It’s probably no surprise to anyone that rates of teen depression in the U.S. continue to trend upward. Take a look at a teen’s social media accounts, and you will likely find expressions of disappointment and cynicism. Not in response to issues at hand, just a generally jaded outlook on life. Over the past few years I have mentored and counseled dozens of teens. Each of their stories are unique, and each faced real issues in life. (and I always encourage people to respond to depression whenever you see it.) Yet, their general malaise only worked to confirm my theory that this next generation has accepted a narrative of life that starts with pessimism, and works downward. It’s a downward spiral of despair that will only lead to severe depression.
I have led some through the typical counseling techniques designed to combat acute depression without much success. Some of the therapeutic interventions worked, but their motivation inevitably waned. Therapeutic interventions never seem to produce the kind of health that they were hoping for, and certainly not in the timeframe they were willing to invest.
However, when I suggest that a person can only achieve balance and joy in life when they make these therapeutic activities parts of their everyday life, for the rest of their lives, I have been met with dejection and dread.
At first, like all “old people,” I attributed it to the millennial’s tendency to be shallow, selfish, and shortsighted.
But there’s a big problem with lumping every person in a group together without looking for the common problem.
If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. – C.S. Lewis
Many have been quick to dismiss this next generation altogether. Some have attributed their depression and anger to bad parenting, too much violence in the media, participation trophies, or vaccines; but I can’t believe that its that simple.
It seems to me that the biggest problem sighted by the individuals who I have counseled or mentored is that they don’t see a world around them that’s worth living for. They don’t see a prize worth working for. So why work for it?
They don’t see a life ahead of them that’s worth fighting for.
When we get what we’ve worked for, we can enjoy it. But if we get something we never worked for, can we enjoy that? The again, maybe that’s just the low hanging fruit. Maybe it’s not that simple.
It may be that the next generation is just as determined and hard-working as any that have come before them. It’s just that the payoff for their work has become so trivial that they’ve lost the motivation to continue.
What about the kids who won trophies because they earned them? What about the ones who have great parents…with or without vaccinations? What about those who have no interest in violence and/or sensuality in the media?
Why do we see depression in these teens too?
The loneliest moment in life is when you have just experienced that which you thought would deliver the ultimate, and it has just let you down. – Ravi Zacharias
Perhaps the issue is that we keep telling teens that they can have that “Ultimate” experience outside of an eternal God.
The hero’s story often begins in obscurity. For Luke Skywalker, it begins on the desert planet of Tatooine. For Frodo Baggins, it begins in the all-but-forgotten realm of the Shire, and for Diana Prince (Wonder Woman), it is the remote island of Themyscira.
And these heroes stay shrouded in obscurity if not for a Bold Mentor who possessed the two things that heroes need, experience and perspective. These mentors saw that there was evil in the world that could not be defeated without the hero, draws them out, trains them, and commissions them
According to the mythologist Joseph Campbel, the Hero’s Journey includes wide variety of components, but I wanted to focus on the relationship between the Hero and the Mentor, from the perspective of the Mentor. I wanted to see what kind of a relationship produces heroes.
Because it’s not just a story… It’s rooted into our being somehow. These legends resonate with us because, deep down, we hope they are true.
Influencers VS. Mentors
· Passive & Impersonal
· Share general knowledge aimed at Anyone, Everyone, or Nobody at all.
· Invests little
· Risks little
· Reaps Almost Nothing
· Active & Personal
· Shares specific information aimed at only one or two at a time.
· Invests Much
· Risks Much
· Reaps Generously
When you decide to be a mentor, you probably wont have to look very long or hard to find potential candidates. Heroes, like we said before can be found in obscurity, but in all honesty, obscurity often looks like the street you live on, or a friend of a friend, or maybe just where you work.
It’s not about being significantly older than the hero, it’s about having experiences which form perspectives that could encourage them.
But if you look around, and you simply cannot find anyone to mentor, then consider joining forces with an organization that has already made inroads into populations rich with heroes. Organizations like:
- Boys and Girls Clubs of America
- After-School programs
- Local Schools
- Area Foster Care Networks
Many of these organizations already have a program designed to train you, and pair you with a person who could use your experience and perspective to achieve new heights.
Be Honest and Authentic
When you are Honest about your faults and limitations you open the door for your hero to be just as honest and open about theirs.
