I meet with Doug Ashley, a Denver youth pastor, once a month for lunch. Not long ago, as we were gathering our stuff to leave, our waitress stopped, softened her voice for gravity, then advised, “Be safe!” As she turned on her heel, I gave Doug a “What was that?” look, and then blurted, “That’s a strange way to say goodbye.”
But, of course, “Be safe!” isn’t a strange goodbye for teenagers—more and more of them use it as their default “see ya.” It’s an ostensibly caring, knowing, and savvy alternate for the usual suspects: “Later,” “Blow,” “Dip out,” and “Keep it real.” I’ve noticed kids’ middle-aged parents and other adults have co-opted the phrase, too—every time one of them ends our conversation with “Be safe!” I have a hard time suppressing an ironic smile and keeping my head from tilting to the side.
Since when did “Be safe!” become our best advice? Well, since Columbine, 9/11, AIDS, STDs, drunk-driving tragedies, drug overdoses, alcohol poisonings, online predators, and killer tidal waves. The culture is now so loaded with kid-stalking dangers that you’ll get millions of Web hits when you Google “be safe teenagers.”
The “Be safe!” movement has spawned its own cottage industry. Exhibit A: Gavin De Becker’s book Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (And Parents Sane). De Becker is “an authority of criminal justice and the psychology of human predators” whose mission is to help parents “detect violent behavior in day-care workers, school employees, and other individuals who interact with their children.” Nothing like examining all your relationships through a “predator” lens.
And, of course, there’s a place for that. But when safety becomes our filter and our passion and our best advice, we’ve supplanted our allegiance to the kingdom of heaven with fidelity to the kingdom of this world. Jesus didn’t urge his followers to “Be safe!” In fact, his parting words often conveyed just the opposite, as we discover from the good doctor’s account of his life:
• “Do not be afraid” (Luke 5:10).
• “Be a testimony to me” (Luke 5:14).
• “Go in peace” (Luke 8:48).
• “Take nothing for your journey” (Luke 9:3-5).
• “Proclaim the kingdom of God!” (Luke 9:60).
• “Go and do what I do” (Luke 10:37).
• “Be awake and alert!” (Luke 21:36).
Well, in the interests of training teenagers (and ourselves) to live and breathe and move as Christ-followers, how about a list of alternate goodbye statements that communicate something better and truer?
• Be Christ’s! I remember an old story that J. Sidlow Baxter, the venerable English pastor and author, used to tell about a retired Scottish pastor he often passed on the lane near his home. Baxter once asked the old man, “How are you keeping?” The man responded, “I’m not keeping, I’m kept.” Of all the things we can “be,” nothing beats “Christ’s.”
• Be dangerous! In John 14 Jesus tells his disciples a staggering truth—“The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things…” (The Message). Are we expecting teenagers to do greater things than Jesus? Wild at Heart author John Eldredge once told me that we’ve erred in telling Christian boys their highest calling is to be nice when we should be telling them to be dangerous-for-God. Amen.
• Keep it in the light! Nothing neutralizes our impact for God’s kingdom faster, broader, and deeper than shadow living. Whatever we do, we should train kids to live their lives in the light—away from the shadows that give God’s enemy room to operate and leverage to sideline us.
• Stay awake! I think much of our culture is living life asleep at the wheel—that’s one reason why we see so many roadside wrecks in families today. Jesus told us to stay alert because there’s a “roaring lion” stalking us—he wasn’t kidding.
• Be strong and courageous! When God placed the mantle of leadership on Joshua after Moses’ death, he charged him to be “strong and courageous” three times in four verses (Joshua 1:6-9). God doesn’t have to repeat himself, but he does because he’s humble and loves us.
• Be true! Rather than elevating safety as our filtering lens, how about reminding each other to speak and live the truth in every environment?
• Armor up! St. Paul’s parting advice for everyday living? “Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13).
• Live large! This one’s a favorite of my friend Bob Krulish, a battle-scarred, broken, force-of-man who’s now a pastor to the pastoral staff at my church. Living small means to live disconnected from our true nature and calling—living large means to agree with God about our place in his great rescue operation.
Are you and I too co-opted by our culture to take one of these alternate goodbyes and make it our own?
Rick Lawrence has been editor of group for 24 years.