October 16, 2017
Pen read this letter to FPC Youth during the service on Sunday, Ocober 15, 2017.
Dear FPC Youth –
I’ve met many of you, and I’m looking forward to getting to know you better. I’ve taught you in Confirmation. I’ve been with you a few times on Sunday nights at youth group. When some of you were in fourth grade, you got to put me on the hot-seat and asked me questions as a part of your catechism class. I thought that was awesome. We shake hands sometimes after church. I’ve loved sitting in the pew on Youth Sunday when you lead worship (everybody at church loves Youth Sunday, by the way).
In a few cases, I’ve gotten to know you through difficult events—like when your grandparents were sick, or your parents. Sometimes, even, when you were sick.
What I want you to know is that you are amazing.
And I am so, so grateful that you are a part of this church and this family in faith. And that I get to be your pastor.
I am writing because sometimes—in the midst of everything else that is going on—we forget to talk about the most important things.
Adults are pretty bad about that. We get distracted by feeling like we need to be in charge; feeling like we need to have an opinion. You know, because that’s what adults do—take charge and have opinions. We spend a lot of time—whether it is at church, or home, or the office—talking about things that matter to us…but they aren’t the most important things.
You know—I hope—that God loves you. But that’s just part of it. What is most important is that you know that God doesn’t just love you—but that God likes you—God delights in you. And not because of what you do—but because of who you are.
Maybe that’s obvious, and maybe you’ve heard me or someone else say that to you before, but it’s so important that I can’t say it enough.
I know that you live under a lot of pressure. School, social media, figuring out relationships—with friends, family, girlfriends/boyfriends, where you fit into the world, what you want to do. There’s a lot more for you to manage in your teenage years than there was 25 years ago when I was your age.
And I know what pressure does to people—because I know what it does to me. It can make us feel anxious; that pit you carry in your stomach when it feels like whatever you do, it’s not quite enough; where you feel like who you are as a person—what you are worth, whether you will be successful, whether you will live up to your parents’ expectations, whether or not you will be liked or loved—depends on you getting the things that are stressing you out right.
When I was your age, I remember that about the most unhelpful pieces of advice anyone ever gave me was “don’t stress out.” Like it is that easy. So I’m not going to give you that advice.
But I do want to apologize. Because part of what I think is causing you stress is something that your parents and I helped to create. And to be fair to us, our parents (and your grandparents) helped create it, too. And, to be fair to them, it’s really something that has been in the works for a long time.
I’m afraid we’ve helped create an environment where you are defined by the very things that stress you out: what you look like, how well you do at school, how you compare to other people your age, what career you will choose, how you manage your public image, your reputation.
And I’ll tell you a little secret. All that stuff is what stresses out your parents and me, too. You probably know that—you’re smart and perceptive. You probably watch us comparing you to other people your age. You watch us take our careers too seriously—trying to get ahead. You watch us worry about how we are perceived by others. Sometimes, maybe a lot of times, your parents and I take the things that make us anxious, that stress us out, and we push that stuff right along to you. You know why? It’s because we are trying to stay in control of our own lives…and yours. And that adds pressure that you don’t really need.
Some of you—many of you—are really good…exceptionally good…at managing all of this stress and pressure. And I have no doubt that most of you will sail through this next chapter of your life when you will graduate and go to college and launch a career and be successful and continue making a positive impact on the world.
I know about that. I’ve been there. It feels good to achieve your dreams.
But I also know that even if you have the absolute, most smashing success you could ever hope or dream for—even if you live up to every expectation that somebody else has for you (or you have for yourself)—even then, there will still be a part of you that wonders if you are enough. Because we spend so much of our lives judging and being judged by our successes and against our failures.
So here is what I want to say: God doesn’t just love you. God likes you. God delights in you. And not because of what you do. But because of who you are.
Oh—it’s a hard thing to remember.
And I hope you never doubt it.
But if you do, I want you to come back to the church and I want you to walk into the sanctuary and look into the baptismal font (where you have been baptized). And I want you ask yourself what you did to deserve being called a child of God and someone who is worthy of being saved by Jesus Christ?
The answer is nothing. And that is what makes grace so amazing.
You are all special people.
And I know it can be tough to navigate all you have going on in your lives.
Just remember that I love you—and your church family loves you—just the way you are…and no matter what.