Instant messaging, facebooking, texting, and probably being cool-all things I’ve learned from young people. As the new school year approaches, a new class is coming to college, and soon I will meet many of them and be shocked how baby-faced some of them are. Except for that one freshman each fall who’s like 6’4″ with a full beard looking well into his thirties. But as ancient as I sometimes feel, I embrace the masses of youth because I know a whole bunch of new amazing life stories and significant questions are coming my way to work through with them, both for their benefit but also for mine. There are many truths we can forget as we age that these excited, apprehensive, and gifted fledgling adults remember and live out every day. Good experience can be a great teacher, but so can the lack of bad experience…here’s how!
1. Passion is perishable
It’s so awesome to watch a young person dive totally head-first into a charity drive or humanitarian event. Not only can they surprise you with their logistical talent, they make the pursuit of social justice fun and exciting. Granted, some of this is because they don’t yet understand the chronicity and complexities of the problems our world faces, but they also don’t let what they do know numb them into hopelessness and inactivity…unlike so many of us who are older and ineffectively “wiser”. I have been challenged by these students to find or rekindle a fire to take action on behalf of those in need, and I’ve seen how much fruit that can bear in the most “impossible” situations. May they awaken many others as well!
2. Teaching brings training
What might sound good as a quick summary in your head is often much harder to convincingly get out of your mouth. There is no better cure for ignorance or half-baked beliefs than having to propose and defend them in front of a bunch of inquiring young adults. They ask tough questions, and they want plausible answers. Often I can provide those, and they thank me for stretching and solidifying their worldview. But perhaps what I should more often add is that I could only give those answers because of students who made me reevaluate and revise my own beliefs to get me to a more secure place. Just a few weeks ago I led a discussion on a topic I felt very well-informed in, until two students kept inquiring further until I had to admit I needed a better answer on a particular issue. That has led to hours of self-training that is revealing new answers I can in turn offer them. The elder have much to teach the younger, but the younger need to keep reminding the elder that we still need to be taught too.
3. Frankness offers freedom
I’ve been around students so long that I sometimes assume everyone is as transparent as they are. But the older a person gets, the more rare relationships are that require them to truly open the depths of their hearts and lives to others, even to spouses or best friends. It’s truly shocking how much young people have been willing to reveal to me about what they think and do, and I honor that trust very seriously. But I believe they’re so open because they know how relieving it is to share all aspects-not just the (often faked) happy parts-of who they are, to discover that many others deal with the same issues they do, and to get them out there so they can be addressed. Being frank about your personal successes and failures to at least a few offers you fantastic freedom from pretense and to restoration (Click to tweet), and those of us who think faking is better than freedom would do well to “get real” like younger folks do.
4. The point is a person
When I started working with college students, I had to learn a big lesson the hard way: people are more important than programs. More practically stated, a good-intentioned coffee date is so much more productive than a well-planned event. I forgot these youth were more concerned with figuring out why they’re here and what to do about it than slick, smart programming. And whether you think about it or not, so are you. They taught me to explore with them every part of who they were created to be and how those parts can all be maximized in everyday, adult life. We remind ourselves together that the point is not a GPA, major, relationship status, or career choice; you can fail a test, receive a rejection notice, get dumped, or have to shift career goals and still very easily be all of you-a realization that’s probably more, not less, applicable after college than during. The point is who God made you and how that will do the most fulfilling good in this world. Of course, that reminds us also that part of that point is another person as well…
5. The goal is God
An interesting but unfortunate phenomenon commonly occurs in college. A teen’s black-and-white simple worldview collides with the complexities of many very gray university perspectives, and many times the very worst of both emerge in that person. In other words, what may be very important specific rights and wrongs that define a student’s faith get very importantly challenged, and both “importants” are good. But instead of that challenge helping the student better understand the source behind those morals, the faith gets tossed with the morals because they were always prioritized above the source. I was with many students this past weekend, and the most common theme of discussion was how much our own and others’ faith suffers when we focus more on morals than the God behind them. But this has been even more poignantly exemplified by my same-age friends than by students. The most important question-that youth seem to ponder more readily but that all of us need to answer-is if we really want God or if we’re more concerned with what we, loved ones, or society consider to be right or wrong. If God is truly our goal, we will accept him as God and seek to discover why his morals are there, not seek something else as our god and only agree with God when he agrees with our god. The biblical heaven won’t be full of either people who have perfect morals or people who’s morals waver under any god other than God. Heaven will be full of those who want to know God and his perfection so much that his rights and wrongs are the result of, not the reason for, their belief in him (Click to tweet). Sometimes it takes someone young being challenged why they should believe to remind others why as well.
As the campuses fill with students for another year, I wish you all the greatest growth and fulfillment, older teaching younger and younger teaching older. “Do not let anyone look down upon you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, life, love, faith, and purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).