I Wish My Youth Pastor Knew: “My Child is Really Insecure”
“Mr. Hill, can we meet to talk about your son’s behavior in my class?” If I had a nickel for each time I received that request from a teacher! “Ethan is a really sweet kid, it is just that he likes to be the life of the party. Unfortunately, that can be pretty disruptive to our classroom.”
When I came across a report card of mine from elementary school recently, I was not surprised at the comments my teachers made about me: “Todd needs to learn to not talk all of the time during class.” So, the apple has not fallen far from the tree.
Two of my favorite people in the world are my 16-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter. They are fun, intelligent, caring, responsible, and really cool people. I absolutely love doing life with them! In their own ways, they both like to be the life of the party. When they show up to an event, they bring an energy that impacts the whole room. This is great at a Christmas party. It is not always great in Algebra class.
I have had the privilege of a unique perspective with my children. I am their parent, as well as their church Youth Director. They are both in my Sr. High program at my church. I get to watch them in the youth ministry setting. I also get to watch them in my home. I am beginning to learn a lot from comparing them in these two contexts.
My youth volunteers will occasionally discuss my children’s contribution to our ministry. It is often positive – they are good leaders, they make things fun, etc. However, sometimes they express frustration at the distraction they can be to the group due to their crazy antics. Whether their behavior is impacting the group positively or negatively, the volunteers will often speak of the leadership and confidence that they see in my kids.
However, I also have the unique vantage point of a front row seat as I watch those same crazy and confident kids grow up at home. I get to see some things that my youth volunteers never see. They are fun. They are leaders. They are confident – at least in some settings. But they are also uncertain. They are insecure. They are hurting. They are longing to be affirmed. They are trying to measure up.
Last week I read the passage in Matthew 15:21-28 about the Canaanite woman who was following Jesus and his disciples around, crying out to them to heal her demon-possessed daughter. I was fascinated by the disciples’ response in verse 23: “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” The disciples wanted Jesus to get rid of her because she was annoying them. She was driving them crazy!
The disciples were not paying attention to what was going on behind the scenes. They didn’t stop to think about the deep heartache that this mother was experiencing as she watched her daughter agonize because of being tortured by this demon. All the disciples could see was what was being presented right in front of them. This woman was annoying. She was making a scene. Obviously, this woman was the type of person who liked having the attention on her, and she simply needed to be told to leave.
As I have discussed my children with my youth volunteers over the past months, I have shared with them this new perspective that they don’t see at youth group on Sunday night. I think it is really important for them to know that when they see my kids working the crowd at youth group or laughing with their friends, there is so much more going on behind their confident demeanor. I want them to know this, because my kids are representatives of what every other student in the ministry is experiencing.
The challenge for those in youth ministry is to not simply build an opinion about students based on what we experience in a couple of hours of interaction with them each week. That opinion might be that they are spiritually mature and a great leader, or it may be that they are annoying and a troublemaker. However, it is so important to know that there are a million things going on under the exterior of a teenager: anxiety, fear, insecurity, a desire to measure up, a longing to fit in, an uncertainty about identity.
In the passage in Matthew, Jesus didn’t listen to the disciples and send the Canaanite woman away. He moved towards her and engaged with her. In a way that only Jesus can do, He moved beyond the surface with the woman and drew her out to a place of profound faith. He then lovingly healed her demon-possessed daughter.
As a parent, I would love for my children’s youth leaders to really pay attention to them. I would love for them to know that there is so much more going on under the surface. I would love for them to draw my children out, to help them wrestle with the really hard stuff going on beneath their confident and fun exterior. I would love for them to point to a Savior who knows them and loves them and will never send them away!
For more resources on walking children through seasons of insecurity, check out this podcast by Kristen Hatton on helping teens see their identity in Christ.