When we get to a certain age – and when that age may be is at best uncertain – we look back at the source of all the scars we carry from mistakes we made from making bad choices along the road of life. From years as invincible teenagers to adults bearing down on the end game at an accelerating pace, we see so many of those scars forewarned by parents and unofficial mentors. Did we listen? Having the scars proves that warnings meant little, no matter how well intended. After all, we were teenagers, and we were nearly bulletproof. From those scars came hard-earned wisdom, assuming of course, that whatever life challenge we confronted did not kill us first. I wonder…is there any way we can posture learning to smooth this journey called life that does not leave lasting scars?
Methinks not. Who among us have resisted the urge to pass a finger through the flame of a candle? I certainly recall warnings that fire equals hot equals burn equals pain. Were you warned? I am sure you were, and yet, we all had to learn what hot meant by taking the risk, ignoring the sincere warning of one who had already made that same mistake. Is that a weakness? A flaw? Or is it just part of growing up? Unfortunately, as we leave childhood and pass into and through our teen years, risks are not as benign and simple as candles, and often the stakes are much higher…as are the flames.
Honestly, I do not know a different path to learning about life. Oddly enough, I am convinced that some teens actually listen to more than we, as adults, give them credit for – and the fact that they are listening may well be the source of their perceived disregard for our advice. Consider that we strive to build self-esteem, telling them they are growing into mature adults, and telling them that they will soon make important adult decisions. And what happens? They begin to believe us. And what do they do? They stick their finger into the flame to see for themselves…or are they just testing the validity of our warnings? Some feel the heat and back away quickly. Some are not so lucky. Recently, one teenage girl in a local neighborhood died of a heroin overdose. Not pot. Not beer. Heroin.
Where does that leave us as adults in the community? Do we come together to hold yet another candlelight vigil? Do we drive by and leave teddy bears and flowers in their front yard? It feels horrible to be so helpless. We all grieve the loss of this child, and we cannot begin to imagine the heartbreak the family must feel unless we have suffered a loss of this nature ourselves. And what do we do? We talk about it. We get angry. We form committees, and we share our anger, and we talk about it. We hold events after school and grill burgers and dogs in order to give kids an alternative to taking drugs. Unfortunately, the only kids showing up to these events are the ones who do not use drugs. They use burgers and hotdogs. These events, though offered through hard work and generous hearts, do not reach the at-risk teens in our community. The results of programs like these do not produce sustainable results. They make adults feel better because they represent an effort toward “doing something”. They look good on paper because we can point to them as accomplishments. They look good on paper when we write grants for more money to support even more events that do not produce sustainable results.
Here is a fact we need to consider – evil does not attend burger and dog events; those kids are not the ones he seeks. Instead, evil hangs out in the halls of our high schools. Evil hangs out in the parking lots after school…after ball games. Evil hangs out at ground zero. And how appropriate is that – ground zero – the name given to a physical location designating the point of impact. Nothing good ever happened at any place named ground zero. Evil sells drugs at ground zero. Drug purchases made at ground zero – become the point of impact that can ruin a life…or worse…end a life.
If ground zero is where at-risk teens make bad choices, then ground zero should be our point of impact. As concerned adults, we need to take the fight to where evil hangs out. That said; who is willing to go into ground zero and confront the enemy? Parents cannot go, they do not know how to hang out, plus it would be way too weird. Teachers cannot go and hang out – equally as weird…and not part of their teaching agenda. Our clergy cannot go and hang out – churches just do not do that kind of thing, not to mention church attendance is declining among our teens. Who can go? Who can go and build a relationship of trust? Who can go that knows how to build an inner strength powerful enough to consider alternative choices?
Our Southeastern Indiana Young Life leaders can. They go into ground zero every day. They work with the school administration to gain access to the student population that lives at ground zero. Young Life leaders hang out; in fact, they receive the necessary training to hang out effectively. They hang out for the distinct purpose of building trusted adult relationships that are essential for kids confronted every day with making choices. They light a different fire at ground zero…in the halls…in the cafeterias…in the student section at ball games…in the parking lots. They give kids a different flame where they can stick their fingers and test a different kind of heat – the pure, white-hot heat of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Do you want to do something sustainable? Support your local Young Life program. Help a program that exists only by the funding they generate from donations given within their own communities. The enemy is winning. He is taking advantage of our kids as they are preparing to leave high school and go out into an even less forgiving world. We have a short four years while they are in high school to equip our kids to deal with future ground zeros when none of us are around. It is time we light an alternative flame. History has proven…through each one of us…that all will reach out to feel the heat.
Southeastern Indiana Young Life Committee Member