Teenagers, words and being gracious.

wpid-DSC_1825.jpgA couple of weekends ago, we travelled down south to see some very dear friends and spend our Sunday together. It was a glorious day – blue skies, early summer temperatures (England style) of 18-21 degrees celsius, a light breeze and traffic – all the things you would expect.

We arrived in time to join them for mass, walked the five minutes or so to their church, happily ensconsed ourselves in a nice corner where the kids could clamber about without getting in anyone else’s way, and settled in for the service.

I don’t know about you, but I am always interested in seeing how other churches worship and this was the presentation service for those teenagers wishing to make their confirmation.
A formal moment at the start of the course ‘introducing’ the candidates to the rest of the congregation, who in turn, are encouraged to welcome and pray for them during the preparation process.
It’s a lovely idea, enabling a community to walk alongside those who want to step into christian maturity. They claim their faith as their own, rather than just something their parents chose for them, and it is an opportunity to see a new generation grow in God and encourage the existing congregation, further building the church.

“Therefore encourage one another and build up one another,
just as you also are doing.”
1 Thessalonians 5:11

However, I was angered and surprised by something the priest said. Not his doctrine, or his theology, but his use of language in reference to the seven or eight young people who were standing on the altar for this presentation.
He asked them to turn around so that the rest of the congregation could see who they were. Which was fine. Except, his actual words were:
“Turn around so that we can embarrass you by showing your
faces to the congregation.”

Towards the end of the service, he called a little girl up onto the altar so that everyone could sing her ‘happy birthday’, some of his words were:
“your mother asked me to embarrass you by getting you up here”.

How is it ok to announce that you intend to embarrass people, particularly children and  teenagers who are already vulnerable and potentially uncomfortable being on display in public? In saying so, are we not more likely to make them embarrassed and awkward – the very thing we’d like to avoid?

“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”
Luke 6:45

To be fair to this priest, I don’t suspect for a moment that he had any malice or cruelty in his intention whatsoever. Far from it, he actually seemed very warm and caring –
BUT the language he chose was actually very negative. It inadvertantly challenged the dignity of those people, leaving them momentarily exposed in a state of vulnerability, where the intention was to celebrate them.

My point is that language is SO important, and the words we choose often reveal what is rooted in our hearts. A way of thinking that we may not even realise we have subscribed to.

I have grown up, hearing loving parents joke, or simply outrightly comment that they will make a point of embarrassing their children, usually when they reach their teenage years. Sometimes they have said that it’s their chance to get their own back.
I have NEVER understood this attitude.
Others have simply announced that their teenage son or daughter is a surly/moody/grumpy so-and-so to another (me included), whilst said offspring is standing right next to them.

I actually find this kind of talk, however wpid-DSC_0197.jpgflippantly meant, to be really crushing and hurtful. Surely we need to be building our children and teenagers up, inspiring and teaching them to be loving and groundbreaking adults, not absent-mindedly whipping their legs out from under them?

I need to make it clear at this point, that I don’t doubt for a minute that any of these many parents utterly loved their kids. I also don’t believe that any of them would go out of their way to consciously knock down or destroy the confidence of their own children. I’ve known many of these people well – they work their socks off for their famillies.

However, unless we realise the potential to damage that these words, and such ways of thinking have, to wound and destroy,  we will continue to sabotage relationships and respect, where we truly desire to build them.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths,
but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” – Ephesians 4:29

My husband is a youth worker, and I have had the privilege of working with teenagers, both wpid-DSC_1920.jpgalongside him and in other contexts.
They are amazing people.
Teenagers often get such bad press, and yes they are challenging and can frustrate us something silly.
But they are also deep thinkers who are waking up to an adult perspective of the world. Seeing things more as they really are, instead of as they are told or worse, numbed to it (in the way that many of us adults have become), and finding themselves overwhelmed by the process.

With a persistent underscore of changes to bodies, raging hormones, and volatile emotions –  they are trying to work out who they are, what their purpose on this earth is and lacking the maturity and eloquence to adequately express themselves.
Is it any wonder that they can sometimes (some of you may be thinking always) be moody and awkward?

The challenge for us adults, is in allowing teenagers the room and grace to process all this, whilst still laying firm boundaries.
At an age where an awareness of hypocrisy is keenly felt, are teenagers not doing us a favour by calling our actions and motives under closer scrutiny?
They often have the clarity of right and wrong, but lack the experience and patience which understands that the application is less straightforward. Yet how often does our frustration with the challenges of this season and our pride, prevent us from hearing truths which we need to recognise and possibly re-address?
Are we modelling to them, the things we want to ground them in as adults?

We have a unique opportunity to speak life into the generations following us, and to encourage them to develop and hold fast to their integrity, and to boldly desire to change the world.

If we want our children and teenagers to avoid the worst of the moody/awkward/unreasonable/un-communicative/angry stage, then surely we need to avoid language which keeps them stuck in that place, building them up and graciously treating them with respect, HOWEVER MUCH they are pressing our buttons and working our last nerve.  We, after all, are the adults in the relationship and we have the responsibility to speak to our children at the level of their potential, calling it out of them, rather than speaking to them as they are currently behaving. Simultaneously we must patiently accept them, whilst they are as yet, unable to live up to it.

We cannot do this without the presence of the Holy Spirit. We need Him to draw our attention to the mistakes we are making and change us inside out.
But for those of us who are born again of the Spirit, we have Him living inside us, to comfort, encourage and guide us along the way.

God deals with us SO kindly, never using language to destroy us.
Like Gideon, whom God greeted with the name ‘Mighty Warrior’, whilst he was still only a weedy coward, He greets us as who he intends us to be, by speaking to us as if we already were. His grace and patience prevails until we step into our destiny.
Let us seek his wisdom to do the same.

‘That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ’ – Colossians 2:2

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