A few years ago I was at a small graduation ceremony for a handful of students who were homeschooled. I didn’t know many people there , and thus ended up sitting next to a complete stranger.
Most of you who know me know me as an extroverted and engaging person. While I can be very loud and gregarious, I can also be very chill and in a quiet mode. I can be the life of the party but I definitely don’t need to be and will defer to others. All that to say I wasn’t in a chatty mood this particular afternoon. The stranger sitting to next to me on the other hand was all for striking up a conversation.
Upon finding out that I knew the graduate through church because I was one of her youth pastors he became very intrigued. Admittedly most people become intrigued when they find out you’re a youth pastor for various reasons usually to do with your mental health. This individual was intrigued because he was currently in seminary. His plan was to get a job as a Youth Pastor that would hopefully launch him into eventually landing a position as a Senior Pastor. The seminary he was attending specialized in apologetics, so in some ways the question he asked me should have come as no surprise.
“So what do you think is the biggest question that students are asking these days; How can a loving God allow evil in the world, creation versus evolution debate, faith versus reason debate, how can a loving God send people to Hell? In your experience which question is the question students are asking the most?”
I didn’t even have to think about the answer, but I took a second just to look at him in the eyes and pause before I gave him my answer… the answer. I wanted to make sure that when I said it I had his full attention. I also looked into his eyes hoping that in all of his training he hadn’t missed the point entirely. Not that I had something against apologetics, far from it. Something about the way the whole conversation had gone to that point conveyed an arrogance on his part and I felt the need to bring him back down to earth.
“None of my students ask any of those questions”, I said calmly. “There is only one question they ask, and all of them ask it. The question they all ask is, ‘Do you love me? Do you care about me? Will you see me and accept me for who I am; the good the bad the ugly and all the in between?’” How you answer that question will determine whether or not they listen to a word you have to say about all those other questions. If you can’t answer that question to their satisfaction then they won’t care what you have to say about anything.”
Truth be told they have hundreds of questions, but one matters more than the rest. Whether you’re a parent, youth worker volunteer or pastor, be in the habit of answering the one question your student(s) ask in the affirmative. They don’t care how cool or hip you are, they just want to be loved and accepted without pretense, without condition, without having to earn it.