A Youthful Perspective
Chaplain Aleesa J. Naish
Princeton Baptist Medical Center
Jesus said, “I assure you that if you don’t turn your lives around and become like this little child, you will definitely not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” Matthew 18: 3,5 (CEB)
I recently had the opportunity to work with a group of teenagers, ages 12-18, who were experiencing various personal problems that brought them together in a safe environment where they were free to share and discuss issues they were facing. I began our conversation by asking them their thoughts on the recent behavior and actions of those who are involved in the contentious campaign battles for President. Although their answers expressed a myriad of thoughts, feelings, and opinions, there was a common thread among their answers: disrespect and hate for one another. Some even went on to say that if they were to treat other students at school the way the candidates have been treating each other, they would be disciplined and labeled as a bully. I found myself agreeing with them.
I followed up with a second question: “If you were running for President, what is the one thing you would want the voters to know about you?” This time their answers focused on commitment and honesty. They shared that what they told the voters they meant and would make every effort to follow through with their promises. One of the older teens stated that she would not allow herself to be manipulated by others. She would lead by example and expect those who worked for her to do the same.
A final answer from a young female sitting toward the back of the room, stated, “I would do everything possible to make sure that every person was treated equal.” I asked her if she could explain further. She said, “You know . . . people like me, people like you, rich or poor, all kinds of differences. Why can’t we all be treated the same?” I looked at her, feeling somewhat emotional myself and said, “Honestly, I have a hard time with that one, too.”
As we continued our conversation, I said, “Let’s try something . . . let’s put together a group of people with various differences and come up with our own population. We will come up with ten types of people and really look at the differences between them.” So the teens started brainstorming. By the time our population of ten was chosen, we had an African American, a Caucasian, a refugee, at least one female, a single mom, a person of multi-faiths, a Christian, an atheist, and a homosexual. That gave us nine. When I asked for one more, a shy boy in the very back raised his hand and said, “what about a mixed race kid? People are always making fun of me.”
The teens shared what differences they perceived between each of these people, but the same question kept coming to the forefront. “Sure, there are differences, but that doesn’t make anyone better than the other, does it?” I chose not to answer, but rather gave them time to mull over their own question. “So what do you think?” I asked. “It’s just stupid”, I hear from the left side of the room. I said, “Well yes, sometimes it is.” Could another word be ignorant or even afraid? Often fear can do a lot of damage when we don’t take the time to know someone. We listen to the “noise” of others rather than making our own decisions and seeing people for the unique person God created them to be rather than the enemy.
There is a saying, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” You know it can begin with you and me. Jesus said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” John 15:14 (NIV)
We can learn a lot from our youth today. Don’t count them out. They see and understand with more openness and abandonment than many of us. We just need to take time to listen and learn.
Prayer: Gracious God, in your likeness and by your example, help us always to “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” For we are all your children, created by You and in Your image, remind us to be the change and the catalyst in making your world a place of complete equality and peace. Amen.