In this week’s Whiteboard Wednesday experiment, we explore ways to take advantage of the big moments surrounding grad time and “mark” teenagers with a reflection they’ll never forget.
Ever had someone believe in you more than you believe in yourself? I mean, someone who invests inexplicable belief in who you are and what you can do?
When we do this in the lives of teenagers—when we step into big moments with purpose and intentionality—it has the power to change their trajectory forever. Right now we’re in graduation season, and life is serving up many, many big moments for you to step into. Grad parties, grad ceremonies, and special gatherings are rampant right now. And you’ll have lots of opportunities to capitalize on those big moments and make a permanent difference in a young person’s life.
It’s hard to accept our impossible reality when someone we trust expresses inexplicable belief in who we are. I don’t mean inexplicable in the sense that it’s a belief tied to something ridiculous or nonexistent; rather, I mean a kind of belief that’s so transforming it makes mere affirmation seem shallow. It’s belief that goes beyond our assessments of ability and impact and character.
When we’ve pursued teenagers closely enough to uncover the treasures of their heart, we have a platform to give them the gift of inexplicable belief. At writer Donald Miller’s Storyline Conference, Love Does author Bob Goff shared the “secret sauce” in his approach to a life bent on setting captives free: “What if, when people meet us, they feel like they have just met heaven? I mean, we tell people who they are turning into. We see people as who they can be. We recognize that they don’t want to be told what they want; instead, we tell them who they are…and who they are turning into.”
Most kids, on most days, don’t have anyone paying close attention to what they say or who they are or what’s most enjoyable about them. When we do pay close attention, young people bloom like flowers under a spring rain. And because beauty is always in the details, we’ll have to notice the details of others to draw out their beauty. We look for evidence of the kingdom of God in our teenagers, then speak it out to them, habitually and regularly. In practice, this means we trust the Spirit of Jesus within us to recognize and celebrate his character qualities when they surface in others. Here’s a sampler of what this might look like:
- When we’re relating with young people, we use stronger language than we normally would to describe what we notice. We avoid generalizations and look for specific examples, using more honest and open-hearted language to reflect truths about them in bold ways. This means, essentially, paying better attention to the specific way we experience them, giving specific examples to illustrate what we see, then saying it in a strong, determined way.
- Ask Jesus to give us a word of inexplicable belief for the teenagers who are graduating, then make a point to share that word face to face or write it in a text, email, or handwritten card. Ask the Spirit of Jesus to describe for you someone’s “fearfully and wonderfully made” beauty. Then take 30 seconds to communicate what you discover about them. The other day I told a student in our small group that the comment she made about Jesus’ heart last week was so different and so insightful that it changed not only the direction of our conversation but the climate in the room. You could see her eyes brighten as I spoke. That word to her came because I stopped and asked Jesus to show me why her comments had such impact. My intention was to mark her God-given gifts and express my deep and unwavering belief in her.
- Pay attention to “group” moments, when the “target” of your inexplicable belief is around others, and say something specific about how that teenager reflects the Spirit of Jesus. These are “cloud of witnesses” moments, and even a small observation is magnified because of the setting and context. If you’ve ever experienced such a moment yourself, you know they’re unforgettable and even transforming. My daughter Emma is a middle schooler, and her parent-teacher conferences are purposely structured to include the student as well. So we go to the school’s gym where all the teachers are sitting at “stations” around a huge horseshoe configuration of narrow tables. The strategy is called Arena Conferences. My wife and I wait with Emma to meet with each teacher. Some of them understand how packed with transformative power these short interactions are, and they take full advantage of their opportunity. When Emma heard two successive teachers tell her parents, while she sat next to us, that she is one of the most delightful, hard-working, funny, and engaging students they’ve ever had, we could see healing and transformation happen right before our eyes. Look for your own “cloud of witnesses” opportunities with your students, and take full advantage of them when the Spirit nudges you.
What we do in the playground of inexplicable belief is really the “ministry of reconciliation” Jesus has given us. In other words, we recognize that we aren’t merely helping young people move toward reconciliation with the Father through the invitation of the Son, but we’re helping them reconcile themselves to their true, created beauty.