I remember the night my cousin and I planned our funerals. We were teenagers. I was fourteen and she was sixteen. Sitting up late one night, we fantasized about what it would be like when we died; all the people who would show up, who would cry, who would share memories and talk about how much they loved us. Death did not seem like a bad thing to us. Because for us, dying meant that we would finally be noticed; people would finally see us and treat us like we mattered. All we really wanted was for someone to come looking for us.
Who’s looking for me? This is the question kids across the globe are asking and they want an answer.
Thoughts of escape haunted me often. The year before the “funeral planning” with my cousin, at the age of thirteen, I was lying in the bed one night crying and praying, “God if this is what my life is going to be like, please kill me.” I felt alone in the world. My mother was addicted to drugs and absent. My father was unavailable and absent. My extended family tried to do the heavy lifting of parenting, but was limited by emotional dysfunction and economic disparity. No one seemed to care about what I was going through, how I felt, or what would happen to me if things did not change for the better. I felt like I didn’t matter. People would cut their eyes at me as I walked down the street asking for change so I could get home from school. They would either ignore me, or worse, look at me like I should be ashamed of myself. What an oxymoron. Nonetheless, their distain seemed to be even more proof that I didn’t matter.
At that point in my life, it felt like no one was going to show up for me. No one was going to come looking for me. As a result, I lived life like I didn’t matter and like no one cared. I made poor decisions and ended up not only treating myself like I didn’t matter, but also treating other people like they didn’t matter.
Like most kids, there was no shortage of churches in the neighborhood. I would see people dressed in nice clothes, loading their family in the car for church on Sunday morning, looking across the street at me as if I should be ashamed of myself for not going to church. But they never asked me to go. I would see cars pulling into the church parking lot and people greeting each other as they made their way in to worship, but again, no one ever walked across the road where my friends and I were hanging out to ask if we wanted to join them. It didn’t cross our minds to take the initiative and just cross the street to attend church, primarily because it was clear by the way they looked at us or ignored us that we wouldn’t be welcomed.
My story is no different than that of teens and young adults across the globe today. Male, female, Black, Hispanic, Asian, White; millions of teens and young adults are wrestling with issues that are daunting. They are in despair and desperate, wondering “Who’s looking for me?” and often they answer it themselves, “No one.”
As a result they do not attend church because they question whether God is real. If God is real, does God really care? After all, if God and His people cared about me then surely they would come looking for me. They would want me to know that I am loved, that I matter, and that I have purpose and untapped potential.
When teens and young adults feel like they do not matter the results are many. They don’t attend church because they believe church is not relevant to them or for them. They internalize the pain of rejection, which then leads to sadness, anger, and low self-worth. Some kids lash out and hurt others through violence. I saw a tweet quote a young man from East LA and he said, “Unresolved pain leads to anger without a conscious.” Others hurt themselves through addiction, self-mutilation and worst of all, suicide.
So much of the pain that we see acted out in the lives of young people is a cry for help, a resounding alarm that says “come look for me, notice me, prove to me that I matter to God and that I matter to you!” Are we doing all we can to go out and look for hurting young people?
Before any of us ever knew Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives, He came looking for us, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) Jesus went looking for people who needed healing spiritually, emotionally, and socially; “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.” (Matthew 4:23) The Bible is clear that through the body of Christ, God still goes looking for the hurting, the rejected, the misunderstood and the mistreated. And the mandate to his followers is to do the same work, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)
My heart grieves for teens and young adults (no matter where they are or what they look like) who feel hopeless, alone, rejected, and treated like they don’t matter; because I was one of them, I know the pain of that isolation, the sadness that comes with being treated like you are not worthy, the self-doubt that comes from wondering “why doesn’t the church want me? Why am I not good enough for them to come looking for me?” Some will argue this is “not their ministry” but we have but one ministry, the ministry of reconciliation. Jesus did not give us the power to pick and choose which kids are worthy of being a part of His church. When we choose to pick who is in and who is out, we become a social club with a cross on it.
Believers are called to do what Christ was doing. Is it beneficial for us to merely fellowship amongst ourselves? Is it a blessed experience to show up on Sunday for worship, and close the doors behind us leaving hurting young people on the outside as they wonder who will come looking for me? My prayer is not only for the young people on the outside, but for those of us on the inside that call on the name of Christ as Lord of our lives. I pray that we will be compelled to go looking for children who need to know that God is looking for them.
Most of all, I pray that we remember that in Christ, it is not hide and seek, but seek and be found.