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Sharing Identity Struggles

Sharing Identity Struggles

Chad Townsley:  So the heart of the article, what I had in mind, is talking about the idea of identity—how it is that our students, your children, the students that you work with, struggle with finding their identity—in a world that has lots of things to say about who it is that our students are. But, what I want to start with first though, is a more broad question: If you had to make a list of the top five things that you feel like our students struggle with, what would some of those things be?

Brock Warner: Not living dual lives. So, a Christian kid here and then a different life at school or soccer or whatever.

Steve Williams: One thing they struggle with is confidence in themselves—trying too hard to perform.

Chad: What kind of social pressures are upon them? What is it that fuels their insecurities?

Carrie Jakab: I have girls, so it’s looks and clothes that they wear, shoes, and the car they drive. All of the tangible things.

Chad: What are the lies that our students believe in regards to their identity? What is it that forms who it is that they think they are? How do they arrive at the conclusion of who it is that they believe that they are?

Steve Jakab: I remember one of the things we did for the boys just in this last session or semester was about identity, and a lot of it had to do with what’s showing up on television. You’ve got to be this strong, muscular guy. You’ve got to be tall. You’ve got to dress well. Just everything that the media is kind of building you up like you’ve got to be this certain thing…it’s so unreal.

Carrie: I think the media puts a lot of pressure that you have to be a certain way or look a certain way, and we were trying to show them that you’ve got to be confident in who you are in Christ, not what television shows you. I know just hearing my girls talk about “the cool crowd,” I think that shapes how they think about what the next step is for them. Is it trying to get in there? Or is it having confidence in them to not be part of that cool crowd?

Brock: It’s really got to get into their hearts, and obviously that’s God’s job, Christ’s job, and our job to put them in a covenant world that creates that type of truth for them to live in. So many times I forget that their hearts are prone to wander, and I want it to be something else that made them wander, and maybe all I did was encourage them to.

Chad: What keeps our students from believing that they are sons and daughters of the King?

Cathy Mayer: Keeping up with the Kardashians, America’s Next Top Model, Real Housewives, The Bachelor. Those are someone-that-lives-in-our-house’s favorite shows.

George Mayer: It’s me. Ha!

Scott Pell: As a dad of a middle school boy, it’s very interesting the dynamic that boys have on each other. We can instill confidence in our kids.They can be good at whatever they put their minds to. But, it takes five seconds for his peers to tear each other down to nothing. They base their opinion of themselves on how people treat them.

Brock: Yeah, it’s funny too, but as we’re talking, I just keep thinking over and over, “This is just like me.” We need the youth ministry to remind them of their identity constantly. Because as a parent, I forget. I forget that I’m a son.

George: We have to remind our kids and speak the truths into their ears every day. And the struggle is that as they get older, you don’t get much time with them… and it just doesn’t get any easier.

Brock: No, it doesn’t because they go to college. And that’s what we’re seeing in our girls. It’s not this worry of “are they wandering right now?” We were talking the other day about just some of their struggles. “What am I doing? Am I wasting my time? I can’t figure anything out. Everyone’s got their world. Everyone’s got their life intact.” Clearly, we know that’s a lie, but I said, “I think part of it is because they’re not—at least for our girls—they’re not actively maybe pursuing the things that would remind them of who they are. They’re so wrapped up in school and grades and college and the busyness of life.”  Well and to train up a child is to know your child well enough to help put them into paths where God has given them their glory. And it’s a lot of work.

Cathy: When I sit with my daughter and watch TV with her and see she’s watching, I appreciate the fact that there are youth workers in this room that will watch The Bachelor with these girls and talk the truth in their life.  My big thing is not to say, “You can’t watch this TV show. You can’t listen to this,” but to figure out what it is that they are drawn to, what it is that they’re identifying with and be able to speak the truth in their lives, kind of figure out how you can make those things connect.

Brock: Help them discern. Rather than just give them yes and no. How much yes, how much no is what they’re going to run into as they get older.

Scott: By discern, is it okay to make fun of the show while we’re watching it?

Cathy: Absolutely. That’s required.

Brock: That’s the most fun.

Cathy: That’s required.

Brock: Except I can’t watch The Bachelor. I just get so angry.

Scott: No, I do too.

George: I don’t bring up Catherine.

Scott: Can you believe he picked Catherine?

Chad: What was he thinking?

Steve: I can’t believe Brock started watching the show.

Chad:  How is it that you speak truth into the lives of your students as their identities are formed?

Carrie: Once you read their text messages, you have a lot of truth to speak to. Honestly, my eyes were greatly opened this week with a few things. Not that I was surprised, but I was thinking, “Okay, it’s time to step it up in my household.” But honestly, it’s being able to take those real situations that, look, my kid may be in also. I think the number one rule is for me to not go, “Oh, my gosh. What in the world are you thinking?” Because I was pushed back like that, and I know what it drove me to, so I think we need to be sensitive to the kids in not trying to draw this staunch line of “you can’t talk to that person.” The inner side of me wants to go, “You can’t talk to that person. You can’t be with them,” but to really speak the truth of what that’s about. Where is it coming from? What’s driving that person to need that in their life? And really being honest with my daughter and saying, “Look, you will be in this situation….”

