I have an only son. He never liked to talk so much about his thoughts, feelings, or even his struggles with me. He mostly talked about … his hunger.
“Mom, can you make me something to eat?”
But I couldn’t let that stop me. From the time he was little, I took his spiritual/emotional temperature by frequently asking about his thoughts and feelings, as well as his curiosities, jealousies, and inadequacies. My husband commented over the years on my effortless (or was it tenacious?) ability to get him to talk with me about anything and everything — and even get the truth out of him.
Though my son is 29 and recently married, I’ve found that this parenting skill of taking a young person’s emotional/spiritual temperature is an ability I still possess. In fact, (and I’m not exaggerating) whenever I meet a 15 to 29 year-old I feel a connection to them. I see these “kids” as my spiritual children even though they are not my biological children.
Taking This Generation's Temperature
So, I guess it shouldn’t have been too big of a surprise when I woke up one morning a few years ago and felt that God might want me to return to youth work. I spent almost two decades speaking to high-schoolers and collegians across America during the 1980’s and 1990’s but by 2000, I had transitioned into a speaker for women, couples, and singles. At the time it seemed a natural progression to leave youth work. Yet in the summer of 2004, I heard God softly (then loudly) ask (maybe it was more like, “tell”) me to return to youth ministry.
It is a strange phenomenon when God asks you to do something that no one else is asking you to do. I hadn’t received a phone call to speak for a college chapel in years. But, that didn’t seem to matter to God. He prompted me to make calls and invite myself.
It was a humbling experience. Few wanted me to come. So instead of booking speaking engagements, I set aside a 40-day period (January 21, 2006 through March 1, 2006) to visit 23 college campuses in 11 states as a prayer leader. I visited each of these campuses just to pray with and for students.
And I was shocked at what I found. You’d be absolutely shocked, too.
Instead of “prayer for revival,” I found myself on a “prayer for survival” mission. After hundreds of confession sessions with “nice, Christian kids from great families” involved in all forms of sexual activities, alcohol abuse, and hidden eating disorders, I knew why God sent me.
I was not a pastor or administrator who could kick them out of school or admonish them for their behavior. I was a mom who was being sent to take the temperature of this young generation. I had the unique skill of being able to look directly into the eyes of a student, ask tough questions, and get truthful answers -- as only a mom can do. I was also able to hold in my arms the tearful, broken students who were struggling with same-sex attraction or who were pregnant or addicted to pornography. I was a listening ear who could take their confession of sin and talk them through forgiveness and repentance.
Upon returning from the 40 Days of Prayer for Revival on College Campuses, I’ve spent the last few years trying to sound an alarm, to make some noise, to not only write and speak to my generation about my candid observations about this young generation, but to ask parents and older adults to get involved with them by becoming “spiritual” parents.
Why Our Grown-Up Kids Need Parents
Your child and their friends may be legal adults, so you may feel they don't need you any more. In generations gone by, high school graduation would be the time parents prepared for the freedom of an empty nest.
But what I saw on those college campuses awakened me to the realization that the late teens and twenties are an entirely different experience today. Our kids are maturing later and later -- emotionally, spiritually, and financially. And while their maturity lags behind, they also face cultural challenges and temptations at an intensity level that didn’t previously exist. Let me share what I observed about this generation:
1. Students and young adults don’t talk about today’s “hot topics” (such as sex, pornography, eating disorders, or binge drinking) with their parents, pastors, teachers, bosses, or administrators because they are afraid they will be judged, scolded, minimized, or rejected for being sucked into the culture. All may seem fine on the surface, yet these “hot topics” are the very issues that are vying for their attention and even worse, infiltrating students and young adult’s lives on a daily basis.
2. Unless the older generation takes the initiative (by overcoming our own fear, pride, or shame) to intelligently and unemotionally talk to the younger generation about the depravity of the culture in which we all live, our young people, our “good kids,” are going to be consumed by it.
3. My third observation might surprise you: I am convinced that this young generation desperately wants to talk about how difficult it is to live God-honoring lives in this sex-crazed, binge-drinking culture. They want to talk about the fears and constant temptations that consistently confuse and undermine their values and faith. They want to confess their failings and find forgiveness and a new start. They want practical ideas on how to stand against the media’s smooth, seductive pressures instead of repeatedly falling prey to it. And most importantly, they want and need to be in relationships with mentors who are older, patient, and faithful to God and others.
4. This young generation is not running from the truth. They just need help to navigate the truth in a pervasive culture that ridicules them for what and in Whom they believe. In fact, I am certain they truly long to believe in the God of the Bible and believe that what He requires of them is for their good but they are in a fierce battle for their moral, spiritual, and physical lives.
How Can Parents and Mentors Meet These Needs?
Today’s young adults need caring, nurturing adults who will encourage, pray for, and parent them. You don’t have to have a degree — you don’t even have to have children — to be a spiritual parent. There is no skill or secret. Here are a few ideas to start with.
1. Don’t worry about your age. I promise you, maturity is an asset. If you look, feel, and sound like a caring older person, this young generation will confide in you.
2. Be a safe haven. Let them tell you their failures without fear of you rolling your eyes. Listen to them and pray over them — pray out loud for them, even lay hands on them. And before giving any of your good advice, offer them what God freely offers them: forgiveness, redemption, and hope for a changed life. They will be touched. They will be grateful. They will come back for more.
3. Be more concerned about their relationship with God than how their behavior will impact their (or your) reputation.
4. Communicate without using the “annoyed parent” tone of voice, but still get in their face about the things you see that are potentially dangerous.
5. Just like a parent, always feed them — treat them to coffee or to a hot meal.
6. Ask them if they need an accountability partner. Many of them need a “sponsor” for their very real addictions. If you can’t help them, find someone who can. But you must be consistent to follow up on your agreements with them.
7. Be confidential with their secrets and if necessary, agree with them in advance on how you will proceed if they are in serious emotional, physical, or spiritual trouble.
8. One last thing: You’ll need a cell phone, a text message plan, and an email address — okay?
Here is the current reality: This young generation is desperate for spiritual parents. So, I challenge you to become a spiritual parent to any young person who comes into your life and needs someone to listen to them, talk to them, and pray for them. If God has put a burden on your heart as He has put on mine, then don’t make any more excuses. Be available. Open your eyes and heart to the very students and young adults around you — at home, at work, while commuting, in your neighborhood, or at the gym. Then “hang out” with them.
This young generation needs you.
Becky Tirabassi (pictured with son, Jake) has motivated hundreds of thousands of men, women and students over the last 20 years to change their lives through best-selling books, extensive media appearances, and sold-out speaking events. She currently speaks to adults on prayer and balanced living, and has returned to college ministry and speaking to students across America on topics such as self-image, sex, addictions, and healthy relationships. Her best-selling books on prayer include: Let Prayer Change Your Life, My Partner Prayer Notebook, and Sacred Obsession. She has been a guest on numerous television and radio shows including the CBS Early Show and Focus on the Family, Enjoying Everyday Living with Joyce Meyer and James Robison’s Life Today. Her upcoming book, Emails to My Daughter is her first fiction book, and will be released in June 2008. Becky is the founder of Becky Tirabassi Change Your Life® Inc., a multi-media corporation and Burning Hearts, Inc., a non-profit student organization. Visit her at: www.changeyourlifedaily.com.