I've been reading a lot about Millennials lately. I think it's an important discussion for the church.
As a generation, seemingly on the whole (though obviously there are many in this generation who have bucked the trends), there seem to be struggles nearly across the board, especially with how they deal with negative emotions.
They are less churched by nearly 3 times as much than the any generation in recent memory. As they enter into the work force, fewer of them are getting jobs (especially in their chosen fields) than past generations, and when they do get jobs, they tend to not play well with others, especially of older generations. The suicide rate is sky high comparatively to past generations. Much is being written about how to successfully lead this generation (it's complicated) and even more is being written about the psychological effects on this generation and - as they enter into full adulthood - their kids. From mainstream media to psychological journals to ESPN - the bastion of hard-hitting, thoughtful reporting - much has been made of the "Trophy Culture". Everyone gets a trophy because not getting one is disappointing, and kids should never be disappointed, right?
I had a very wise woman (who is a psychologist) tell me that leading a 23-year old today is light years different than leading a 23-year old ten years ago. And it sent me on this journey of discovery. Reading. Processing. Trying to understand. Here are a couple of (very basic) thoughts that have occurred to me:
1) The Problem is Pain
Psychologists point to this generations' inability to process pain and/or negative emotions as the key. As strange as it seems, seemingly an entire generation of American kids (thought it goes WAY further than just Americans) can't seem to work through the bad stuff in life. Well - it's not that they can't. They just seemingly won't. They ignore it, they stuff it down, they pretend it doesn't exist... until they can't handle anymore.
"Yea, though I walk through the shadow of darkness, your hand will guide me". As long as life has endured, there have been dark times. And yet we survive. Bad stuff is part of all of our lives. I'm learning more and more that the ability to face your problems, take responsibility for your failures (which takes admitting failures), working hard to recover from the pains of life, forgiving those who hurt you, facing your fears head-on ... all of these things bring mental and spiritual health.
But all of them cause pain. It hurts to admit failure. It hurts to face the person who has wronged you and work towards reconciliation. It hurts to chase friendship with imperfect people.
To ignore or deny that, to fail to forgive and ask forgiveness, to deny the chance to face pain and fear only hurts us as people. Yet this is increasingly the concern within the psychological community for the Millennial generation.
2) Repentance hurts
To repent - to truly turn away from our sin and face a Savior who died for a sins and died for us and rose again - hurts. It means admitting failure. It means admitting that you aren't good enough. It means denying yourself and following Christ. It means a lot of things that - on the surface - feel negative. To take up one's cross and follow Christ doesn't sound fun or rewarding.
On a daily basis, I am forced to deal with my failings as a father, as a husband, as a friend, as a leader. I am required to admit failure and ask forgiveness. I am required to work hard and most days I don't get any recognition for the things I do. In fact, most days - to be honest - it feels like the good I do is missed while every screw up is magnified.
And it hurts. Repentance hurts.
So it makes sense to me that a generation that struggles to process negative emotions would struggle to face real repentance. Repentance is hard, it hurts. But, gosh, it is so rewarding. I hope everyone - no matter what generation - can find truth in that statement at some point.
3) The shadow proves the sunshine
I could allow my failures and the pain and/or negative emotions to cripple me. And at times I have. But most days, the pain from the day before drives me to be better, to focus on the positive and build on it. Most days the pain causes me to realize I need to do better... and I work hard to that end. And I would say that most people outside of Millennials would have similar stories (though obviously not everyone).
Take away dealing with the pain, facing the pain, working on the things the pain points out in our lives, and suddenly our lives are - in my opinion - less rewarding, less full, less rounded.
Jon Foreman wrote "The shadow proves the sunshine". Other similar cliches speak truth (I mean, it's a cliche for a reason): if everything's special, nothing is special; the mountain highs don't make sense without the valley lows; to say it differently than Jon - without the darkness, the light is less important.
After watching Christopher Nolan's (in my opinion) underappreciated film Insomnia, I read about the Alasksan summers. For a couple of months, people deal with nearly 24 hours of light. And it drives people batty. We need the night to appreciate the day. (And vice-versa by the way)
So - what's the solution? I don't have any, to be honest. Perhaps answers aren't the response needed. I simply want to begin to find insight into what this 13-year generation of kids and now young adults are dealing with so I can first empathize and understand and secondly (hopefully) eventually begin to lead.
My thoughts here aren't revolutionary, I know, but I personally have not found anyone talking about these things in this context and so I humbly submit my thoughts to paean of thoughts written by men and women far more qualified than I. Again, this isn't about ALL Millennials, nor is it a condemnation. I don't have answers, I simply have thoughts and responses to problems I - and others - have noted.
Would love to hear your thoughts in response.