“Ask me anything you want about my personal, private life. You can dig as deeply as you want to dig. You can probe as thoroughly as you want to probe. No question is out of bounds. So fire away.”
With those words reverberating throughout the chapel, my role for the week or weekend as a camp or conference speaker begins.
And my, oh my, do these students ask! Anything, and everything. And all the while, under their intense gaze, I try my best to answer their every question — the good, the bad, and the ugly, of which there has been much in all three categories in my 61 years — as honestly, yet discreetly and appropriately, as I possibly can.
Why take that risk? you might wonder. Well, there is a method to my madness. My calculation is simply this: Vulnerability begets vulnerability. If I am honest with them, they will be honest with me, with their counselors, and most importantly, with God.
And they are.
My follow-up invitation to them is this: “I’ve just handed you a 3×5 card. I want you to imagine that you could ask God anything. Anything. Anything about your life, about your world, about your relationship with Him. Anything. If you could ask God anything, and know that you would get an honest answer, what would you ask?”
Of course, through the rest of the camp, I always strive to work as many answers into my talks as I can. Often, I even end up writing a new talk just to deal with a certain question if I sense that there are many in the audience wrestling with the same issue. I’ve done this for years, and it always give me a sense of the pulse of the camp, a tremendous advantage for any camp speaker.
And my, oh my, do these students ask. Anything, and everything.
Serious questions. Heartfelt questions. Difficult questions. Nearly-impossible-to-answer questions. Rarely, if ever, do I get a nonsense question. Life is just too real, too challenging, too painful for these students to waste this opportunity on the trivial.
Here is a random sample of the questions that the students asked of God at my last camp just a few short weeks ago. A Junior High/Middle School Camp, which included some students as young as 10 and as old as 14. If they could ask God anything, they would ask Him this…
Why don’t you listen when I need your help?
Why is the world broken?
Why did you let my father molest/rape me? (He went to prison for this, was tried and convicted.) I just want to know why? I am in pain.
Why can’t I have more friends?
Who gave birth to me? What happened to them?
If you could have prevented sin, why didn’t you?
Why is my mom a crackhead and why does she choose drugs over me?
How did Jesus feel when He was all alone, when His friends left Him? What should I do when this happens to me?
Why is there death?
Why is life so hard?
Just a few of the over four hundred questions that I collected and compiled that week, and those are just from Page 1; I haven’t even gotten to the 2nd page yet!
It’s enough to make you cry, isn’t it?
As I wrote a moment ago, I did indeed try to answer as many of these questions as I could throughout my 9 talks that week. But even so, I only scratched the surface. And of course, my several pages of questions do not include the dozens of questions I was asked personally as I met with and talked to many of the students during their free time.
All of this to say that I have ample material to include in this blog. In the coming weeks, I will endeavor to address several of these questions here in this forum.
My hope is that these questions, and the Bible’s answers, will strike a chord (pleasant-sounding, of course) with many of my readers.
But for now, I just wanted to give you a taste of what these students are dealing with.
The next time you see a junior high or high school student flying by on a skateboard, tagging a wall with some spray paint, or acting disrespectful, pause and pray for him or her. They’re not just kids. They are people. Many of them people in pain. Many of them wrestling with some punch-to-the-gut kinds of confusing questions that in a better world they would never need to ask.
Pray for their parents (step-parents or guardians). Pray for their siblings. Pray for their teachers, counselors, youth pastors (if they have one). And pray that through the dense fog of their pain, they will begin to see the bright light of God’s hope and healing, grace and mercy, care and compassion that He longs for them to feel.