Bill Talbert: We also need to acknowledge to them that people make mistakes and you’re going to make mistakes. It’s not how you necessarily recover from the mistake but how you handle the mistake that makes the difference and really determines whether you’re going to come out of that and whether you’re going to turn in the right direction. Because if they’re talking about that they’ve done something and I’ve done it too in the past maybe when I was 18 years or whatever it was and I don’t say, “I’m not there now, but I’ve been there too and I’ve done that before too. And here’s how I moved beyond that.” Because otherwise, if we don’t say anything about that and we just say, “Oh, let’s handle it,” and you don’t acknowledge that you’re a sinner too, you’re not perfect either, then they have that misconception that they’re dealing with somebody that thinks they’re as good as God.

Brock: I think the hardest thing for me as a parent though is not being reactionary. My first reaction to stuff that happened when my older girls were in high school—man, I went nuclear. And then I sit down for an hour and I end up where you were. So, I wish I was more like you because I would sit down for an hour and be like, “Oh, my gosh! I’m doing nothing but pushing them away.” I haven’t invited them into a conversation that says, “Okay, you know what? Yeah, you messed up on that. Boy, when I was 17, I did that a dozen times, but I didn’t know Christ. So the reason this is so awkward for you and frustrating for you is because you claim Christ and again, you’re out of sorts because not only am I speaking to your life, but the Holy Spirit is speaking into your life. And you know it.” That’s kind of the way that sometimes our conversations would go. I just wish I wasn’t the nuclear guy first because I’m just tired of repenting.

Winnie Winford: If I can just comment on one thing. I was thinking about y’all’s kids and they are some great kids to hang out with. And I think a huge thing about it is: You know when you don’t have kids and you look at people that do have kids that you really like, you think, “Okay, I need to pay attention to what they’re doing because I would like to recreate that in some way.” I feel like I know a bunch about your sin, and not just your sin from when you were 17, but your current sin. And you all sit here talking about and having acknowledged your sin in parenting with almost every question—it takes boldness. This is something that you guys have been doing ever since I have known you, and not only does it create a community to be free in and to proclaim Christ and proclaim your own sin and know that it’s okay. But also, your kids see how you guys are currently sinners and currently in need of the grace of God, and I can definitely see the fruit of that in the lives of the people in this room.

Cathy: What I keep wanting to say is relationships. Relationships, relationships. And we certainly want our children to have a relationship with us, and I’m not foolish enough to think that I want to be their best friend. I have to be their parent. Every once in a while, George and I will look at each other and go, “Oh, my gosh. We’re really parenting. We are really parents.”And I think about speaking truth in their lives and not just throwing a Bible verse at them. When I talk to my kids about Romans 8:28 or when I talk to her about Philippians 4:13, it’s because of what those have meant in my life and how I know for a fact that all things are not good. But the hope is that God, through your relationships with your friends, with your youth leaders, your church, your small group, your Crew is going to work those together for good at some point. And how do you get through those? You don’t get through them on your own strength. You get through because of Philippians 4:13 and the truth in that.

George: What we are talking about is Deuteronomy 6. As you get up, as you lay down, as you eat, as you sleep, walk down the street. I mean, having those conversations which happen every day and not just, “Hey, let’s sit down. Let me grab my Bible and let’s look at this.” That’s a quick turnoff. How are we “Jesus with skin on” even for our kids? It’s a lifelong task.

Chad: And it’s taking kids that are constantly changing and applying something to them that’s steady, and that’s the word of God. But it’s contextualizing it. You know your kids far better than we do, and we’re here because God’s chosen us to come alongside you and help you as you raise your youth and it’s really just kind of do what we can to provide relationships, to encourage you in the word, but to really provide something steady in the midst of a changing world. That’s probably our number one observation as we work with these students. It’s remarkable how much they change from year to year.  So it’s not just physical, obviously, but the emotional/spiritual change that they go through is remarkable.

Steve Williams: Yeah, I was going to say we’ve got to consider all these kids. We can talk about parenting, but every kid is very, very different. I mean, you can’t parent them all the same. They’ll all turn out like a bunch of whack jobs. And so we’ve got to keep that in mind and we’ve got to know that there’s not one way to get there. And fortunately we’ve got small groups. We’ve got High-Life. We’ve got their friends. And you can control their friend group to a point and then you kind of hold onto your kids and you don’t let go of your kids. Some people say, “Oh, we just got to the point now we just let our kids go.” You don’t ever let go. You let the rope out slowly and then accelerate so then you’ve got these big rope burns on your hands from them taking off. You just have to remember that they’re so different. I mean, there’s no one-stop shop for how to raise kids. You’ve got to be sensitive to that.

Cathy: Amen.

Carrie: But I do struggle with how do I really teach them what their identity—teach them to the point that they know what their identity is? I can say it, but I know it’s hard for anybody to grab that concept, and especially for them, they’re like, “Whatever, Mom.” But I try, on a daily basis, to teach them who they are in Christ. How do you make that tangible for them? That’s the struggle. The concept is true and right, but it’s how to make it tangible in their lives.

