No Fear

What I always feared has happened to me. What I dreaded has come true. Job 3:25.

My wife has an outsized fear of snakes. It’s technically called ophidiophobia.  I have assured her that there are good snakes like black snakes that help control the rodent population. It hasn’t helped. As she says, “the only good snake is a dead snake”.  I think it is funny; she thinks it is very unfunny.

Young children have a fear of the dark (nyctophobia). As a parent, you know that the dark isn’t something to fear, but your child isn’t convinced, which is why you put “night lights” in their room.  They grow out of it. 

Fear is an emotion. Everyone has it within them to be fearful. It’s part of the package of being human.  On a recent Zoom, a friend of mine said: “The biggest problem we have is fear.”  That says a lot.  

We live in unusual times where a pandemic disrupted our lives overnight, not necessarily for the better. We have learned to social distance, wear masks, and stay isolated from others to avoid getting COVID. Family events like holidays and vacations were postponed and normal activities altered. Many have lost jobs.

Another friend said that fear was basically a concern of losing control.  The next generation already was highly anxious before the pandemic, more so than previous generations. Millennials joined the job market in the 2008 recession. Not good timing. It took them a long time to get jobs and move out from their parents’ homes.

Millennials were often brought up by parents who protected them from difficult things, and they were shortchanged on developing resiliency.  They haven’t faced adversity which is a valuable commodity today. They fear failure.

Gen Z is learning to live with school restrictions which often means virtual classes instead of in-class teaching. They were already isolated due to social media. Social distancing and virtual classes only have made it worse.

They are watching world events unfold in ways not imagined by previous generations. It seems that events and trends are happening at warp speed instead of over decades. The pace of change has increased.

When I talk to my friends, both Christian and others, all have described a sense of fear, often the fear of the unknown or of circumstances that they can’t control. It’s epidemic today and it may last beyond the pandemic.

As believers, we actually have an antidote. We have the ability to paint a picture of what your life is going to look like. It’s a form of self-realization, and studies consistently show that it works. 

Paul even suggests it in Philippians where he exhorts us to fill our minds with positive thoughts – “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy.” “Think on these things.”  Not a negative thought in the list.

A friend of mine used to call negative thinking (including fear) “stinking thinking”. He had a point. Most of our fears are about worldly things – our physical self, our finances, our health, our success (or lack thereof), or a challenge that we face. 

As believers, it is easy to let yourself be afraid of life.  I faced fear head-on several years ago when financial setbacks took me to the brink of bankruptcy. I feared financial disaster and the loss of possessions.  Even more, I feared the scorn of my peers for my failure. I was afraid of what others might think.

A watershed moment occurred when I sat down with my wife who put it in perspective. She asked me: “What is the worst thing that could happen?”  My list of “worst” cases included losing our house, our possessions, bankruptcy, etc. 

She nodded her head and said no matter what happens to us financially, we had our faith in God, each other, our kids, and our friends. No financial set back could take those away. 

I began to rely on God to get me through it.   I was unable, in my own strength,  to solve financial problems.  God wanted me to get to a point of dependence on Him, not on myself. 

When a financial bump in the road hit such as getting a letter from the IRS that I owed money beyond my ability to pay, it became a game to see how God was going to solve it. I remember praying “OK God, this one is in your court to solve because I have no chance to do it on my own.”

We got through the tough times, sometimes with some almost miraculous events which provided resources from unplanned and unexpected sources. I learned to visualize a positive result but only because I could see God’s hand in the outcome.

It was a lesson in overcoming my fear of losing control.  That’s where many are today. If that is your situation, you can learn to depend on God in ways you haven’t expected.

The challenge is that losing your fear and depending on God may be harder said than done.  But if you are willing to let go and let God work, you will be in a better place. As the Proverbs 3:5 notes, lean not on your own understanding.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  The next generation is consumed by fears – often of the unknown. They need help in seeing that being in control all the time is impossible, and that reliance on God is one solution that they may not have thought about.

RESOURCES:  A Bible study on overcoming fears – Zach Williams

WORSHIP Fear is a Liar – Song by Zach Williams

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The Prodigal

For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. Luke 15:24

One of the most familiar stories in the Bible is that of the Prodigal son.  The son demands his inheritance from his father up front so he can go “find” himself in the world.

