Girls Just Want to Have Fun (Cyndi Lauper)
By JENN WALDEN – In the 1980’s and 90’s, Christian youth were totally legit for Jesus. Youth nights were especially awesome. Hormones and emotions raging, it was time to scope out potential soulmates and get our Jesus on. I mean really, WWJD?
So if you were a Jesus girl in the 1980s, this meant serious event prep. Picture long permed hair, handfuls of fluffy mousse, blow dryers on high-heat, picks for teasing and aerosol spray. Voila! BIG hair! The chemicals ingested and absorbed from repeated overuse probably knocked some years off our life expectancies, but who cares–so worth it! We loved our tanning beds, too. We 80’s chicks knew how to prioritize beauty over health.
A dose of bright blue eyeshadow, lots of mascara, the perfect boxy dress framed with shoulder pads, then hose with patent leather pumps to finish off the perfect look. We took our fashion seriously in the 80s. We loved Jesus, but we sure did want to have fun too.
Welcome to the Jungle (Guns N’ Roses)
There I sat, at a youth-led Sunday night meeting. Consumed with how I looked, trying to keep focused on the purpose for being there, trying hard to really mean my praise, trying not to notice the competition across the aisle with the perfect bigger hair, then spotting the one guy who seemed to love Jesus the most, who just happened to be easy on the eyes, and secretly obsessing over him.
Maybe, just maybe, he would notice me, and see how much I loved Jesus too.
Yet, despite my great pains to attract a boy, I was inevitably drawn into a desire to know Jesus and love him more.
At some point in the evening, there were testimonies from individuals in their early 20s. They were mentors, people we were supposed to look up to. Despite growing up in church, they spoke openly of how they had strayed, heading down a path of destruction before really dedicating their lives to Jesus.
The details were, to say the least, tantalizing to the imagination. I was listening. And at least for the moment, I gave my crush a break. By the time they finished their tales of the dark side, I wasn’t sure satan hadn’t snagged a few converts.
They were cool, they had lived dangerously, but now they were on fire for Jesus. Still cool, right? They closed with a – you can follow our example and give your hearts to Jesus too – later dudes! Something felt wrong.
Another One Bites the Dust (Queen)
Fast forward twenty years. Vaguely following the stories of the individuals highlighted on the stage that evening, the next chapters have not been happy ones. In Anakin Skywalker style, they’ve lived more life on the “dark side” than they ever did on the “light side.” Addiction and abandonment plague their lives.
What went wrong? This has weighed on me for years.
Evaluating the sincerity of their conversion experiences or contemplating the theology surrounding salvation of works or grace and “once saved, always saved” doesn’t make me feel better. Gossiping and theologizing over them does not change their stories. And it certainly doesn’t clean up the aftermath of wounded people left for dead in the margins –parents, friends, spouses, and children.
Regardless of their salvation status, the fact is, these young people bolted out of the gate, promptly hitting a wall of imprisonment and shame. Let’s face it, their stories are not anomalies – these tales are abundant, spanning decades in our churches.
Papa Don’t Preach (Madonna)
Reflecting back on that Sunday night, now more than thirty years ago, it seems that these public testimonies, by a few gnarly dudes, had unintentional consequences. In the end, shame was displayed and little else. Their identity was in the sins they carried, and publicly spewing their bad to the bones pasts did not provide real help for those in the audience struggling with their own shame. Oddly, these testimonies may have opened the door for greater shame, when these same individuals very publicly stumbled after declaring their devotion to Jesus.
My Back to the Future assessment? In the end, the mass of insecure teens obsessing over big hair and the opposite sex that night were left with lots of questions and very little guidance for navigating life’s messes. And my guess is, the slightly older young adults on the stage were obsessing over their hair and the opposite sex too. We were all babes in Christ.
Losing My Religion (R.E.M)
Presenting models of righteous, godly living before the church and the world is important right? So for decades our church stages have been filled with “good” faithful Christians, the ones who have stayed the course. They may have a tragic backstory, but now they are G-O-O-D.