Chad: How does the ministry of Southwood come alongside you as you parent your kids in these struggles?

Bill: I think a big thing is that this is another avenue that they can share what’s going on in their lives—what they are struggling with—another comfort zone they can go to that makes me feel, as a parent, that there is something that if they don’t tell me, they told someone here at High-Life.

Carrie: It’s a safe zone here.

Bill: But what I’ve seen in particular is my son having the opportunity to also play that role of listener because some of his friends are going through some of the same struggles. Which means he’s actually had an opportunity to be something like a counselor, someone to help them through the situation or at least be the listening ear.

Brock: He’s got wisdom, right? You’ve imparted wisdom. He’s gained it here at High-Life, so yeah, that’s great to see him responding.

Kim Pell: For my kids it is just being with their leaders in their small groups that has been so helpful. The biggest thing is that nobody at High-Life trivializes anything that’s going on, realizing that what they’re dealing with is a big deal and that’s what’s important in figuring out their daily life.

Chad: In light of all these things, my final question is about you all as parents. How have you in the past and how do you currently see yourselves struggling with these same identity issues?

Scott: In our family, I can push my wife’s buttons really good, and I can find where she’s fragile. And I can just do it once, and our kids see it—we live some of that out in front of them. They see that they’re not the only ones that can fall to pieces any second. What is really hard is Satan has worked his way into the world through things like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and all that sort of stuff. You’re now attacked on all sides, so you can just tap that glass and it breaks. So it’s a constant battle.

Steve J: Or you get on to one of your kids and you look at them and you realize as a parent, “Hey, that’s you over there. Just a little mini-me.”

Carrie: It’s the epitome of yourself.

Steve J: It’s just a replica of me in another body. So I’m sitting there getting onto my daughter. And then I think, “Where do you think she got that?”

Brock: I struggle with identity big time. I’m a comparison freak, so it can be materialistic; it can be reward. Whatever it is, I can go down really fast. For me I’m always thinking in wins and losses. I’m constantly feeling like I want to win absolutely everything. I lose anything and that means that I stink, and Jana always gets on me. She tells me, “Quit talking about my husband that way”—because I shred myself. I always tell people, “The reason I do it is so you can’t.” So if I verbalize it fast enough, then I take away your ability to give me an identity, and it makes me very defensive too.

Carrie: My issue is image. I’m very much a comparison sort of girl—thinking all the time about how I don’t look like that person or that person…so that’s where my identity is, and I hate it. I hate it because I know that it’s me not focusing in on Christ. You have to go back to those truths, that he is the one who loves me for who I am right now, today.

Chad: It’s amazing how that’s the deeper level of obedience that the Gospel pushes us towards because we can’t muster that up on our own. To believe the Gospel on that level, that despite what I think of myself when I look in the mirror or when you see your production numbers at work or whatever it is, despite what I think those numbers say about me, what truly matters is what the cross says about me. And you can’t muster that belief up. Your heart must be transformed.

Brock: It pushes us there.

Chad: What I see this conversation boiling down to is that the world has all kinds of things to say about our students and your kids and you all yourselves. There’s all kinds of voices playing in, but really, their identity, it’s dual. They are sinners and saints, and that’s our struggle until Jesus returns. Your sin doesn’t determine your standing before God. But that’s still so much of what your heart is capable of. So you are still a sinner that God’s not finished redeeming, but gosh, when He looks down on you, He smiles and He smiles so big, and He loves to do it every single day because of what Christ did for you. So it’s holding those two things in balance. Reminding our students that they’re messed up. That they’re far more messed up than they think. But, guess what? There’s a greater verdict, and that’s the one that is proclaimed on the cross.

Brock: You just want the greater voice to win, right? Because the voice, it’s Satan and accusing, and it’s Christ and loving, and they are so contradictory to each other. You just want the voice of Jesus to be louder.

Steve W: The big thing is you just have to keep loving them. Just keep loving them and they’ll come back.

Jana Warner: Loving them in these ways is a lifetime thing. We constantly need to come back to the truth with them and help them know it.

Brock: I was just thinking about what you just said. It’s a lifetime thing. I mean, how cool is it that we get to be the ones to affirm kids with the gospel by having these conversations, because we have a church that is encouraging. We get to be the granddad that encourages our grandchildren and helps maintain that legacy. My dad loving me by saying he’s proud of me, means as much now as ever. When he says stuff like that, it really does matter. I really still need to hear my dad say, “I’m really proud of you” because he didn’t. And now he knows it, which is so cool and he was willing to accept it and does it now. He’s like, “Okay, I know my son needs that.” And we’ll get to do that. That’s just really cool.

Chad: I’ll take the liberty of the final word just to say that what I hear you all saying is that as you interact with your students, you can only give to them what you’ve received yourself. We’re only good parents to the extent that we really comprehend our ability to apply the Gospel to our own lives. Not that we have it figured out, but that’s where it’s so easy to miss the mark as a parent. If all you’re concerned about is your child’s behavior or performance or whatever is, then you’re actually forecasting your own identity struggles on them. But that’s what this whole conversation is about—sharing the gospel with our kids everyday by showing them we continually have to ourselves.