The coffee shop I work at closes at 10pm. After a long day of making beverages and washing dishes and sweeping floors, there are few things worse than people pulling up in the drive-thru at 9:58pm. Possible the worst thing is a car full of kids, squished together like some kind of “how many clowns can we fit in the car” act, pulling through and ordering not one, not two, but no less than six different iced blended beverages when you’ve already cleaned everything and you’re itching to finish closing up shop. Now you’re behind and getting out of work 15 minutes later than you normally leave, putting you at home close to 11pm when you have a daughter who’ll be up by 7am, and you’re crabby and tired and smell like coffee all because of pack of stupid teenagers.
Okay, it’s not all because of stupid teenagers, but this is how I felt about teenagers in early June. The grumpy barista decided she hates teenagers. “You know? I hated teenagers when I was one. I didn’t really have a bunch of friends in high school. I had maybe two.” (Side note: it’s not a bad thing to have two true friends. My two truest high school friends have proved to be my two dearest friends now. Thanks, Corinne and Sheryl, for always being there! Okay, continuing with the narration of my negative thoughts.) “Teenagers are just useless, going through life aimlessly and consumed with how many likes their stupid unicorn frap can get on instagram.”
I, like every single generation before me, became increasingly bitter about the generation coming in after me. What goes around, comes around.
But God likes to prove me wrong and show me that His design is always superior than whatever I could think up. So He sent me on a mission trip comprised of mostly– you guessed it– teenagers. I was the youngest adult by sixteen years and the oldest “kid” by only five, which gave me the privilege of being able to blend in and out of both social groups pretty seamlessly. And God really shifted my opinion on the kids in their teenage years.
My opinions on people who drive through my store two minutes before we close are still undecided, although I am convicted that my complaining and grumbling is sinful on my part and I’ve been praying that God will give me a peaceable spirit that goes farther than my cheery customer service voice. However, God showed me that teenagers aren’t just a collective group of aimless people.
The kids I went on this trip with were some of the sweetest, faithful young saints I have ever been privileged to bunk with. They were lively, not just filled with the energy their youth has blessed them with, but also filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit, eager to serve and clinging to the gospel. From the newly saved among them to those who had been holding fast to Christ for longer, each one of them demonstrated a tenacity for holiness that put me to shame. I began to see that some of the “aimlessness” I had been seeing wasn’t actually aimlessness at all, but deep trust in the Lord to further their plans. My conscience burned. I was always the person with a complete spreadsheet for my life, but God time and again has ripped up my life plans and set me on the paths of His choosing. “A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) There are kids grasping this verse better at 16 than I am at near 24. Shame on me.
Maybe I’m just friends on Facebook with a lot of grumpy people, but I tell you, I can’t scroll down my newsfeed for more than a minute before finding articles about why teenagers are a plague to society, or why millennials are ruining the country, or why we’re not reaching kids in the church and should stop trying to reach them. It’s actually a disturbing habit. We become dismissive of the younger generation and then abandon them, disregarding them as inferior and not worthy of our time. But they were worthy of Jesus’s time, who said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little childwill never enter it.” (Luke 18:16-17) If we truly are passionate about shepherding disciples, then we can’t write teenagers off as a bunch of feckless and inconsequential nuisances, better to be ignored until they’re in their twenties.
Now this is not a “our teens are perfect and can do no wrong” post. While we shouldn’t write them off as invalid, we can’t fall prey to the opposite end of the spectrum and think that they’re all perfect little saints. As one of the adults on my trip reminded me, the fact that kids grow up in a Christian household doesn’t mean they themselves are necessarily Christians. However, it’s the role of adults to come alongside our younger brethren and teach them along the way. Which can be hard because nobody knows more than a sixteen year old (believe me, I was one… I knew everything). But as we make and mature disciples of Jesus Christ, it’s important that we walk with our teens, talk to them, help them, and love them. Instead of pushing them aside and believing them to be either unregenerate due to their age or conversely absolutely fine because they were raised in the church, let us help them grow to be wise, rather than just wise in their own eyes.
I loved my experience with the teenagers God has put in my path and I pray that I’ll be able to grow with them and love them the way Jesus has loved me.
But also don’t order six drinks right before I close my store. That’s rude.