While gone, the son blows his inheritance and finally hits bottom.  It doesn’t end well, unless you think living in a pig pen is good. The son comes to his senses in his brokenness and returns to his family. His father runs to greet him, which is frowned upon by the culture of his day.  Instead of getting an “I told you so” from his father,  the son is welcomed with a celebration. 

There are a lot of prodigals out there today, but with a twist. Today’s prodigal is part of the next generation and likely to be on drugs, alcohol or other substances.

Over the holidays, we learned that the 36-year-old son of a friend had died of an overdose. We had no idea. What we learned was devastating. The son had been an addict for 20 years, and had managed to turn his family against him, not because they didn’t love him, but because they were protecting themselves from more emotional trauma.

We learned this from through the eyes of a mutual friend whose son has been an addict for many years. She knew our friends’ family and their 20-year journey of dealing with an addicted child. 

She told us that the story of every addicted child is the same. Their families experience dishonesty, theft, car wrecks, lying, imprisonment, rehab and back out again. Rinse and repeat.  Only the name of the child is different.

Siblings of an addict become protective of the parents, often trying to insulate them from further emotional hurt. Parents have distant hopes that their child will be like the prodigal son in the bible, but after years of failure and disappointment, they realize that they cannot trust their child. My friend said that a counselor told her that “if their lips are moving, they are lying.”

She knows the prodigal story well but is steeling herself from getting the call that her child is dead or in prison. She fears that he will hurt other people in an accident.  She is trying to numb her emotions because, unless nothing else changes, she knows she will eventually get a call.

She is not alone. Addiction and substance abuse increasingly affects the next generation – mostly millennials. What is sad is that this is too commonplace but it is not being discussed.  I recently asked a group of 23 people on Zoom if they knew of someone dealing with addiction (either the person or their family). Almost all raised their hands. It is the elephant in the room.

Families that have an addict don’t talk about it preferring to keep it to themselves, whether from embarrassment, hurt or other reasons.  Statistics reveal how widespread the problem has become.  One commentator said the numbers were “astounding”.

COVID-19 has obscured and worsened the addiction problem.  Because of social distancing, isolation has increased addiction and relapses.  For context, San Francisco reported 621 people deaths from overdoses but only 173 died from COVID.  The lenient drug policies in cities like San Francisco have only made things worse.

What was a problem before is now even greater because access to recovery treatment has been limited to virtual meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymousand other in-person rehabs.

Statistics are impersonal to families dealing with an addicted child. Their story is personal and up close, and often heartbreaking. I mentored a young man who narrowly escaped from becoming an addict. He started with friends on marijuana and then graduated to other drugs.

My mentee interrupted his life to get straightened out under court supervision. He is a lucky one. Most are not lucky – either the addict or their families. One thing he told me was that, contrary to popular belief, marijuana is a gateway to other drugs. Yet we have state after state legalizing marijuana.

Recently, huge amounts of drugs including cocaine, marijuana, Molly and other drugs were sold on nearby college campuses by dealers connected to the Mexican drug cartels on the west coast. The drugs were distributed through college fraternities. Eleven of those arrested were current or former students.  Access to drugs is not hard, even on prestigious college campuses.

This has been a hard post to write. This is not an uplifting topic. While my family has been spared this problem, many families have not.  My friend whose son is an addict estimated that 25% of the people in our own church have experienced or know of those who are dealing with addiction.  

There are good resources for addiction, including rehabs, but all too often relapse is commonplace.  As friends and Christians, we can do little else other than provide support and prayer for families dealing with an addicted child, and to oppose the legalization of marijuana from making addiction even worse. We must pray for the prodigals to return permanently.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Be vigilant with your mentee who might be experimenting with drugs. It is hard to detect as I learned from my own experience. 

FURTHER READING:

The Pandemic has Hit Addiction Recovery Hard – NY Times

Opioid Crisis Compounded by the Coronavirus Pandemic – Archer

Addiction is a Disease of Isolation – KHN

Drug and Alcohol Abuse During a Pandemic Detox/South Florida

Drug Dealers Sold Mass Amounts of Cocaine and Other Drugs through Fraternities – WaPost

San Francisco’s “Progressive” Drug Policies are Killing Hundreds Annually – Hoover

Best Practices in Dealing with Substance Abuse – US Dept. of HHS

WORSHIP:  Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone– Tomlin

MentorLink: For more information about MentorLink, go to www.mentorlink.org.

