I’ve worked with teens virtually my entire adult life, and I’ve come to recognize a small handful of situations that are ripe for disaster: a group of boys left unsupervised nearly anywhere, but especially in a gym with a ball; a group of girls at the Village with a credit card; and a mixed gender group asked to be a little vulnerable.
You can imagine my apprehension then when during a chapel service at the 4thannual Monastic Conventiculum, or “MonCon” as it is popularly known, the chaplain opened the service to students to express to God openly something they are thankful for. The Rev. Dr. Davies Owens – or “Father Owens” as he is called on this one, special night – talked briefly on the importance of thanksgiving and gratitude in the Christian’s heart and asked students, one by one, to profess aloud the things they are thankful for.
I cringed. 52 sweaty 8thgraders, freshly returned from playing games out on the field, sat in the sun-soaked, makeshift “chapel” in the school foyer. It was Friday night: surely their minds were a million miles away on Fortnite battles and missed text messages and weekend plans. Would even one dare to put themself out there and vocalize a feeling of gratitude?
I waited. “Father Owens” waited. Mrs. Francis, Mrs. Westom, and Mr. Moore waited. Silence reigned supreme.
And then someone took a step of faith:
“Lord, I am thankful for my teachers, who work so hard for me.”
(This is good, I thought. Maybe 3 or 4 other students will join in….)
A slight pause, and then another:
“God, I am grateful for my parents, who love me and sacrifice so much for me.”
Another. And another.
“Dear Lord, I am thankful for this class of friends, who love me and are always there to encourage me.”
“God, I am thankful for trials, that test me and help me to grow.”
“Dear Lord Jesus, I am grateful for Your work on the Cross that has delivered me from sin and death.”
“Lord, I am thankful for this school, where we get to learn about You and Your Word.”
5 minutes passed. 10 minutes passed. 15 minutes passed. On and on it went. For a full 20 minutes, 13 year-old students, one immediately after another, made public expressions of gratitude to God in a room full of their peers.
And then the kicker came. A student who recently lost someone very dear to him said: “Dear Lord, I am grateful for death. Even though I may not understand it, I know it is all part of Your perfect plan.”
Even Mr. Moore, stoic as he is, was more than a little misty-eyed.
Psalm 107:1 reads: “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, Whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy….” I hear a lot in the national discourse about young people suffering from narcissism and an entitlement mentality that has even made its way into the hard-working world of professional sports. There seems to be an epidemic of ungratefulness. I admit that I am horribly biased, but I don’t have the same sense of impending doom when I interact with our students. They seem different.
If you don’t believe me, join me next year at this time for MonCon. Where else in the valley will you find junior high kids joyfully sacrificing a Friday night away from text messages and Fortnite battles to sit in a quiet chapel service and express gratitude to God for things ranging from their friends and parents to trials and even death?
Soli Deo Gloria.