One of our students’ greatest fears is the idea of being exposed. Our students pride themselves on their ability to know what to do, how to respond, and to have it all together. For many, their own personal self-respect and view of themselves hinges on their ability to live a polished life. The polished teenage life comes with the perfect images for Instagram, featuring the cornerstones of the high school experience such as friendships and popularity, prom, graduation, and sporting events.
What happens to our students when they are stripped from this persona that was fundamental to many of their identities? And how do we, as parents and youth workers, help them process the world in which we find ourselves – just as we try to determine for ourselves what is happening around us?
Our journey through Coronavirus has left us very much in a similar place to our first parents in the Garden. The fall left the first couple feeling completely exposed. Moses writes: “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. To cover themselves, they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Genesis 3:7). The feeling of exposure led Adam and Eve to put a band-aide on their brokenness, to run from their vulnerability toward a place of hiding even from the Lord. Their feelings of vulnerability brought on a difficulty that they could only seek to process by running away.
As a world, we stand at a moment when we and our students are forced into vulnerability. Many of the highlights of the school year have been cancelled for our students. The outlook of a normal summer is quickly fading away. For high school and college seniors, the dreams of graduation have been reduced to a sheet of paper arriving in the mail. For some families, COVID-19 will be remembered as the virus that took away their loved ones. In this moment of vulnerability, many of our students may have looked for ways to run away as well.
Jesus’ offer to our students in the middle of moments when all is stripped away is to draw near. This invitation to draw near is an opportunity for vulnerability to lead them into deeper intimacy. From God’s description of life in the Garden before the brokenness of the fall, we see three truths that help our students and us to find Jesus in the midst of our own vulnerability:
Walk Daily with Jesus
In Genesis 3, God came to spend time with Adam and Eve. The first couple hears “the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8). As He arrives, the couple is in hiding. They were expecting God to come to them. Adam and Even anticipated this time together with him; yet due to their sin, they sought escape from intimacy because they knew that they had been exposed.
Because of the gospel, Jesus has taken the brokenness of our own sin upon Himself at the cross. He has made a way that imperfect people like us and our students can walk once again with God in an intimate relationship, no matter what. At Jesus’ death, the curtain of the temple was torn in two so our students can have direct relationship with God again.
One of the cultural shifts of quarantine for many families has been frequent walks. Our family has enjoyed moments of togetherness with a stroll around the neighborhood. This is the invitation from Jesus, no matter how exposed we feel. He is inviting us and our students to slow down, to take some time, and at an unhurried pace, to pursue a deeper relationship with Him.
Jesus Invites Us to Meet Him in Our Vulnerability
The vulnerability of Coronavirus in our world has exposed our students’ own sinfulness and brokenness. The loss of the things that defined them has caused them to recognize the tendency of their hearts to run after lesser gods. The gods of good grades, memorable plays on the field, and social success have melted to the ground. The removal of control has exposed ours and our students’ own self-sufficiency as powerless when compared to divine sovereignty. We all have been stripped of our pretenses, and we clearly don’t have it all together.
When we feel like our persona has been stripped away, we feel disoriented, we don’t know ourselves anymore, we want to run and hide. But the offer from Jesus is to draw near. He wants to meet our teenagers in their vulnerability and anger and confusion and give them rest from the striving to be their own functional saviors. Listen to Jesus’ words: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
The invitation for our students is not to take the stage in a performance for God but to rest in Jesus’ work for them. He is the One who gives them rest when they don’t know where to turn. He is the One who is their strength when they think that they have nothing left to give. He is the One who takes their vulnerability and increases their faith and trust in Him.
Let Jesus Define Your Worth
Vulnerability exposes our students’ own self-definitions of success. These definitions have been more frequently written by the culture than the Word of God. The times in which we find ourselves are an opportunity to let Jesus redefine how our students define their worth and their selves.
According to Jesus, our students’ worth is not defined by what they do but by whose they are. Our students have been rescued, ransomed, and redeemed. They have been bought with the price of Jesus’ blood. Our students have been made new. Their value does not come from looking around at the things that the world says matter; it comes from looking up and seeing this world through the lens of eternity.
As Paul encouraged the church at Colossae, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you will also appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4).
Our teenagers can have hope in the midst of their vulnerability because Jesus is still on the throne, eternity defines what matters most, and Jesus will soon return to restore what has been broken by the fall. As parents and youth workers, we and our students can run to Jesus for He is safe, secure, and never changing. Let us encourage our children to let their vulnerability lead them to run not from Jesus but into a deeper relationship with Him.