With-ness and Presence

Christine Ivy   -  

That title isn’t a typo. It says “With-ness” – which sounds similar to “witness” but is different in meaning. Anyone can witness to what they have seen and tell about it. You can be a witness and share with a stranger. But there’s something more foundational and challenging to being a friend who shares…

…the central problem in sharing the Christian faith with young people doesn’t concern words; it’s deeper than that. The real crisis facing those of us who seek to share faith with youth is this:

We don’t know how to be with our kids.[1]

We don’t know how to be with ourselves.

We don’t know how to be with God.[2]

How do we “be with” someone? What does it mean to be present with a teenager? Do you know what you would talk about? Being present is probably one of the greatest challenges of our world today. We prize busyness and achievement, and we elevate individualism and independence as virtues. These things can keep us apart and contribute to our epidemic of loneliness. It is an understatement to say that we can have a hard time with people who believe differently than us, so being present requires patience, waiting, planning and sacrifice. Being present can involve awkwardness, making mistakes, and needing forgiveness. It makes us vulnerable and perhaps that is why we prefer action and learning and things that can be DONE. We want to ask, “What are we doing for our youth?”

Cara Miller of the Search Institute, possibly the largest researcher of adolescent development and behavior in North America, says this:

Study after study in the field of youth development makes it clear that the single most important thing that can make a positive difference in the life of a young person is the presence of a caring adult. In spite of that, research shows that most young people don’t have enough caring adults in their lives.

I encourage you today to consider what notions you currently hold about youth today. Whose job is it to love, care for, and befriend youth? If you feel unqualified to accept an invitation to spend time with a teenager, why? Bring your thoughts, those gut reactions, and emotions to Jesus in prayer and ask Him alone to be your guide.

 

[1] This is not a criticism of parents. “Our kids” refers to any youth in our community, because we have communal responsibility.

[2] Mark Yaconelli in his book, “Contemplative Youth Ministry” – I will quote from him often.