostness that many teens feel and also plainly state how God was at work this weekend. The message of hope was that they mattered to God. 

I believe that the foundational theological truth of all of scripture is that each person has been made in the image of God and has been given great value because they bear that image. We are not accidents but the work of a deliberate creator who made us to matter to him. This is what a world in need to hope needs to  hear. They need to know that they matter to God. 
- Josh

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why family lovin' is important

I have just completed a paper on identity formation in adolescents. Really I wish I could post the whole thing, but I realize that the entire thing would be of little interest to most of my blog readers...although if you want to see it please feel free to ask. You may find it interesting. Anyways, here are a few excerpts from that paper that I have welded together. Hopefully you find them thought provoking.

I firmly believe that we all desire to be valued and to be accepted. These two things will drive many people to do many things. This is very much true in the world of adolescents, they are looking to find love (be valued) and to belong. This is the basis for healthy development in all areas of life. Ideally, in God's design, the adolescent would find love and acceptance at home. Indeed a healthy family is key to the adolescent’s identity formation. It has been well documented that the breakdown of the family has had an impact on adolescents. In one youth worker's experience (Chap Clark), the mid-adolescents who struggle the most in their adolescent development come almost universally from a family system that was less than safe and supportive. For those who do not find home to be a place of love and nurturing were looking elsewhere to feel valuable and wanted. Another author, Walt Mueller, notes that adolescents just want to be loved. He writes, “Research has shown that teenagers will often use sex as a means to express and satisfy emotional and interpersonal needs that have little to do with sex.  Sexual intercourse becomes a coping mechanism to deal with the absence of love and affection at home...The weakening of the family unit over the last decades has contributed to the sexuality crisis among teenagers. Studies show that “kids with a stable family background had lower levels of premarital intercourse and older age at first intercourse.”” 

But all is not lost.I believe that the church youth ministry can be a place where adolescents can try to make sense of their world and explore the questions that they are asking. Church can, and should be, a place where students are allowed to struggle with their questions and where guidance is offered. Their cries for help and clarity need to be listened to and commended as being valid. When the questions have been heard, then the youth ministry can journey with students in exploring answers and presenting God’s truth. I also believe that the church can be a place of belonging for students. Youth ministries should be seeking to be communities of acceptance and belonging where relationships can be cultivated and nurtured. These relationships ought to involve multiple generations so that adolescents have the opportunity to experience positive adult relationships as well as relationships with peers. Indeed The youth ministry is in a unique situation of being a place where students can come and experience love. The world can be a hostile place for adolescents, but the church should be a place where they feel loved and valued, unjudged against the societal model of what they should be.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

a brief thought about love

One of the authors I am reading right now is Ginny Olsen. In her book on ministering to teenager girls she points out the importance of girls having healthy relationships with parents. They need to have relationships where they are affirmed of their worth and experience real love. Unfortunately, as Olsen points out, the consequence of not experiencing a loving, nurturing home environment is often that girls seek out what they are missing in other relationships...even if these relationships are unhealthy and destructive. (see: Olsen, Ginny. Teenage Girls: Exploring Issues Adolescent Girls Face and Strategies to Help Them. 2006.)

I think that this correctly expresses the human need to experience love. People will do all sorts of things to find and hold onto love...even poor reflections of it.  Indeed, how many times have we known someone to compromise on a value, belief or principle for the sake of being accepted by another person? This is not a rare occurrence.  Some people will compromise what they hold dear in order to experience love even if that form of love is full of flaws and may be unhealthy. We are wired to crave love...we need to be known and accepted.

But there is hope. Paul writes about God's passionate love for his children that cannot be moved or diminished (check out Romans 8:35-39).  Those of us who have been given new life through the sacrifice of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, can rest in the reality that God's love for us is immovable. We no longer need to search for love because love found us and will never leave us. This is our new reality in which our new life is based. Indeed we have a message for a world that is looking for love in all the wrong places, is that what they are looking for is found in Christ. The love that binds the broken and heals. The love that makes people whole again.

just a thought...J

Monday, October 4, 2010

An observation

Many of you know that I have developed the habit of spending my summer's at camp. One of the fun things about coming home is catching up on all the changes that have happened in people's lives. It is always remarkable to me just how much changes while I am gone.

One of the biggest surprises to be was the total re-invention of one of my young friends. When I left he was totally into basketball and looked at dressed the part. He listened to hip-hop and was determined to be the next basketball player. When I got back he has changed his whole person to skater, complete with dressing the part and looking to start a band. This total transformation was further emphasized by his refusal to enjoy the things he used to enjoy - example: I tried to pass him a basketball for him to make an open shot and he refused to even touch the ball.

To be fair to my friend, there is nothing wrong with the changes that he made in his life. There is nothing wrong with changing a hobby from basketball to skateboarding or suddenly only wearing skinny jeans. These things are fine. But watching my friend re-invent himself has made me think of other people who I have watched reinvent themselves too. The quiet, nerdy kid who all of a sudden turns rock and roll. The argumentative Red Wings fan who suddenly loves the Leafs (poor kid). Again these can just be superficial things with no real meaning but they can also be a way that a person tries to change who they are because they aren't happy about deeper things.

Understanding who we are is an important thing. We all want to know that we matter and that we belong. We need to know that we have value. In fact to have questions about our worth and who our people are can be very scary...it can rock the foundations of our lives. When people feel worthless, empty and alone they will do all sorts of things to find value. Some people have questions about their identity, about who they are and why they matter, and so they seek to find it in all sorts of things. Relationships. Sex. Substances. Muscles. Fashion. Music. Movies. Sports. They are looking for what will define them and give them worth. For some people the deep discontent with who they are means that they will reach for what they have the ability to change - their outward appearance - and they hope that this change will be the thing that fixes the emptiness they feel.

Inevitably, when we try to define ourselves with things that are not God (i.e. skinny jeans, basketball or Opera music), we will find ourselves still feeling empty. We could start the vicious cycle of trying to find something new to give us worth, but whatever that is won't help. Instead I will suggest that what we are looking for is God. God has created us with great value and has created us to find our true identity in him. Anything else will leave us feeling empty.

Just a thought.