“Describe your 2020 in three words.
‘Insane, Lonely, Family-Oriented’
‘Long, Careful, Frustrating’
‘Boring, Sad, Regenerative’
‘Chaotic, Uneventful, Agonizing'”
As a project for January of 2021, we at Youth Ministries interviewed four students and asked them to tell us about their 2020, in their own words. We asked the questions, open-ended ones like “What have you learned?” and “How has how you understand the world changed?” and then just let the teenagers talk for as long as they liked, about whatever they liked, with no comment from us other than “Thank you for sharing.” We were intentional about creating space for them to share whatever it was they needed to say. Then we edited the videos together and shared them, without comments, analysis, disclaimer, or “lesson.”
They were sweet, and funny, and poignant, and hopeful, and honest. They were also often deeply sad. Teenagers reflected stories of loss, of grief and confusion, alongside stories of deep faith, of a richer understanding of who God could be and where God could be, of the value of family, and of what’s really important. They took my breath away.
Teenagers spend much more of their time being talked to by adults than they spend talking to adults. During this season of the pandemic, zoom classes and decreased organic social interaction has further exasperated this dynamic. We recorded and posted these videos as a way of giving teenagers a chance to speak on their own terms for a while and hearing what they understood as going on in their lives.
At the end of the interviews, we asked them to summarize their 2020 in three words. If you look to those sets of three words, you’ll see what we saw: tension between sadness, resignation, and hope. Good, bad, and ugly all mixed in together. Complexity, nuance, and the unresolved reality of trying to process a crisis you’re still in the middle of. It’s messy, and complicated, and real.
We all go through a process of meaning-making, of deciding what we make of the world around us and what it means for who we are and who God is. Teenagers are often more attuned to this process than adults are, and listening to these teenagers try to make meaning of massive loss is honestly pretty gut-wrenching at times. You want to interrupt them and encourage or comfort, but it does us well, for just a few minutes, to simply listen.
Even if you aren’t adjacent to teenagers, I encourage you to listen to their honesty, and to notice the themes in what they say: that it’s ok to struggle, that honest community means more than right answers, and that God is bigger than they ever imagined. The truths they speak to are truths that apply to all of us, and ones that we may only be able to articulate if we take the time to truly listen and understand the stories of others (and our own stories) without justification, qualification, or judgment.
I encourage you to listen. I’ve gained so much from doing so, and I hope you do too. You can find them at @fumcfwyouth on Instagram or on the FUMC Fort Worth Youth Ministries Facebook page, or here on the vlog.
Director of Youth Ministries