There’s A Big Problem Among High-Achieving Teens And Young Adults

It happened to Tyler Hilinski.

And Justin Cheng.

And Daniel Green.

And Kim Long.

And Miranda Williams.

And Lara Nosiru.

And Elsa Scaburri.

And Sam Symons.

And a host of others just this year.

These people have a lot in common. They share similar ages. They are all high achievers. And they all committed suicide.

As far as we know, none of these young adults demonstrated the typical patters that society once associated with suicide. They went to good schools to study things like neuroscience and law. Eight students at Bristol University and one from the University of West England have committed suicide in just the last 18 months. Tyler Hilinski was probably going to be the starting quarterback for Washington State this fall. He had just returned from a vacation with his family before killing himself. Whatever pain these students were experiencing was not bound by a nation’s borders.

There are no easy answers here. Christians do more harm than good when we resort to clichés about people “needing the gospel.” The same goes for those in the medical world who seem much more apt to administer drugs with questionable results than to address the actual problem.

I don’t know the parents of these young men and women. We must not assume that this is a result of some major flaw in their parenting. To do so would be reckless and self-righteous. But we can learn from these tragedies. The best thing that parents, educators, and others who have influence over teens and young adults can do is to take the time to listen. Pay attention to what they are saying. Get to know the songs and movies that resonate with them and find out why. But as important as listening is, there comes a time when we have to speak too.

We must be careful that the only words those under our care hear are not, “Do more,” “Work harder,” and “Not good enough.” Again, this is not to say that such was the case with the parents of the people listed above. Even those with the most idyllic family situations make the wrong decisions. But I have spent a lot of time on youth sports fields and I’ve come across quite a few parents who would rather give their kids the burden to perform than a word of encouragement.

The young men and women under our care need to be reminded that their true identity is not found in their athletic prowess or academic accomplishments. They are not the number at the bottom of a 20-page paper. They are not their 40 time. They are human beings created in the image of God. It is that, not their abilities, that gives them worth. And if they are Christians, they are sons and daughters of God. It is that, not their accomplishments that gives them hope.

Balance is required here. If we over-protect our students and children, we leave them ill-equipped for the challenges that lie ahead. But if we train them to be nothing more than performers putting on a show for us, we are setting the stage for crisis when the day inevitably comes that they just don’t measure up. We need to challenge them to take risks but we also need to love them when they fail. And in-between the starting line and the finish line, we need to be ready to listen to their fears and guide them through them. The young men and women under our care do not need us to be helicopters or drill sergeants but they could sure use some adults who care enough to listen and know enough to direct.

I don’t have all of the answers for this. There are not Six Easy Steps here. I’m sad for the families of these young adults. I can’t even begin to understand their pain. But perhaps we can begin to understand the pain of the teenagers and young adults in our lives. Yes, even the high achieving ones who show no signs of doing something as terrible as suicide. It starts with compassionate hearts, listening ears, and a few words of wisdom.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 (ESV)

 

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Back To School Fears

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This is a weird time of year. Some people are really happy. Others are bordering on depression.

School is starting back.

My wife loves school. She works at one. I think that secretly she wants to live inside of one.

I’m the opposite. I can’t prove it but I think that my blood pressure used to go up about 20 every morning when I walked through those double doors and into my school building. I’m all for education. It’s just that some of the most difficult moments of my life were spent in school buildings.

I shouldn’t say difficult. It’s not like I had to bust rocks. I just had to find x. And let’s be honest, what’s the difference really? I’m kidding, teachers! Sort of.

If you’re a lover of all things school, congratulations. Your Super Bowl is coming up. And while you are certainly free to continue reading, this post isn’t for you.

This post is for the students, teachers and parents who are on the verge of worrying a hole into their stomach because of what is waiting for them in just a few days. This if for the tragically average student. I’m writing this for the teacher who fights back tears whenever she thinks of all the fun she had with her family this summer while wishing that that season could somehow swallow up the other three. This is for the parent who is really nervous about loosening the grip on her child even more as another school year brings her baby one step closer to adulthood. This one goes out to the home school parents that are already overwhelmed before the year even starts.

Right now, you probably feel sort of like that lion-hunting dentist that everyone is mad at. Your time to come out of hiding is approaching. And you know that it’s not going to be pretty.

Take heart.

If you are a Christian, you are never alone.

Here are a few things to remember.

