I was gratified that we had so many kids show up last night for the first of four consecutive Wednesdays devoted to a discussion of sex, faith, and ethics. A normal turnout is about 15-20 these days; last night, we had almost 30 teens.
Since confidentiality is always vital in youth work, I won't blog about anything that any of the kids said last night. But I will share one activity that we've used successfully for years. We let the teens write questions, anonymously, on small slips of paper, and we put them in a box. (Last night, actually, it was a large plastic tub that until recently had contained Red Vines.) The adults then pick questions out at random, and we do our best to answer them.
Last night, one question appeared that I feel comfortable blogging about. It read: "What do you really think about us having sex at our age?"
Yikes. Great question. I read it out loud, and immediately looked at my other youth group leaders, hoping that one of them would be struck by inspiration. They just smiled back at me, with a look that said "Better you than us, Hugo!" I gulped and took a stab at an answer, having first uttered a rapid and almost silent prayer. When I was much younger, I would have told them "I want you to do whatever makes you happy, as long as you aren't hurting yourself or someone else." That's the simple, rather mindlessly liberal answer. Three years ago, I might have said "In my heart of hearts, I wish you would all wait until you were much older. Frankly, I wish you'd wait until marriage." I believed that with a passion, once. For any number of reasons, those words ring hollow to me now. I couldn't say that with sincerity because I no longer believe it.
So here's (more or less) what I said:
"You guys, when I look at you, it isn't possible for me to see you as a group of generic teenagers. When I look at this room, I don't just see fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen year-olds. I see people whose individual stories I know. Some of you I've known just a little while. Some of you I've known since you were bratty little sixth-graders five or six years ago. When I look at you (pointing around the room), I see (names changed) Michael, not a sophomore boy. I see Marie, not a senior girl; I see Janae and Brent and Alexa and Rick, not just four random kids sitting on a couch. And though you are all alike in so many countless ways, you're also fundamentally different people with different needs and different histories. Honestly, the more I work with you, the less I feel comfortable handing out a one-size-fits-all moral agenda with any confidence. In truth, while I think in general it is better to wait before taking on the enormous responsibilities and consequences of sex, I know full well that some of you are simply "readier" than others. I'm not going to name names, of course! But I can't help but see you as individuals with different desires and different levels of maturity, faith, and emotional preparedness."
So help me, those are (more or less) the words that came to me. I've been reflecting on them this morning. I'm not sure if those were the right words in answer to a very serious question. Yes, they came from my heart. But I know enough to know that as a thirty-seven year-old youth worker, I have to answer the sensitive questions of kids less than half my age from my head as well as from my heart! Was that just unthinking progressive pablum? Am I sometimes so damned open-minded that the wind blows through? Or was that really the right thing, the inspired thing, to say?
Above all, I wonder this: before I said those words, I asked Christ for help. Was He anywhere in my answer?
I'm wrestling with that this rainy Pasadena morning.