In the news, there is much to disparage the generation dubbed the millennials. There are college campus riots, resistance to free speech, and even a revelation that half of millennials are willing to forgo their right to vote to be free of student loans. Recently a study was released showing that these young men and women are delaying adult activities such as living on their own, getting married and having kids. Most find this behavior perplexing and have nicknamed this generation the “snowflakes.” However, I am beginning to understand the reason behind these actions and how very scared this new generation has become.
As someone who has worked with teens and 20 year-olds for almost twenty years, I’ve seen a progression quite clearly. The characteristics are clear: an increase in depression and anxiety, a desire to retreat with a lack of confidence in the ability to try new things, and forming of communities based on common interest but with a lack of deep relationship (oftentimes virtual). In addition, I have observed how these youth yearn for an adult to fix their problems and to protect them.
What has caused this? I believe there are many reasons but chief among them is the exposure of these young people to censure of an enormous magnitude.
Exposed to Ridicule
When I was a child and I did something silly or worthy of criticism, I had to face the censure of a small group of people–maybe those in my class, and, at worst, my whole school. Now technology has evolved to the point where our follies can be seen practically around the world. Coupled with this terrifying thought is the idea that every person feels that, without any real relationship or authority in your life, they must share their opinion of your actions, your appearance, or your beliefs. What more unsafe world could there be?
A couple of weeks ago, I watched Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul with my kids and saw this very idea being communicated. The main character, a middle school boy named Greg, is unfortunate enough to be the star of a viral meme depicting him with a diaper stuck on his hand yelling hysterically. Because of his humiliation, his main goal throughout the whole movie is to somehow expunge his name and reputation by being in a YouTube video with a famous gamer. Of course, he is not successful and his ruin is magnified when his full name is then released and connected with the horrible meme. This is the reality in which so many are growing up. This is why they are afraid to try anything. The results of failure seem almost universal.
The church itself has not been an answer to this problem. What should be a place of safety is often a place where others are criticized for not doing Christianity correctly- or at least Christianity according to certain people’s own specific standards. This is sad because we have a truth so powerful that it changes everything–we are already loved and safe.
Our Identity Is Key
In Ephesians, Paul spends a great deal of time explaining to the church just how much Christ has changed their identity. The Ephesians also lived in a culture where everything was permissible and the pressure for acceptance was strong. Paul knew that these believers needed to understand who they were and that they were absolutely precious and valuable. This understanding is also necessary for us to live at odds with our own culture. In Ephesians 1, Paul tells us all that we are:
- Blessed with every spiritual blessing
- Receiver of an inheritance
Henri Nouwen in his book Life of the Beloved explains the difference between trying to achieve acceptance and knowing you are already loved:
As long as you live in the world, yielding to its enormous pressures to prove to yourself and to others that you are somebody and knowing from the beginning that you will lose in the end, your life can be scarcely more than a long struggle for survival…The change of which I speak is the change from living life as a painful test to prove that you deserve to be loved, to living it as an unceasing “Yes” to the truth of that Belovedness.
Understanding we are beloved means realizing we are safe no matter how well or poorly we perform. It means that we can run or crawl to the throne of grace and know we will receive help because He loves us (Hebrews 4:16). If we look honestly at ourselves, we know we need help. We fear that we will be found out for who we really are, but it’s too late–He already knows us, but He has accepted us.
A Reminder for Us All
This message is not just for the millennials, though they need to hear it repeated again and again. We all need it. When we can be confident in the truth of His love, we will be free to love and to take risks. Right before Jesus was facing His greatest test, He came together with his disciples for Passover. It is here that he humbly washes the disciples’ feet, the job which is given to the lowliest of servants. However, John notes something that could easily be overlooked–the reason Jesus is able to serve. In John 13:3,5 (ESV) states, “Jesus, knowing that the Father has given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper…and began to wash the disciples’ feet” (italics mine). It was Jesus’s confidence in His identity that gave him the ability to serve. He knew to Whom He belonged.
We too need to know where we have come from, where we are going, and to Whom we belong. It is when we grasp this that we are freed to not walk in fear, worrying about the censure of the world. It is here that we can walk forward as more than conquerors (Romans 8:37). And I believe that if this next generation takes hold of this truth, there will be no stopping them!