1. Trust Jesus when you are scared. 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7 (ESV)

Fear can consume you or it can be your friend. It consumes you when you believe its lies that the future really is hopeless. It is your friend when it is nothing more than a gentle reminder to pray to the One who is in control and taking care of you. This is best done through prayer.

Be honest in your prayers.

Tell your Father what scares you.

And then remember what Jesus is doing. He is protecting you by standing guard at your heart and mind.

2. Trust Jesus when you don’t understand what to do next, 

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. James 1:5-8 (ESV)

There’s nothing like school to remind you that you’re not as smart and independent as you think you are. There are tests that seem designed for failure. And not just the written ones that students take with number 2 pencils. Parents and teachers face their share of difficult exams too. Instead of coming on white sheets of paper, these exams come at surprising moments in the speed of life.

Your lack of understanding can lead you to apathy, despair and depression. Or it can lead you to your Father in Heaven.

When you find yourself in a situation where you do not know what to do, and you will, ask God to show you. God never promised to give you all of the answers on a test or to fill you in on all of the things the kids are doing while you’re not looking. He has promised something better. He has promised to give you his wisdom. Just ask in faith. You’ll be glad that you did.

3. Remember why you are here.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 (ESV)

Your main, Divine objective is not an A in math. It is to glorify God.

You can get an A in math or raise an honor roll student or win teacher of the year and still miss the point. You were put here to glorify Jesus Christ.

Yes, it is possible to do well in school without glorifying Jesus.

However, it is impossible to fully glorify Jesus if you’re cheating, complaining or being lazy.

Maybe God didn’t design you to be scientist. That’s okay. But he did design you to glorify him. So, for the sake of Jesus Christ, do your best.

It’s Thursday.

But Monday is coming.

And this is a Monday that is perhaps more dreaded than any other.

Don’t let it be that way. Instead, know that you are not walking through those double doors and down those hallways alone.

The Sovereign Creator of the universe is with you.

And he has promised to see you through until the end.

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Those Who Weep

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Here’s something that you can count on in life. Tragedy.

Here’s something else that you can count on. Someone saying or writing something stupid after that tragedy.

I found out about the death of Robin Williams on Monday night. My wife told me from the other room. She said that it was all over the Internet. I told her that I had the sudden urge to watch Good Will Hunting. She said that some of my other friends were saying the same thing on Facebook.

It wasn’t long before other things were being said on Facebook. That’s the way it always works. Whenever a celebrity dies, we can count on someone being there to make us feel guilty for being sad. Those reminders usually come about 7.221 seconds after the tragedy itself goes public. And they’re usually said by the same people who remind us of how many people starved to death around the globe while we were watching the Super Bowl. But in this case, I didn’t hear the reminders until the following morning.

They go a little something like this.

Why is everyone upset about Robin Williams when so many Christians are being persecuted in China?

You posted a Robin Williams clip from YouTube but did you do anything about Mike Brown?

And on and on and on. And on some more.

Where does it all end? Should we condemn a grieving father for crying at his daughter’s funeral because there were so many more deaths in other parts of the world that day?

Should we only respond with grief to the really horrific events and with indifference to the sort of horrific events?

I get it. We live in a celebrity obsessed culture. It’s a culture where the famous seem larger than life and many of the regular folks tend to worship them. And not everything we know about those celebrities is real. Some of them don’t really look the way they do in movies. Others aren’t nearly as nice as they seem on TV.

I get it.

But while celebrities have been known to have fake body parts and fake personalities, they have very real problems. Robin Williams is a reminder of that. In spite of all of his success, he suffered. And he left behind family and friends who are now suffering in his absence. That’s one of the few common links between celebrities and the rest of us. We all suffer.

The alleviation of that suffering is never found in an angry, guilt-inducing tweet about all of the suffering people in the world that we’re forgetting about. As Christians, we know that the only real hope for a suffering world is found in the person of Jesus Christ.

And yes, there is a time to talk about that hope.

But there’s also a time to just be quiet. A time to say nothing. A time to weep with those who weep.

Remember that time when that atheist drove by a church sign that said, “God wants full custody. Not just weekend visits” and dropped everything to repent of his sins, right there in the middle of the road?

Neither do I.

It never happens.

And posting our guilt-inducing tweets about starving children around the world every time people have their attention on some other tragedy is just as productive as those church signs that we all drive by.

So whenever that guy dies who was on that show that you’ve never heard of, try not to remind us all of how rotten we are for feeling a little down about it.

Tragedies are going to happen. Until Jesus comes back, there’s nothing we can do to avoid that.

