Our Teenagers are Worth the Chase

Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life.

— Psalm 23:6 MSG

Soon after we’d become parents, my wife, Natalie, and I went to see a movie called Courageous on the recommendation of a friend. The opening scene had me holding my breath.

The main character, Nathan, pulls up to a gas station driving a top-of- the-line, extended cab pickup truck. He fills up his tank and cranks the engine to leave. Right before jumping back in the truck, at the last minute, he decides to clean the bugs off his windshield. There’s no water in the bucket. He grabs the squeegee and walks over to the next pump to get it wet. When he turns around, he sees a car thief hijacking his truck and screeching away.

Like a madman, Nathan leaps onto his truck, hanging on to the steering wheel through the open driver’s side window. The thief pulls on Nathan’s arm, trying to pry it off the steering wheel, all while swerving and speeding down a busy road. Ultimately, Nathan is tossed to the ground just as the hijacker smashes the truck into a tree. For a moment, everything is still.

The thief quickly wakes up after the crash and escapes on foot, while Nathan gradually begins to move. Traffic is stopped. Cars pull over. Bystanders call 911.

Nathan attempts to crawl toward the vehicle, and a concerned woman begs, “Sir, just lie still. Don’t worry about the car.”

Nathan pulls himself up and firmly responds, “I’m not worried about the car.” He grabs the handle of the back door, and as it swings open, we see his newborn son—screaming in fear but unharmed in his car seat.

Only two minutes into the movie, at the sound of the baby’s cry, tears started flowing in the theater. Now everything made sense. Seconds earlier, I was thinking, “It’s just a truck, it’s not worth dying over. Let it go, bro!” But seeing that little baby boy, so innocent, so scared—there was absolutely no question that he was worth the chase.

We live in a world that is hijacking the innocence of teenagers. Their hearts are constantly being abandoned, distracted, and rejected. While post-Christian culture makes it difficult for us, as adults, to share the gospel with teenagers, that’s no excuse to just stand there at the pump and watch the truck pull away. There’s precious cargo in the back—and it’s worth the chase.

Abandoned

Apart from the problem of sin, I’m convinced the number-one problem facing teenagers today is broken relationships with their parents. But it doesn’t stop with parents. It seems one of the unwritten rules for many teenagers is they’re not supposed to trust any adult, period.

When I was in high school, a rough-around-the-edges tenth grader named Wyatt showed up at our Wednesday night youth group. I didn’t know him—we went to different schools—but we ended up sitting beside each other that evening. As we started singing “Lord I Lift Your Name on High,” I turned and asked him who he came with. Decades later, I still remember his response: “I just came on my own. I got kicked out of my youth group, so I’m looking for a new one.”

I only heard Wyatt’s side of the story, but it was obvious he had been deeply wounded by his church and was hungry for a place to belong. He kept coming back on Wednesday nights, but never really got close with our youth leaders. It would be awhile before he would be willing to trust an adult again.

In the past month, Natalie and I have had two of our friends, both adult women, separately share with us about how they were sexually abused as children—one by her father, another by an adult she trusted.

Teenagers have a hard time trusting adults. They’ve been wounded by them. Embarrassed by them. Abandoned by them.

As a safeguard, it’s almost instinctual to look with suspicion on anyone who seems to care. Teenagers want people who will love them without leaving them—people who will see their messy hearts and not try to fix them.

It’s going to take time and understanding for us to earn that trust back. We have to acknowledge that they’ve been lied to and wounded. We have to admit our own broken places and face the reality that many of us, as adults, are still dealing with our own abandonment issues.

Maybe for you it’s a father wound. Maybe you were betrayed by a friend. As we look into our own messes, it makes it easier to understand what our teenage friends might be feeling. And as we share our messes with them, it makes it possible for them to share theirs with us.

Distracted

The culture that’s currently raising our teenagers is not the same as the world that raised you and me. The pressures and distractions of this generation are only gaining steam. Yes, they are stressed out by many of the same pressures that affected past generations—pressures to perform on the field, the stage, and the classroom. But now it’s magnified because their performance is broadcasted in real time online. They are encountering challenges as teenagers that past generations did not deal with until they were in their mid-twenties. It’s as if age fifteen is the new twenty-five.

