I recently observed a group of young women with their heads buried in their books while simultaneously watching their class lesson stream on their computers and completing their assignments. Their phones were close by, and they glanced down occasionally to check their favorite social media sites. One of the young women raised her head, saying, “She’s so skinny.” My first urge was to take a picture, post it, and tag it #GodMadeYouWorthy.
Our world is noisy and full of clatter, so we too are full of noise and clatter. Often when we live in the busyness of life, we cannot hear the promises of God. In their busy lives, young people forget the premise of our creation. “Nothing is more foundational,” writes Becky Eldredge in Busy Lives & Restless Souls, “than our understanding of God’s love for us. It’s the premise and the foundation on which the rest of our understanding of God is based.” Do our young people know this? Do we know this?
The lives of young people move at incredible speed, organically changing and adapting in response to the rapid pace of the world that surrounds them. How do we model and teach stillness? How do we show them the importance of rejoicing in the promise of our creation—that we are worthy? How do we provide moments of respite and remind them of God’s love and assurance?
In the rules for the discernment of spirits, St. Ignatius of Loyola writes of the sounds of disquiet and how they might sound like “a drop of water falling upon a stone.” (Spiritual Exercises #335) He continues to write that the good touches “sweetly, lightly and gently, like a drop of water which enters into a sponge.” The love of God pours into our lives, and we must receive it with a posture of “sponginess.” Otherwise, the love pours out and bounces off us. As parents, educators, youth ministers, and mentors, we can provide environments that allow God to penetrate the hearts of young people, which can sometimes seem to be made of stone.
Slowing the pace in which we live is the greatest tool in softening ourselves to the feelings of unworthiness that bombard us. When we move quickly through our lives, we are unaware of what is happening. Our doing and thinking become unconscious. We can work against this unawareness by moving slowly, noticing the grace of what makes us beautiful and good, and purposefully reflecting on what gifts have already been planted in us. When we become aware, offer gratitude, and disengage from moments that stunt our growth toward God, we dance with God in our everyday lives. Ignatian spirituality provides powerful tools like the Examen, the colloquy, Ignatian contemplation, and discernment that give us the opportunity to pause and notice what is happening in our lives.
Young people often zone out behind their screens for long periods, comparing themselves to others. When we see this, we have opportunities to replace those moments with small moments of contemplation to experience nature, beauty, and Scripture. Then we can ask questions that help the young person notice God’s interaction in her or his life. Use some of the following prompts to invite the young person into deeper and intentional conversation:
- What were your highs and lows today?
- Tell me more.
- How did that make you feel?
- Name the gifts that God gave you today.
- How did those gifts meet the needs of your world today?
- What do you think God would say to you about that?
- Use the Fruits of the Holy Spirit as a test for evaluating feelings and experiences. Do you have peace? Does your joy increase?
- Who are the people and what are the experiences in your life that bring joy and peace?
- Can we pause for a second? Can we allow for a moment of quiet?
- How can we dismiss the interior voices that criticize you?
- What can you be thankful for today?
These prompts and stillness allow the young person to notice God’s delicate interaction and savor those moments, waking up that young person to his or her inherent dignity. Such knowledge provides a foundation for self-worth, distinguishing right from wrong, and helping make important decisions (such as where to attend college). It can even help a young person get a sense of his or her vocation. These tools in awareness help work against trends such as anxiety, depression, violence, and suicide—trends that are otherwise growing rapidly among the youth of today.