Over the past several years, I’ve been working on a few projects that have led me to think deeper about a lot of things. Most of these things revolve around parenting and ministry to families. Like many ministry leaders, I’m hoping to be a voice of hope to people as they navigate life and faith.
As I’ve been having lots of conversations, facilitating focus groups, and leading seminars, I’ve noted many common themes. The one that stands out most starkly is this:
Kids, teens, and parents are all hurting in so many ways.
The pressure to perform, the strain of relationships, and the overall stress of life seems to be bringing people down at an increasing rate. It seems to be harder and harder for people to embrace the hope of Jesus and the belief that a life with God, while not perfect or problem free, will offer a freedom and joy that can overcome the world.
This overall feeling is well-summarized by a quote from a recent conversation I had with a high school student at my church:
“Stress levels are enormous. I used to love school, now I stare at the clock until the bell rings. I play sports as well which means I miss some class but have to make it up later. My parents aren’t any help either. They are part of the problem. “You better watch that 93 in science. It’s getting a little too close to an A-” They don’t get it. Keeping perfect grades while playing 3 sports a year is difficult. But don’t let them see me too sad, or too stressed, or too much of any negative emotion or they’ll blame it on my phone and snatch it right up until I cry at the dinner table about it. Someone has to tell adults that we will crumble without some sort of relief.”
That last line really gets me and, in some way, has become a rallying cry for me.
“Someone has to tell adults that we will crumble without some sort of relief.”
Kids and teenagers today are crumbling. We, as adults, have to pay attention to what is going on in more ways than ever. We must be in the fight with them, equipping and encouraging them as they navigate the world. This desire to help parents and ministry leaders truly see what is happening and be proactive in the fight has led me to create a few resources that I hope will help.
In 2022, I released the book Bags: Helping Your Kids Lighten the Load. This book comes from years of watching young people pack and carry some tremendous emotional baggage. On top of that, they have no idea how to deal with it. The book identifies eight common “bags” that kids pack as they grow up. I talk about things like comparison, rejection, disappointment, and the pressure to perform. Each chapter offers practical things those parenting and doing ministry can do to help kids not pack these bags. We can give them a lighter load to carry through life.
I believe that we, as parents and ministry leaders, can have a tremendous impact on the way our kids view the world and how they learn how to be healthy along the way.
Speaking of health, that has become an important word to me as I have thought about the state of families today. Everyone has a picture of what we think “success” looks like. I don’t know about you, but when it comes to my kids and how they turn out–
I have changed the target when it comes to success.
For me, success no longer looks like good grades that lead to the right college or job that helps them achieve financial success. The idea that my kids need to earn awards and climb whatever ladder is in front of them, be a good citizen and live in the right social circles, is no longer important to me. (We all know people who have achieved the “American Dream” and are miserable.)
I simply want for my kids to get to their young adult years and be healthy. I want for them to be healthy emotionally, mentally, relationally, and spiritually. If my wife and I can get our kids to their mid 20s and they are healthy in these areas, I don’t care where they work, where they live, how much money they make, or what social circles they run in. I obviously pray that they will have a real relationship with God that leads them every day. And I believe that if they do, they are much more likely to be healthy in the four areas I’ve mentioned:
– Emotional Health
– Mental Health
– Relational Health
– Spiritual Health
As adults who are raising and leading kids and teens, we can make a tremendous difference in their lives. We have the opportunity to equip and encourage them along the way, pointing them to a God who loves them and a faith that can lead them. As we lead, we have to both pay attention to what is happening to them and be proactive in what we want for them. As anyone who has worked with or raised kids and teens knows, this is a dance. Sometimes we stumble and fall, and we sometimes move into a beautiful expression of life and love.
In my opinion, it all hinges on one thing: Relationships
We have to work, not just on the mechanics of life, but on the connections we all crave. If we, as adults, focus first on the relationships we have with the kids and teens in our homes, or sphere of influence in our neighborhoods or ministries, instead of just teaching the things we think kids need to know, we will have a much better chance at actually seeing the “bags” they carry. Then, we can help them lighten the load and move towards the health they so desperately need.
So, hang in there. Keep fighting. Focus on health, for both you and the kids and teens you love so much. Pray for their hearts. Offer encouragement. Build relationships, lead well, and trust that the seeds you are planting and watering will grow into what God wants them to be.
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Chris Sasser (a.k.a. “Sass”) is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Port City Community Church in Wilmington, NC. He has served in full-time ministry since 1993, working with children’s, middle school, high school, college, and parent ministries. He has a passion for equipping and encouraging parents and leaders to help the next generation walk with God. Chris shares thoughts and ideas at www.equipandencourage.com and loves to share with students, leaders, and parents. He is married to Karin and they have two children, CJ and Kylie. Chris is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and has done some graduate work at Fuller Theological Seminary and Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.