Sure, teenagers are still asking the same questions we asked during our pubescent years: Who am I? Do I matter? Do I belong? Do you like me? Where do I fit in? Why am I here? But they’re finding their answers in places that didn’t exist twenty years ago. With the introduction of social media and Google in our pockets, they’re constantly connected to the world.

But that “connection” can feel more entangling than encouraging. After all, it is called the World Wide Web. It’s as if our adolescent friends are having to learn how to live in a different country. To reach them, we first have to learn to speak their language.

Rejected

No matter how old you are, I bet you still remember those painful words that were spoken to you as a kid—words that even now can wrestle you to the ground as you stare into the mirror. You’re fat. You’re ugly. You’re lazy. You fill in the blank.

Our teenage friends are experiencing the same feelings, only they don’t have to search Google. With the tap of a screen, they can log into any of their social media accounts and see exactly how much they’re worth. It’s determined by the number of likes on their pictures and the number of followers on their profiles. And the ratio is crucial. You must have more followers than the number of people you are following.

I’ve noticed a trend online with my female middle and high school friends. They’ll post a picture, right hand on their hip, left knee slightly bent. That’s supposedly the best way to look skinnier in a photo (I might give it a shot in our family’s next Christmas card). After they post the picture, they’ll wait. Then they’ll check the likes and the comments, and check over and over again.

And then it will happen. Like clockwork. It always does. Another girl will write, You’re gorgeous! in the comments. The original picture poster will respond, No, you are gorgeous! A different gal will chime in, I so want to be you. And so on, and so on.

When a teenage girl writes the words You are so beautiful, she’s likely asking more of a question: Do you think I’m beautiful too?

During a season in which they’re experiencing drastic bodily changes like never before, the world gets to vote on just how attractive they are. They’re hungry for approval, affirmation, and affection. They’re dying to find out the answer to the question that owns their thoughts, day in and day out: Do you like me?

Not Do you love me? but Do you like me? Do you want to be with me? Do you want to know me? And once you get to know me, the real me, will you still like me, or will you reject me too?

Our teenage friends have questions. And the places they’re looking for answers often leave them feeling even more rejected and confused.

But there is hope. Even when we abandon them, there is One who never leaves (Hebrews 13:5).

Even when we break their trust, there is One who is always faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9).

Even when we’re too exhausted to hear their cries, there is One who never slumbers or sleeps (Psalm 121:4).

We have the incredible privilege to tell our young friends the true story of a God who comes to rescue his children. When we were hijacked by sin, he laid down his very life for us. And he is still chasing us today.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

Luke 15:20

A Chasing Prayer

Heavenly Father,

When I run away from you, you chase after me.
You call my name and say, “Be still, my child. Know that I am God.”
So now, in this very moment, I am stopping.
Like a toddler who ran from a father, I am stopping.
I am waiting for you to catch me. To capture me. To hold me.
In your presence alone will I find true rest.
And this I pray too for ____________________.
That they will know you as the hound of heaven, the chasing God. Even when ____________________ feels abandonment, may ___________________ know you adopt your children.

Even when ____________________ is too distracted to notice you, may you speak reminders that your eyes never turn away.

Oh Father, run to ____________________. Throw your arms around your beloved and kiss them.
Oh marvelous God who runs. There is none like you. Amen.


Excerpted from Alongside: Loving Teenagers with the Gospel © 2018 by Drew Hill. Used by permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.


Alongside Frontcover with Medal 1

Alongside: Loving Teenagers With the Gospel

In this book, author Drew Hill unpacks the challenges teenagers face and how youth leaders and parents can share the gospel with them at this crucial age. Full of practical insight and biblical knowledge, Alongside is an invitation to love teenagers well with the hope of the gospel.

About the author

Drew Hill

Drew Hill (MDiv, Denver Seminary) is an award-winning author, speaker, and pastor in Greensboro, NC. Drew has been in youth ministry for over two decades and regularly speaks around the country to thousands of parents, youth workers, and teenagers. He is married to Natalie and they have three children: Honey, Hutch, and Macy Heart. He is the author of Alongside: Loving Teenagers With the Gospel and the minibook When to Get My Kid a Phone. You can visit his website at AlongsideTeenagers.com.

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