On my walk to work this morning, air crisp and clear after an overnight rainstorm, I walk past a man sitting on the street corner. I immediately recognize him as a former resident in our Life Change Academy, who left early on in the program. I nicknamed him Logan, due to his striking resemblance to one of my favorite X-Men comic book characters — with his muscular frame and prominent dark sideburns and stubble. This morning, he is angry and making loud threats against a man (not present) who had very personally wronged him. “Are you ok?” I ask. “No!” he screams, eyes fixed on an invisible enemy. I am standing with Wolverine — the enraged persona of the gentle man I had known.
In his book, You Lost Me, author David Kinnaman unveils his company’s research into why the church is losing its young adults. In a 2011 survey of 18-29 year olds, 59% had dropped out of regular church attendance and 57% reported being less active overall compared to when they were 15 years of age. While the results are wide, Kinnaman addresses one contributing factor caused by the older generations: Overprotection. But the tool young adults are wanting to learn: Discernment.
Overprotectiveness discourages risk taking and uses fear to “protect” the next generation.
Discernment guides young people to trust God fearlessly and follow Christ in the power of the Spirit, even at the risk of their lives, reputations, and worldly success.
I became a Christian at the age of 15. I quickly joined the youth worship team and then the youth leadership team a couple of years later. I was baptized in the Pacific Ocean at 16 with blue dyed hair and a head full of ambition to do great things for God. In the years that followed, I would travel to Vancouver, San Francisco and what is now South Sudan. I saw remarkable (and terrible) things — hopeless drug addicts, prostitutes of all ages, and a desperate mother holding a sick infant miles from medical aid.
I’m pretty sure my father hated these trips — not because I was helping others, but because he loved me and wanted me to be safe. Also, he once told me, “There are plenty of people you can help here in Visalia.” He was right, which brings me back to Wolverine.
I stood there for just a moment with a decision to make. I could respond with a gracious, yet shallow, apology for his troubles and wish him luck. Or, I could engage. I chose the latter and sat down next to him. I discerned the need to tread softly — to listen and choose my words carefully. It turns out, his 18-month old daughter had been removed from his custody three months ago. Suddenly, I had a window of opportunity to connect and to encourage. “I would hate for you to make a decision that further separates you from your daughter’s life.” He tears up. “She is young enough not to remember this situation, which means you have an opportunity to get your life together…to become whole and be in her whole life.”
What started as a scary interaction in which I feared for my own safety turned into two grown men (and near strangers) hugging each other on a street corner at 8 o’clock in the morning. I don’t think he hugged me and cried because of my advice, but because I felt God led me to say, “Logan, I believe in you.”
I know how easy it is to toss a dollar in an open hand or a “God bless you” toward someone you don’t know how to help. But…as you and I pause in these moments to discern what God is up to behind the scenes, more Wolverines may remember they have a different name, potential and purpose.
No matter what you believe or how good of a person you are, we can’t protect ourselves or our loved ones enough to avoid the everyday tragedies of life. So let’s risk a bit more and believe God to do what he does best and chooses to do through us.