But there’s plenty we can do to avoid saying something stupid after those tragedies.

We would do well, many times, to simply remain silent.

But if we must make a noise about a particular situation, perhaps we could just weep with those who weep.

Something To Remember For Mother’s Day

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“Who is the oldest mom here this morning?”

That was the question that got things kicked off at the Mother’s Day service. The speaker found the oldest mother through a process of elimination. Every mom had to stand up. Then, the mothers under the age of 60 had to sit down. Next, the ones under the age of 70. This kept going until one woman was left standing. She was 165 years old. Or maybe it was 83. I can’t remember.

There were more questions.

“Who has the most kids?”

“And what about the youngest mother here this morning?”

I was just a kid but even I could see the potential for disaster in that particular question.

In reality, each of those questions came with their own measure of pain. While men carried roses to the woman with the most kids, there was a family grieving the loss of their mother. As people clapped for the youngest mother, there was a woman twice her age who quietly wondered if she would ever have kids.

One of my mentors told me once to remember that there is a broken heart on every pew. When he told me that, I knew what he was talking about. I thought back to that Mother’s Day service from my childhood. Once I finally became a pastor, I had an even better grasp of the broken hearts of which he spoke. Most of them belong to women who, whether because of infertility or the loss of a child, find Mother’s Day to be the most difficult day of the year.

This Sunday is Mother’s Day. While we celebrate our wives and mothers, we need to remember the broken hearts in our pews who would give almost anything just to be called mom.

Being a parent is a wonderful privilege. That’s easy to forget. Sometimes a shot or two of perspective can help us.

Before you fall all to pieces when your kid wakes you up in the middle of the night because she can’t find her blanket, think about those broken hearts who don’t get that experience.

Before you post something on Facebook about how much “parenting can suck sometimes,” think about the people reading your status updates who would love to know firsthand what exactly it is you’re talking about.

This isn’t a guilt trip. Mother’s Day should be a celebration. If you still have a mom, hug her and take her out to lunch. If you have more kids than anyone in the church, you got started young or you’re the oldest mom in the church, enjoy those blessings.

But just don’t forget about the hurting hearts on your pew.

Don’t forget the ones who will stay home this Sunday because the whole routine is more than they can handle.

Most of all, don’t forget about the Son who knit us all together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139) and who will one day come back to wipe away every tear (Revelation 21).

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (ESV)

A Bar for Christians

A few years back a new building was built in my town. Before it was officially opened I was invited to come in and pray over it. It was a sad day.

The building was the office of the county coroner. There was nothing wrong with the building. It was very new and clean and seemed to be well built. But it was a sad day because every room I walked in existed for one purpose.

Death.

I knew that it was just a matter of days, maybe hours, until lifeless bodies would lie in the examining room while grieving family members tried their best to handle the pain.

The last room I visited was designed specifically for those who were grieving. There was a window for family and friends of the deceased to look through, apparently to identify their loved one. On the wall just below that window, about waist high, there was a bar. One of those bars you see on the side of the stall in a handicapped restroom. Of all the things I saw that day, this is what has stayed with me.

I grabbed it and thought about the hundreds and hundreds of hands that would cling to that bar as their eyes looked through the window and their knees grew weak. For many, this bar would be their only hope.

But not for Christians.

The bar we have to cling to does not come and go with new buildings. It is constant. It has always existed, even before us. And if we find ourselves on either side of that window, it will still be there. That bar is the goodness of God.

You are good and do good; teach me your statutes. The insolent smear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts; their heart is unfeeling like fat, but I delight in your law. Psalm 119:68-70 (ESV)

We don’t know all of the details surrounding this Psalm. We just know that the author was not immune to suffering. He knew what it was like to have his reputation smeared and to be haunted by wickedness. But through it all he remained in God’s word. And it was there that he found something to grasp. The goodness of God.

God’s goodness is not dependent upon our assessment of the goodness of a particular situation. Rather, it is only through his goodness that we are able to see any goodness at all.

It is good for me that I was afflicted that I might learn your statutes. The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces. Psalm 119:71-72 (ESV)

Christians are not immune to the sting of death. Not yet. Our knees still get weak and our eyes still fill with tears.

But we have been given something to cling to during those times. We have a Good Shepherd who calls us to come to him, laying our burdens down and finding rest for our weary souls.

Jesus promises that one day that building will not exist. My friend will be out of a job. Neither one of us can wait for that day.

But until then, we all cling to the Good Shepherd who conquered death for us.