This parade of good Christians, sprinkled with the one note testimonies of ungodly sinners- turned saints- creates a juxtaposition of good versus bad with a potential false narrative– Really giving your heart to Jesus means you have it all together.
Without realizing it, our churches are creating a standard of false perfection. This facade leaves our kids, new Christians, and let’s face it – us, wondering if we will ever measure up. This facade is also a source of cynicism as our children and the world take note of the failures of “good” faithful Christians- those who keep talking the talk while simultaneously sweeping their dirt under the rug.
In this culture of perfection, young Christians stumbling into their first real crisis are left with little defense, and caught wrestling with serious questions, like, Maybe I’m not really saved? or Is God punishing me? – The life crisis is twisted into a crisis of faith.
But what if . . .
What if that night back in the 1980s, and many nights before, the stories came not from individuals who were in diapers and barely crawling in spiritual terms, but instead from those who had been following Jesus for years?
Just for clarification, I”m not talking about the “before I came to know the Lord and I was a dirty rotten sinner” story. No, I’m talking about. . . I had been following Jesus for more than a decade and out of nowhere I got stupid. Or, life hit me upside the head and in the process my faith fell to the floor and cracked, and I questioned whether my heart could ever be repaired. Or how about . . . I thought I knew so much and had it all together, then I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw. I was full of pride, jealousy, anger and unkindness. I had to get on my knees and ask God to change me. Or despite years of asking, I am still weak in this area of life, but I am not giving up–it is a daily battle I will continue to fight.
Maybe we falsely think those in their twenties and thirties expect our perfection. But honestly, most of them know better. And if for whatever reason they naively think we’ve got it all together, we need to educate them. We don’t– have it all together– and neither will they!
Are we afraid or ashamed to speak the truth of our messes? Will we lose our place on the stage if we are transparent? Is it worth the gossip and stares that may consume our peers and the generation before us if we are more transparent? My rebellious side says they are probably gossiping about us anyways, so why not give them something to really talk about?
I Need A Hero (Bonnie Tyler)
Wake up Generation X and Baby Boomers! We can’t be quiet for fear that we are boring and irrelevant, leaving our dearly beloved millennials to control the microphone. We simply need to start telling the right stories. Let’s allow them to stand on our shoulders and see what failure covered in grace looks like through all seasons of life.
We can fight the growing tidal wave of transparency among young Christians, and I’ve read articles admonishing the trend. Or, we can lead the wave!
When our “testimony” is thirty years old and we have no new material, then I just want to say – where is our grace, girls? Because I know we have some. I know God has been the hero more than once in our stories.
Let’s stop sweeping stories of grace under the rug because we want to maintain the facade of “I’ve had it all together since I met Jesus.” If we get out that broom, we fail to give Him the glory for rescuing us from the storms of life.
Pointing our kids and one another to our own true struggles and heartaches, followed by how we survived with God’s help, equips the modern church with real life examples of what it looks like to get on the right side of the raw, dirty places with faith still intact.
When we are honest about the seasons when we couldn’t find our faith and those moments when our prayers were lost, we provide a greater defense for the ebbs, flows, and emotions of real life. Our children don’t need perfect heroes. Instead, they need determined long distance runners full of transparency and humility.
We needed those heroes in our youth too, but just being real, I don’t think we saw much transparency from the generations before us. Instead we saw stoic individuals holding up facades of perfection. In their defense, they didn’t see an alternative. That was a heavy load for them to carry.
Time After Time (Cyndi Lauper)
Let’s start sharing stories with our children, and frankly with one another, about failures in following and lessons learned. Let’s talk more openly about tripping and getting back up, veering off the path, and being the one sheep.
Not to diminish our babies in Christ, because their stories are to be encouraged and treasured, but the big girls need to start stepping up to the plate. Our experience at this game is just as important as their passion to play. Together, we will find victory. Put us in coach, We are ready to play today.
The generations following us need to know – it is ok if you’re not ok- and when you fall this family of faith will catch you, we will be waiting (not shaming) time after time.
A vibrant and transparent intergenerational community of followers should become the hallmark of the body of Christ. It is not too late girls, let’s become a bold and courageous generation sharing our stories of amazing grace!