Think back to your teenage years. For some it probably wasn’t long ago for others like myself, it’s been more than a couple of decades so it can be a little bit difficult. As a teen, there were many times I had questions that led me to struggle with my faith. I remember one moment in particular that I built up the courage to ask my youth pastor one such question. It was a real watershed moment in my faith and in my life. I finally realized I could ask some dangerous questions about my faith and ask them in a safe place. I could not tell you what the question was, but I remember the feeling of relief as I laid it out there hoping above all hope that it and I would be welcomed.
I say that as recently I had two conversations with two different groups of students that took two very different paths but ended up in the same place. In my first conversation with my youth group, I asked them what difficult faith questions they were struggling with. Their response was blank stares. It was almost like deer in the headlights, if I don’t move he won’t see me and I can slink away safely. It wasn’t that they didn’t have hard and probably dangerous questions, it was that they didn’t know if they could safely ask what was really at the core of their faith development. Even though I had been here for 3 years, they didn’t feel as if it was ok to ask what was really burdening them. I will be honest, that hurt. Questions don’t scare me. They excite me even when I don’t have the answers, which I often either don’t have or don’t share outright. I would instead journey with my students and help them discover the answers that will last longer than me telling them what to believe.
The next conversation came about an hour after that one as the young adult group gathered in our home and a new individual was joining us. As we started our group discussion of the morning’s message, it became apparent that our guest was full of questions and then it came out. She shared with us that at her church, she had been told her questions could not be asked. They were too dangerous to her faith and so she just needed to believe and put those questions aside. Again, I was overcome by a feeling of grief and hurt as I saw a young lady wrestling with some profound questions that would have an eternal impact on both her life and the lives of those she will be investing in over the years.
Two conversations and directions that ended at the same place. The idea that the questions I have aren’t safe to be asked and therefore, I just need to stuff it and accept what I have always been told. And when in that rare moment where they are asked, I just need to take what the adults say and not journey deep into the wilderness to discover the answer for myself.
What I love about questions from students is that it’s like receiving a couple invitations at the same time. The first invitation is for us and the opportunity to enter into their lives. They are searching for someone to walk with them thru an incredible time of discovery. They are longing not for a sage to tell them something but a guide who will walk with them into the mess and help them find their way out again.
The second invitation is one for the student and it’s the question itself. Think of how often Jesus used questions to invite others to draw close to experience something more significant. Every time he asked a question, it was an opportunity to get a glimpse behind the curtain. What if we helped the students learn that the questions they have stirring and churning in their spirit aren’t something to be afraid of, but are actually being placed there by God. That God is the one asking the question of us and it just feels like we are the creator of this dangerous question? The questions are God’s way of inviting us close, of throwing off shallow beliefs and rituals to come to faith in a way that is pure and whole.
My question for us as youth workers is how are we going about creating an environment that their questions are safe and welcome? Have we either intentionally or unintentionally created a place where we communicate that their questions are welcome and if they are asked they merely have to accept what we say? Imagine what would happen if our students started to believe that they could ask the profound and challenging questions because they were welcoming the invitation from God to draw close and we accepted the invitation to step into the mess of discovering with them?