I am writing tonight with a heavy heart. Currently, I am at a Christian pre-teen camp (meaning, we have about 150 kids aged 7 to 13 here) working with some of the young people who will make up the future of America—but not just America, but the world. I word it that way for a reason: I really worry about these kids.
Today, children move so quickly—and I don’t mean physically, but their entire lives. Mostly, that is the environment in which they were thrust. With everything working so quickly now, we can’t blame our children for expecting things so quickly. They get out of school, then go to practice for piano, only to come home, change into soccer clothes, and then go to soccer practice right after, stopping at McDonald’s along the way to get something to eat. They are owning phones at earlier and earlier ages, allowing them to connect with friends instantly when they are not physically present. Many of those phones have internet capability, with near-instant access to whatever information they so desire—good or bad.
Granted, I am a huge proponent of technology. We are a Windows family, with my wife and I having Windows Phones, my tablet, her laptop, and our family desktop all talking to each other and sharing information wirelessly between them. I find the networking amazing and utilize it to the best of my ability (and its capability). So understand that when I say the things I am about to say, I am not saying them with the voice of a bitter old man who wishes for the “good ol’ days when everything was so simple and we didn’t have all this techy nonsense!” I embrace technology and want to teach our children to use it properly.
However, I’m seeing a trend with kids today. They are so plugged into virtual life and all the consequences that it brings (both good and bad) that they are missing out on life. With instant access to anything, they only grasp a surface level understanding of the topic and then think they know about it. With friends, they are communicating mostly through text, which cannot hold anything substantial for a prolonged period of time. Without intonation and body languages, a simple, “Where are you?” can range from a heated, “Where are you so I can come beat the crap out of you!” to an “I have some of the most exciting news to tell you! Where are you?”
Sure, emoticons and longer texting can substitute occasionally for the miscommunication problem, but it doesn’t fix the problem of surface-level life. That’s what I think I am calling the “disease” many young people face: Surface-Level Life Syndrome. Kids today are only focusing on the immediate, what they can grab instantly, and what immediately gratifies their interests. Just watch a kid next time they surf YouTube. Count the number of seconds they wait before jumping to the next video either because it isn’t loading or because they become bored with it. (Obviously, this is an exception for kids who are not often exposed to electronics.)
It also comes out in conversations. I honestly cannot remember the last time I had a deep talk with a youth about things that really matter. Sure, I have gone on for hours about Yugioh, Pokemon, and other various movies or TV shows. I have discussed martial arts, dodgeball, and HvZ with dozens of kids. But none of these are substantial.
I looked out tonight during the invitation after the pastor gave his alter call. He clearly lined out the gospel and how to get saved. He encouraged kids to come forward to make a commitment. He even stressed the emphasis of making such a decision. Nothing. Not a single kid responded. A few came up for prayer. That was it.
Hear me out, I am not one who is big on alter calls. I believe that a changed life is a much better indicator of actual commitment to Jesus than a prayer. I believe alter calls should be handled extremely carefully as to not sway someone into making an emotional decision. I can’t stand emotional manipulation to get people to commit to something they really know nothing about.
On the other hand, I also believe in the power of alter calls. I believe that psychologically, people will remember that moment forever, and some people need a mental anchor to cling to when making life changing decisions. I actually encourage alter calls for that reason.
But tonight? Nothing. Granted, I have no idea what went on inside the hearts of those kids. I don’t know what God is working on within them. I never base how well a sermon went by an alter call. But this night was different. It made me unsettled. It made me sad because it pointed out something: for the last few weeks I have been at camp, it’s really been the same thing. Nobody has responded to anything, really. Not that I have noticed.
What bugs me is that I see it on their faces. As I look around during and after the sermon, I see a few people intently listening. Most are either stone-faced or zoning out not paying attention. Some are obviously bored and have no problem showing it. The first group and the last group I expect, for that happens in every public speech ever given. However, it’s the stone-faced and zoned-out ones that worry me. It is like they are hearing, but not listening. They hear what the guy is saying, but are not applying to themselves.
That’s another symptom of Surface-Life Syndrome: disregard for anything they don’t really want to hear. I understand that is just part of being a kid, but it goes deeper than that. It is a selfish mindset people place themselves into where only they matter. In their own world, they are fine and content, and can do whatever they want. I actually heard a person leaving the sanctuary say, “I am the best Christian of all Christians who has ever Christian-ed.” While the comment was made in jest, I wonder how much of it rings true in the hearts of young people.
My problem is that kids today don’t seem to want more. They have everything. They have nothing to aspire to. I saw this surface within my generation as they approached college. When asking someone what they wanted to do with their life, many responded with, “I don’t know… I guess go to college…” They had no aspirations to be anything. Or, they had so many aspirations they didn’t know which one to pursue. Most times, if they had any aspirations, they were dramatically different. “I was thinking about being an aerospace engineer or a vet.” It is great to have dreams, but sometimes it is best to just pick one and pursue it with your whole being.
Outside of a Christian context, of the kids I am working with at school, I see no desire to be better, to go deeper, or to work harder. They are happy the way things are. I’m not saying that is a bad place to be at, but you can’t stay there. With no motivation and no goal, people waste away. There is a huge difference between being content with life and thinking everything is perfect the way it is.
I hope these kids go deeper. I pray they find something that tugs on their hearts and makes them want to be better. Personally, I wish it was God they sought. I know many of my unchristian friends disagree with that. I respect their opinions, but that’s still where my heart is.
I want to see kids yearn for God. I want them to realize their life can be so much better when they surrender what they want to him. He can make their life more abundant. No, it won’t be perfect, but it will be so much deeper. It will have meaning.
Sadly, I don’t think kids are coming to grips with anything that has meaning anymore. That breaks my heart. I wish they found meaning. I wish they saw that life was so much more than just the facts on the internet or the casual conversations they have with their friends. I wish they saw life was more than food and video games. I wish they saw that life was more than being the best on the football team or impressing the girl down the hall. There is a much deeper world out there if they will simply open their minds to it.
That is my prayer for the young people of this generation. I hope it is yours as well.
ing his call,