Stupid.  Fat.  Stuck up.  Junior Highers.  Awkward.  Not fun.  Ugly.  Senior Highers.

Don’t look at me. I’m not saying these things. They are. And they’re saying these things when they describe themselves.3898591046_de92b6281f_o

This past weekend I had the honor of helping to lead 115 teenagers and adult staff in worship at the Free Methodist Pittsburgh Conference’s Winter Weekend 2016. God made some big things happen through little people and events. It was awesome.

On Saturday afternoon, the students had breakout sessions where they were able to meet in small groups and dig deeper into the theme of the week, “Custom Made,”  which was pulled from Colossians 3:9-11.

Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.

The words I used at the top of this post came from one of these breakout sessions. Leah, the leader of the session and a member of the Winter Weekend Task Force, asked the students to write down labels that the world has given them. She asked if anyone was willing to share any of the things they wrote down, and on two separate occasions from two completely different groups of kids, I heard these words and other words like them. Those “other words” I heard were no more positive than these.

Now, I’m not blind to the world, and I don’t want anyone to think I believe everything is hunky-dory in the hallways of our education complexes. If anyone fully understands that, it’s me. But to hear these kids say it just broke me.

So often we hear about how the children and the youth are our future. That’s not true. They are our now, not our future. The things they face on a daily basis are nothing compared to what I faced.

This year is the tenth anniversary of my high school graduation, and frankly, if I had to go through high school now, I don’t know that I could do it. The things I overhear and see in the hallways as a substitute teacher are insane. That’s not even touching on the home aspect of these kids’ lives. For some of these kids the world does feel like it’s out to get them. You can see it in their eyes.  They don’t want to go home. They don’t want to go to school.  They’re afraid of what might happen next.

No child should have to believe these things about themselves. I encourage everyone to take some time and invest in the lives of a teenager. Think twice before getting angry or upset with a young person for giving you some attitude. You have no idea what is going on in their heads. I’m not making excuses for them, but you don’t know the difference you can make by giving them a little bit of credit.