The message today’s youth receives hasn’t changed too much: The future is yours to change. Young people are always told they’re responsible to change the future, make a better tomorrow, and plow forward into the mess we’ve made to make a difference. While I generally don’t disagree, are we putting too much effort on social justice on our youth and not enough on personal purpose?
Most teenagers aren’t ready or able to think global when they’re just starting to think about college and jobs. Yes, we live in a global society now for sure, but let’s think about our approach to social justice as a whole for a moment. Maybe we’ve gotten caught up in the social justice wars and lost sight of the point.
My teens and my students often hear so much of the following: Be the change! The future is your responsibility! You’re responsible for our future! That’s a lot of pressure for teens! What seems to drive them to participate in fundraisers, coat drives, and even protests is more of an I-have-to-do-this-to-be-accepted attitude. Rather, it should be an I-have-to-do-this-because-it’s-the-right-thing-to-do attitude.
Maybe that seems like splitting hairs, but hear me out. If people don’t know why they're fighting for something, I mean the core principle, then how can they effectively argue the point. How can they apply those righteous beliefs in other areas of their lives? Hopping on the bandwagon or fighting for a cause works better when you have personal purpose.
Speaking of personal purpose, are we helping our teens find their personal purpose? (To be fair, most of us don’t find this until adulthood so we need our teens to know this as well!) If we base our teachings (yes, even social justice teachings) on the core belief that God created the universe and each one of us with a unique purpose, and that our purpose is to glorify God by loving Him and our neighbors, then social justice will fall into place correctly.
Each of us is a puzzle piece in a grand picture, a vision of God’s own creation. Not one lone puzzle piece is responsible for all the puzzle. That’s far too much pressure and such a pressure will crush that little piece. The best way for that piece to fulfill its duty to the puzzle is to allow the Puzzle Master to place it where it belongs.
God has a place, a niche, a purpose for each of us. We need to allow Him to guide us to our purpose, help us to find our fit in this world, and follow Him in order to complete the work that He has designed for each of us to do. In doing so, we feel complete and purposeful, we inspire others to the same, and things like social justice begin to spread naturally according to His design.
Yes, we need to encourage youth to stand up for what is right. Yes, we need to teach our teens fairness, caring, and charity. Yes, we need to encourage youth to get involved in helping others. But we do not need to burden them with the notion that all social injustices are their personal responsibility to fix. Teach them to judge justly, act kindly, love generously, and be encouraged that God is with them. Show them how to help by example instead of just telling them. Encourage them to do this through works of mercy instead of bandwagon coercion. Make sure they know and believe in the ‘why’ instead of just following the trendy ‘what.’
We (adults too!) need to build a better tomorrow, so let’s build better adults. Let’s teach them they are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) and God has a plan for each of them (Jeremiah 29:11). Stop being a social justice warrior for the secular world and be one for God.