- Paint an Honest Self-Portrait
- The real you they get to know over time should look strikingly similar to the first image you paint for them.
- Share past success and failures in context because it displays your progress
Trust your hero with the truth!
Regardless of how bleak and distasteful it is, be the person who refuses to sugarcoat the conversation.
- Young people have been fed a distorted Image of Reality through Social Media. their world has been Filtered, Cropped, and PhotoShopped to the point that it hardly resembles reality.
- Some may even ask questions they already have the answer to, just to see if you can be trusted
When a subject comes up that you know nothing about, admit it.
- It’s okay that you don’t know about the latest artist, song, game, app, or selfie filter.
- It’s good for your Hero to be the expert at something.
Use Shared Experience to Inspire Them.
Your vulnerability here opens the door for them to get excited
- Is it something they love or is it an injustice in the world?
Teach them invest in whatever inspires them.
- Empower your hero to take bold risks.
- Be there to help them process, and plan for another attempt.
Be ready to let go!
- Either help them launch, or;
- Connect them with a new mentor – one who can take them even further!
So why is it that we don’t see this happening more?
- We’re so busy that we don’t have time for anyone else.
- Socioeconomic, Racial, Ethnic, or Age Biases
I have seen far too many potential heroes dismissed because of a label. Because people have already determined that ‘this kid’ is a Self-Centered, Helpless, Takers who will never amount to anything.
And if left in isolation, regardless of the demographic, this could be true of anyone.
But its just like Alan Turing says in the movie The Imitation Game,
Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine. – Alan Turing
Trust grows best when you are willing to be vulnerable.
Mentorship often includes a process of introspection on the part of both parties involved. However, if this becomes more of a gripe session, or a time where either the mentor or the hero is overly criticized for past failures, or current struggles, then we must refocus ourselves on the primary theme of mentoring. It’s about progress, not perfection. When sharing past mistakes, the tendency of many people is to highlight their own depraved mind. Many times, this is a subconscious attempt to garner favor from one’s audience by exaggerating your vice to a ridiculous degree. However, if we are honest, accurate, and precise with our recollection of past mistakes, we are far more likely to be able to illustrate our progress. This helps your mentee/hero relate to your journey.
Growth is about progress, not perfection!
That’s a really easy thing to say, but it’s a hard theme to live out every day. I once heard a pastor speak about the concept of our choices leading us to perfection, as if it was some kind of attainable goal, but that is a falsehood of epic proportions. It’s not possible to become perfect if you aren’t already perfect. And it’s impossible to become perfect if you are already perfect.
The concept of perfection is our enemy because it supposes that there is something that I can do to achieve it. There isn’t. We’ve got to get that out of our heads!
Nowhere else is this more important than in the mentor relationship. The person who is leading out in the relationship has to understand that it is often their failures that teach the best lessons, and the one learning has to grow from their own missteps. So exposing our shortcomings is a critical part of the growth process for mentors and heroes.
However, we must caution ourselves against self-deprecation.
I try to help the young men I mentor learn from my mistakes. I try to provide them with enough context that they understand why I made the decisions I made without attempting to excuse the behavior altogether. And I’ll be honest with you, this is a really hard thing to do. Your stories have to make sense. They have to have a relatable setting for your mentee. Your motivation has to be understandable. But most of all, your failure must have consequences.
You want to display exactly what your decisions cost, and to understand how difficult it was to walk through the mess you made. You aren’t trying to convince them that you were the worst person on the planet, you want to show them that every decision we make in life has a real, and measurable cost. Your goal is to help them recognize how broken you were, and how healed you are now.
Mentors increase resiliency by keeping you rooted when hard times come.
Some of he most profound moments in my life have been times when I thought everything was going to crash down around me, but one of my parents, or one of my mentors helped me weather the storm. The honest truth is, storms are going to rage against us, and it may seem that we can’t keep going. If we believe that we cannot stand up to life’s challenges, we may be willing to throw in the towel, but that’s when we need to lean on the experiences of others.
More experienced people have something that younger people need. They have experience, and that gives them perspective. They have seen storms come and go. They have seen droughts come and go. They have seen presidents come and go. They have seen wars come and go. And if we will open our eyes long enough to see that they are unfazed by the current circumstances, we will be able to join hands with them and regain our footing.