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Hiding In Plain Sight

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,[ …..] teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  Matthew 28:19,20

In 2021, I want to affirm the commitment to help others mentor the next generation through this blog.  This is the time of year where people make resolutions, usually about making yourself better, losing weight or reading the Bible through in a year. 

All that is good, but often it becomes personal navel gazing. I have a suggestion.  Consider focusing not on yourself but invest in someone else’s life to make them better. We are consumed by our need for self-improvement and that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that.

But we often ignore that Jesus last command on earth was a call to disciple others. It’s a call to an outward, not inward focus. Sitting in church worshiping (or virtually these days) and Biblical learning are good disciplines.  But becoming a discipler of others is equally if not more important.

The next generation is starved for mentors.  One of the things I’ve had to do over the past several years is study millennials and Generation Z.  If you’re going to help the next generation, you need to know where they are, or often where they aren’t.

So, if you want to get into their minds, why not listen to what they are saying.  The following is from a Quora post by a 16-year-old girl and was titled “What We Won’t Tell Our Parents.”

Sixteen year old girl here. Woo, this is going to be an interesting answer. Possible trigger warning.

  1. Relationships – if we know that you (our parents) are going to disapprove of the person we’re seeing, then we’re likely to hide it from you. We can be crafty in hiding messaging and time together.
  2. Friendships – basically same as #1, except no romance involved.
  3. School – I might be a straight A student, number 4 (out of around seventy students) in my class, but does that mean I will share everything about my academics with you? No. Some of it is embarrassing (like not doing great on a test I studied my behind off for), and [it] shall remain in the confines of my thoughts.
  4. Bullying – If we’re being bullied at school, we’re probably not going to say anything because we think either you’ll handle it in a way that will embarrass us, or you simply won’t care.
  5. Mental health issues/conditions – Variety of reasons for hiding these. Maybe we don’t feel we can talk about this with you, we don’t want to burden you with our problems, or we don’t want to change the way you look at us because of the stigma surrounding mental health conditions. This ties in with the next couple.
  6. Eating disorders – These can be hard to recognize for the affected person, and also, we may hide this for reasons above.
  7. Self-harm/suicidal thoughts – We want you to think we’re fine. We want you to believe you have the happy child you always dreamed about.
  8. Social media – If you don’t think we should have it and everyone around us does, we’re going to want to fit in.
  9. Sexuality – I’ve never had to deal with this so if anyone has, please add on to this. You might have beliefs against being LGBT but since we’re not you, we could be.
  10. Religion – I’ve been raised in a Christian home. Church every Sunday, yadda yadda yadda. I walked the lines of apostasy for almost two years before anyone found out. Now I’m somewhere in between deeply devout and an apostate.”

Those 10 topics cover a lot of waterfront. It makes you wonder what they do discuss with parents. I’m pretty sure it is very superficial. 

If you are not familiar with Quora Digest, you should know that it is a hangout for many in the next generation. It is instructive to what they are thinking or feeling, but not telling their parents.  

I have often said that parents can tell the actual moment when their children become adolescents. That moment is marked by their turning deaf overnight.  It’s a humorous way to say that at some point in time, your kids will tune you out. 

But they may confide in someone else.  Someone they trust.  Someone they have developed a relationship with, like a mentor.   I have had mentees open up about topics like those above with me. One even said that he would never think of discussing certain issues with his own parents. 

So, if you are looking around for someone to invest in, you don’t have to look very far. They are all around you and hiding in plain sight.  Their parents would love to have you involved in their lives as a mentor and positive influence in this day and time where social media is a pervasive influence.

Below is a list of some topical mentoring posts from the last five years. 

MENTORING RESOURCES:

Influence – a model for mentoring.

Moses – the first Mentee – Part I – Biblical principles of mentors

Moses – Jethro Principles Part II

Selfie-Esteem – The impact of social media

Spirituality – a look into the spirituality of the next generation

Communication – how to communicate with the next generation

Millennials – a profile

Fine – asking questions to get beyond pat answers

Gen Z Distinctives – Gen Z profile

Fingerprints – a strategic view of mentoring.

