Not too long ago, I watched a scene at the mall that I hoped against all hope I’d never acted out myself.Deep inside, I knew that I probably had, though I was unwilling to give my memory more than a cursory search.
A young mother stood with her three or four-year-old son. From the looks of both of them, it had been a long day. I could tell that the young woman’s hair had looked really cute just a few hours ago, but it had separated in the middle and decided to fall across her face, revealing an inch or so of teased hair all along the crown. She wore a heavy, fashionable necklace and a tank top that was gaping in the front as she bent down to her son’s level, though she no longer seemed to care.
The little boy had ketchup stains on his T-shirt and wore only one shoe. I assumed he had lost the other at the mall playground and had been less than successful feeding himself ChickfilA French fries. His soft arms were crossed so high that his fingers were tucked underneath opposing armpits. A grating whine rose from within him and echoed through the mall, uncontainable and irritating like second-hand smoke.
The mother held in each hand an expensive cookie that she’d bought from the cookie store down the way. “I thought you liked sugar cookies!” the mother insisted a little too loudly, hoisting large shopping bags onto her back and balancing them against her oversized purse.
The whine began to crescendo.
Closing her eyes and pressing her lips together, she pasted on a fresh smile, opened her eyes, and tried again. “Okay, James, do you want my cookie?” She held out my personal favorite, a doublechocolate chip.
That’ll do it, I thought to myself, wondering if I should spring for a new cookie for James’s mom.
To my surprise–and mild disgust–the boy shook his head, poked out his lip, and began to cry, the whine now accented by gulping, choking sobs.
In desperation, the mother stuck out both cookies and looked around to see what kind of crowd her son had gathered. Everyone looked away a little too late. I accidentally made eye contact and recovered weakly with some weird Fozzy the Bear smile.Nice.
I noticed when I passed them again that the mother had gone back to the cookie store and bought the boy a sprinkle cookie. He’d stopped crying.
I was both disappointed in the mother and sad for her, though, like I said before, I am sure that I’ve done the same thing, if not with my own children, then with other people’s children.
My husband and I have been involved with Oklahoma teenagers for over twenty years. In that time, we have served on church staff (Well, Todd was on staff. I was the other half of a two-for-one deal.) in four different churches in very different parts of the state. Though I might change our methodology here and there had we the chance to do it again, I feel good about the past. We were passionate and worked hard, and I think we were obedient, though to say that we did everything right would be both inaccurate and arrogant. No one gets everything right, and I couldn’t even begin to form those words.
Many of our former students are involved in the Church. In fact, one of them is a youth worker in the youth group that our kids are a part of.I tear up inside every time I see him.Another is a pastor’s wife way out west, loving and supporting her husband with a selflessness that I’m sure brings the Lord a lot of pleasure. She has become an inspiration to me, though I’m sure she doesn’t realize that. There are many more. I could go on and on.
However, it hurts my heart to see that some of them have slipped away. They’ve not adopted a God-opposing lifestyle, necessarily, but seem to have succumbed to the undertow of apathetic lethargy that has claimed so many of their generation. What happened to their commitment, their passion to follow Christ? Why the change?
My first instinct is to comb back through our time with them. What did we miss? What did we not say? Should I have gone on that mission trip instead of staying home with my kids?Did I fail to pray like I should have? Then, I read some of the blog posts written by other, more prominent, Christians of their generation and realize that whatever the issue is, it is widespread.
There is a conversation going on, and I’ve yet to figure out who all of the participants are. I do know, though, that many are young people who have become disgruntled with the Church for one reason or another. They are talking to each other openly. I think they are hoping that the older generation will overhear and….what? Feel guilt? Question themselves? Apologize and change? I’m not sure, but it seems that some are eager to assign blame and, at the same time, to come across as unselfish and pure of motive.
I’ve got to tell you, it smacks a little of teenage angst, the kind that I never thought my own God-fearing, Bible-reading, mostly obedient kids would ever display, but have because they are human. From time to time, I hear in our conversations a subtle suggestion that if they were the parent, they might do things differently, or see in their expressions a sullen resolve to never say what their mother just said or to never do what their father just did, no matter our reasons for saying or doing whatever it was we said or did. Though I never say it out loud, I always think to myself, Okay, kiddo, that’s fine. We’ll see how you feel about it when you’re the parent and are responsible to God for your family.
I feel the same way when I read posts by disgruntled young Christians–many of whom claim no affiliation to any local church because of the “flaws” they see in the Church–asking the older generation to quit entertaining them and just show them Jesus or to quit trying to be so accommodating and just pour into their lives. Um…okay. Maybe we should. Maybe it’s time to quit theming every series out, hyper-focusing on music style, and creating coffee shops in the church, but maybe it’s also time for the younger generation to look past their list of wants and waiting-fors and just jump in and actually show us what it is we are to aspire to by their own example.
If you are one of the disgruntleds—by the way, I know that this label does NOT apply to all twenty-and-thirty somethings—let me just say this. Those of us to whom you are speaking have spent years trying to be good mentors, to give you the best, to give you what you said you wanted. Misguided though some of those efforts might have been, we did it because we love you and want you to take hold of the faith that has sustained us and brought us peace and joy through challenge and difficulty.
Maybe it is our fault (no sarcasm intended).
We spoiled you. We bought you the cookie we thought you wanted, and now it’s not good enough. We’d be pleased to give you ours, the simplified, straight-forward, more liturgical version of church (which is really what I have preferred all along), but have to wonder whether you would be happy with that either. You want to move on to something better, more meaningful, but few of us have actually been there, some of us because we’ve spent too much energy catering and convincing instead of letting the Holy Spirit speak for Himself, and some of us because we’ve been asked our opinion so much that we think it should count for more than it actually should and so spend too much time forming it.
The Bible tells us not to give up the habit of meeting together. Period. No outs or provisions for secession. It places equal responsibility for the health and fellowship of the Church squarely on the shoulders of the individual. You can’t get out of it. You can’t blame your disobedience on anyone else. You don’t have to go to your parents’ church, but you do have to be a part of the Church. What’s more, you have to contribute once you join, not just to the work, but to the unity of the Body.
I didn’t make that up.God did.
Listen, friends, we don’t owe you anything, and you don’t owe us anything. All debts were paid by Christ. However, we do belong to the same family. Don’t you think it’s time we quit making a scene, joined hands, and walked on?