Yeah, yeah…I know what you’re thinking.
You think this is all sappy nonsense that won’t matter when life gets hard, but its not. Leaning on the experience of others is one of the most valuable skills of successful people. I his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey dedicated almost half of his points to the concept of interdependence. He claims that by working for the good of others, building a network of like-minded teammates, and leaning on their strengths when we fall short, we can each be more effective in whatever work we do.
Learning from someone else’s mistakes or successes is a powerful tool, and that power is magnified if we get to hear their story firsthand.
We must learn that growing deep roots is the only way to grow stronger, and the best roots are intermingled with those of the men and women who have gone before us. Through their experiences we gain insight, and our experience becomes that much richer.
The Devil whispered in my ear, “You’re not strong enough to withstand the storm.”
Today I whispered in the Devil’s ear, “I am the storm.”
What about the days, when you’re just not?
When you are really weak and you cant try anymore?
What about the times when the storm rages against you and you fling your fists in the air and make no headway?
What about the times when you are so beaten down and broken by fate that not even your Instagram account can fake it anymore?
Are you the storm then?
Unbelievers often watch Christians and see us make statements of strength, but live lives that are just as shattered as theirs. Our failure to acknowledge our failure leads them to dismiss us, along with our gospel, as either crazy or untrustworthy. I think the reason we make claims like this and attribute them to our faith is because we have a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be strong in the Lord. This misunderstanding leads us to trade the truth of the Bible for the lies of the world.
Why is it that we as Christians settle for so much less than what God has promised us?
Why is it that we are so willing to allow Satan to deceive us into believing we are less than what we have been created to be?
Why would some of us rather be the storm, instead of Sons and Daughters of the Most High God?
Because they have no faith in the One who conquers all who oppose Him.
When I saw that one of my former students had posted this quote on his Facebook page, my first reaction to this quote was to comment, “That’s just silly,” but the more I saw this quote being shared, the more I realized that this was evidence of a real problem. I realized that for many Christians, the idea of being a champion or victor over the evil one is appealing, but they really don’t know what that means. It’s apparent that many assume that to be able to conquer the enemy, Christians have to be stronger than the enemy, but that’s not the case. Apparently, some believe that to win a fight against the Devil, they must embody the very thing that the devil is using to defeat us, but that’s even farther from the truth.
The reality of our existence is far more compelling than some silly quote.
When Jesus was with his disciples, he made his nature and character clear to them on several occasions, and even though they didn’t always understand what he was saying, Jesus was patient with them as they learned. One such event occurred while on a boat with his disciples. The boat was about to be lost in a violent storm, but Jesus had another motive altogether.
23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”
It’s apparent that Jesus’ disciples could not withstand the storm that night. It’s also apparent that they tried and failed to the point that they could no longer try any more. Their only course of action was to ask Jesus to intervene. They asked this carpenter’s son what to do on the open sea. They asked a Rabbi what they should do when their ship was breaking up. They asked because they had run out of fight.
Jesus, half-asleep, scolds them by asking them why they had no faith…
I’d bet that at least one of these fellas was thinking, “What? Faith? We don’t need faith; we need to not drown tonight!”
Jesus got up out of bed and spoke to the storm like he knew it. He told it to be still, and it did. Jesus expended more energy getting out of his bed, than he did eliminating the very thing these fishermen couldn’t withstand.
The Devil didn’t have to whisper in their ear, “You aren’t strong enough to withstand the storm,” because they were acutely aware of that fact. They had struggled against it, and realized that truth for themselves. And honestly, there hasn’t been a follower of Jesus in history that could withstand the storm. But you don’t have to!
Jesus didn’t call his disciples because of their experience in withstanding storms, and Jesus didn’t ask them to withstand the storm. He asked them to have faith in the fact that He, and only He, could overcome the world.
The same is true for you and me. I don’t have to carry the weight of my church, or even my youth group on my shoulders, because I can’t even carry the weight of my own sin.
The reality is, Jesus already conquered sin and death. Satan’s fate has already been sealed, and we have been enlisted into the greatest mission that the world has ever seen. We have been called to tear down the gates of hell to redeem those who are still dead in their trespasses and sins.
God doesn’t want us to be the storm.