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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The Most Important Missions Trip

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I don’t know how many times I’ve driven by the house. It’s a nice house. And it’s located in a nice part of the community. Homes there aren’t known so much for the cars parked out front as they are the airplanes kept in fancy hangars in the back. This was not the kind of neighborhood where the police make routine visits to carry people away or collect evidence from some gruesome crime.

All of that changed on Monday.

Friends of the family were concerned. The man and woman had not shown up for work. When police arrived for a welfare check they found opened doors that should be closed and unlocked doors that one might expect to find bolted shut. After walking in, police discovered a man, a woman and a child. All three were dead.

As I write this, details are still coming in. Stories like this one have a way of changing between the initial news reports and the setting in of reality. What we do know is that a nearby school was not placed on lockdown. Police also stated that they were not searching for a suspect. That’s likely because this was no home invasion or robbery gone wrong. By all accounts, it was a murder suicide.

When I got the news, my mind went back to a small classroom in Louisville, Kentucky. We had spent months discussing how churches could do better at reaching out to hurting people. Most of our time was spent examining a church in Florida that had spent years successfully providing food, jobs and a fresh start for poor people.

Near the end of our time together, I had a question. So I asked our professor, Dr. T. Vaughn Walker.

“What about Peachtree City?”

Geographically, Peachtree City is very close to Atlanta, Georgia. In reality, it’s a million miles away. People in Peachtree City drive golf carts to go shopping at high end stores. The schools are good. The athletic opportunities for kids are endless. The lawns are manicured. The houses are beautiful. Which led to my question.

“What about Peachtree City? How are churches in areas like that supposed to minister to hurting people when, by all accounts, no one is hurting?”

With his usual wisdom and kindness, Dr. Walker corrected me.

“Don’t assume that just because the house looks nice on the outside that there are no problems on the inside. People in nice houses aren’t immune to cancer and divorce.”

And murder suicides.

The Church puts a big emphasis on helping hurting people. And that’s a good thing. That’s how it should be. But as we do this, we must remember that not all hurts are equally broadcasted.

Poverty is pretty easy to spot.

A broken marriage isn’t.

Poverty, at least to a certain degree, can be addressed from afar. Money can be sent. Trips can be taken. New structures can be set up.

But there is no check or summer missions trip that can adequately speak the gospel into a family that has been ravaged by adultery or cancer.

If we really care about helping hurting people, we must not forget about the crowded villages in Haiti. But we also need to remember the spacious house next door with a 3.5 car garage and an airplane parked out back.

Pain, suffering and evil pay no attention to zoning laws or tax brackets. They make their presence felt in all types of homes. And if we really want to help hurting people, we will do the same.

This summer, it could be that the most important missions trip your church could ever be a part of is the one that begins with you walking up the hill, knocking on your neighbor’s fancy door and inviting the whole family over for a meal.

Chances are, you have no idea what’s on the other side of that fancy door.

And you have no idea what an impact your presence can make.

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Isaiah 52:7 (ESV)

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Words On A Screen: The Pain And The Power Behind What You Say

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They were words on a screen. But they were so much more.

“You have to just do it. You have everything you need. There is no way you can fail. Tonight is the night. It’s now or never.”

Pretty inspirational, huh?

Couldn’t we all use a friend to tell us something like that every day when we’re tempted to skip a workout or call in sick for work?

Michelle Carter allegedly sent those inspiring words to her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III. But there’s a problem with what Carter was trying to inspire her boyfriend to do. When she told him to, “Just do it,” she wasn’t trying to get him pumped up for a job interview. She was trying to convince him to kill himself.

So Conrad Roy loaded up the cab of his truck with a gas generator and drove to K-Mart. With the text messages from his girlfriend stuck in his head, he was planning on just doing it. He was going to actually go through with killing himself.

When he reached the K-Mart parking lot he started to have second thoughts. He climbed out of his truck. Fresh air started to fill his lungs. He used his phone to text his girlfriend. He was having second thoughts about killing himself.

Her response was only three words.

“Get back in.”

18-year-old Conrad Roy III died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Michelle Carter, who is also 18, is facing 20 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter.

Words matter. Even when they’re written instead of spoken.

We become different people behind a screen. We say things we would never say in person. Somehow, we forget that a real person is on the other end and that words, whether written or spoken, have a lot of power.

They carry with them the power to lift someone’s spirits.

But they also have the power to kill.

I just scrolled through the old text messages on my phone. Some are from friends who are talking about current events and the state of the world. Some are from church members with various questions, prayer requests and words of support. One is from a friend who is also a pastor. He sends me a text message every Sunday morning to remind me that he’s praying for me. I love those text messages. I wish that Conrad Roy had the same kind of people in his life that I have in mine. Maybe then he would have gotten to have a face to face conversation with someone who loves him instead of text messages from someone who killed him.

I don’t know what was going through Michelle Carter’s mind. Is she really evil enough to talk someone into committing suicide or was she just foolish, thinking that her words didn’t really matter? I don’t know. I’ve got my guess but I don’t know.

What I do know is that her words were powerful. And so are yours. Think about that the next time you write a mean comment on someone’s Facebook status. Consider the power of words before you leave your house, drop your kids off or finish texting. For the rest of her life, Michelle Carter will have to live with the fact that her last words to her boyfriend were spent trying to convince him to kill himself. What if your last words to a loved one, or anyone for that matter, were about how they’ve gotten fat or how they probably don’t deserve to have kids anyway? Could you live with that?

As they were texting each other, Michelle Carter told Conrad Roy that, “Everyone will be sad,” if he were to kill himself. She continued, saying that, “They will get over it and move on.”

I don’t believe that.

You don’t just get over the suicide of a son, brother, or friend.

And, no matter how hard your heart is, you don’t just get over being the one who talked him into it.

Sticks and stones hurt.

Words do too.

The difference is that injuries from sticks and stones heal much quicker than the injuries that come from words.

Words can stick with someone for life.

And they can even cut a life short.

So be careful what you say, even if it is just words on a screen.

And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. James 3:6-8 (ESV)

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