Why Not? – a call to get off the sidelines

Pay Attention – the impact of shortened attention spans

Gen Z Trends – more insights

Google GIGO – the next generation getting wrong answers from the internet

WORSHIP: Overcomer – Mandissa

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Reflections

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Matthew 6:24

The old saying is that Hindsight is 2020 (watch the video).  That may be more accurate this year than any other. Normally, we celebrate the coming New Year. Instead, many will celebrate the end of 2020.  

Each day I get up in the morning and go into the bathroom.  I am greeted with a face in the mirror.  The mirror doesn’t lie.  I usually look sleepy and in need of a shave. But it is the face of today.  I remind myself that today is yesterday’s tomorrow.  I can’t change yesterday, and tomorrow has yet to come, but I can work on today.

Another mirror is your car’s rear view mirror. It reflects what is behind you, not what is in front of you.  It is an important tool for a driver because keeping an eye on what is behind you helps you anticipate problems.  So, what does 2020 look like in our rear-view mirror?

This past year is one for the books. But according to history, it was not the worst. That distinction goes to the year 536 AD when a mysterious fog covered much of Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia.  A fog blocked the sun during the day for 18 months. It was a literal “Dark Age.”

The cause?   A huge volcanic eruption in Iceland which was sufficient to cause climate change for years. Temperatures, on average, dropped 35 to 37 degrees, causing crop failure in Ireland, Scandinavia, Mesopotamia and China. Famine ensued leading to the Bubonic plague that wiped out 25 to 50% of the Roman Empire’s population.

That would be, in my estimation, a bad year. By comparison, how does 2020 stack up? 

For many, it was a difficult year which started well, but took a quick turn when COVID-19 showed up. We learned terms like “flatten the curve”, “lockdowns”, “quarantining”, “Zoom” and “social distancing”.  School closures became the norm, stunting the academic growth of our next generation with long term consequences. 

We learned a geography lesson.  No one had heard of Wuhon before, but now most recognize it as a large city of 11 million people in Central China and the epicenter of a pandemic.

Life was disrupted to a scale not seen before in modern history. Despite extensive research and national planning on coping with a pandemic, the world’s health systems were taxed, sometimes beyond capacity. We will learn from those mistakes, but they cost lives.

Economies shut down; businesses closed – particularly those that were deemed “non-essential”, often an arbitrary political decision. The economic toll will be felt for years. In America, most businesses that were damaged were small businesses – restaurants and Mom and Pop businesses which cannot operate “virtually”.  

The small entrepreneur got crushed by the pandemic, and sadly, this will have a larger impact on those in the lower economic strata of our culture. The most vulnerable are the ones that will suffer the most. 

Vacations and family get togethers were cancelled or postponed. Plans for the year were abruptly altered.  Some things will never be the same again. My brother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s so missing a family reunion impacts my family as he continues to decline.

For those lucky enough to have a job which can be done remotely, “going to work” took on a new meaning. Bricks and mortar offices in large cities remain empty today, which does not bode well because I doubt that they will return to normal capacity any time soon. 

Companies will retool their office needs downward resulting in a huge dislocation from city centers. Already, cities like New York are seeing an exodus of population. Those leaving are often a large part of the tax base, and they will not be replaced any time soon meaning that the quality of life in those cities will suffer.  

We are not sure when there will be a return to “normalcy”, whatever that looks like. How do you face an uncertain future, even as a believer?  For the Christian, it is simple. For a non-believer, not so much.

The answer is contained in a poem from my son-in-law’s favorite author and poet, Wendell Berry, titled “The Peace of Wild Things”:

“When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives might be.

I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.  For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

This poem is a reminder that God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. When we feel afraid or in despair, we can turn to Him in simple places like nature because he is Immanuel or God with us.  

I wish each of you blessings in the New Year.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  You have the ability to shape your mentee’s perspective on life. It is an incredible opportunity. Don’t miss it.

FURTHER READING:  Hindsight is 2020 – Video by Tom Foolery

 The Worst Year in History:  Is 2020 a Contender?  Discover 

Why 536 Was The Worst Year to Be Alive  AAAS Science

The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry

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