Published in Connections Magazine (January/February 2016)
Learn about Connections here
faith and family
by Marcus J. Carlson
Children ask a lot of questions. Adolescents ask a lot of questions. Questions can be scary, intimidating, humbling, joy-producing and much more. If I am honest, throughout my life, ministry career and as a parent, I have learned so much from the questions children and adolescents ask.
Our children have always been very inquisitive, but their curiosity has grown as of late. I often think of various television shows where they would highlight the funny and outlandish things children say. Many times, I feel I could make a television show from the questions my children ask. Questions are some of the best teachers that we have. In questions, not only do we nd answers, but it is the curiosity, the doubt, the wonder, the pursuit of knowledge and information that can be so life-giving.
As I was working on my doctoral dissertation, I spent much time researching generational differences. My studies led to an examination of the different characteristics of generations that exist in our world today and drawing some observations and conclusions about the differences in those generations. This research was helpful as I examined how to better serve our adolescents, particularly in the context of the church. While this work often was helpful, the observations I make in real life with my own family, friends and circle of in uence are usually as profound, meaningful and informative, if not more so.
One special instance that comes to mind is in the area of race relations and discrimination. When I think about how my great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, I and my children think about race and discrimination, I see noticeable differences. While race and discrimination are certainly hot issues, we as Christ-followers know that God values all people and discrimination is wrong. While there is still work to be done regarding these issues in the church and around the world, when I think about how my own children view these issues I can say we have in fact made progress.
Recently, after catching the end of a news story, my son Micah asked my wife Jessica what the word “discrimination” meant. She explained its meaning and gave some historical and hypothetical examples. It was a good and important question that our son asked, and his response to the answer was encouraging. He expressed confusion and disdain that someone would experience discrimination. He noted that it was wrong and unfair. Certainly a proud moment for his parents. I have great hope that his generation will continue to lead us forward in how we view and treat all people in our churches, communities and the world.
This moment for me was about so much more than race, discrimination and parental pride. It was a powerful reminder of why questions matter. Children are not afraid to ask questions. So often, we as adults are afraid to raise them and entertain them. Yet, when I think about the call of Jesus to have a childlike faith, I cannot help thinking that the curious, questioning nature of children is part of what Jesus meant.
Questions truly are a good thing. They help us to think, to realize why we believe or act the way we do. Questions point us to meaning and intent. In this way, children and adolescents are truly a gift to our churches, communities and world.
As parents, grandparents and adults who care about and are invested in the lives of our children and adolescents, we need to embrace questions. More importantly, we need to continue to think about how and why we do things when it comes to our children and adolescents. So often, our reaction to children and adolescents is not rooted in intentional thought, prayer and reflection. Whether we get caught up in the moment, react out of habit, fear, genetics or some other factor, we must be intentional. Jesus modeled intentionality for us in e very conversation, teaching moment and relationship during His life and ministry. The way in which we interact with our children and adolescents as the adults in their lives matters signi cantly. We will shape their view of the world. We shape their view of God. We shape their view of self. The Scripture tells us that Jesus became indignant when people devalued children. Parenting, and our integration wth children and adolescents, must be intentional. The stakes are high for them, for us, for our churches and for the world.
While this seems like an obvious principle, it is harder to live out than we realize. In a world that is broken—with greater access to information, danger and so much more— being intentional with our children and adolescents is not easy. Generational differences, which are more extreme than they have been in the past, can lead to confusion, division and misunderstanding. So often as a pastor, professor and seminar leader, I have found myself serving as a translator for people of differing generations—they could not speak the same language or understand each other, no matter how they tried.
It is hard to deny all of the fear, strife, division, pain and uncertainty that exists in the world today. It is numbing for even the most secure and faithful adults. For our children and adolescents, this is the world in which they have grown up in, the world in which they live. In my seminars, I often talk about the various markers or characteristics of our children’s generation. One of the words I use to describe them is anxious. This is most certainly the anxious generation. Today’s high school senior was only three or four years old when the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 happened. They have grown up in a world where shootings in schools, movie theaters, churches and more are all too commonplace. They have grown up in a globalized and complicated world that has become increasingly confusing, isolated and uncertain.
Questions truly can be a gift. They are an opportunity to learn. They are an opportunity to connect. They are a reminder of the intentionality with which we are called to love, reach and minister to the children and adolescents in our homes, churches, communities and worlds. Embrace the questions and love well.