Be honest: do you have any ugly teens? I don’t mean like physically unattractive teens. I mean teens that have ugly personalities. You know, the ones that are most difficult to love and serve. I think that the “ugly teen syndrome” comes in many different forms. But here are a few that I have encountered:
- Lacks Confidence/Bossy Teen: This is the kind of teen who is so unsure of themselves that they spend all their time bossing other people around. They lack humility and tact, but only because they are so worried that they won’t be liked or loved.
- Mean and Cocky Teen: This teen is confident that they are God’s gift to the opposite sex, prayer groups, Life Teen, Mass, your ministry, school, their family, and really, the world. They interrupt talks because they are sure that whatever they say is more insightful and funny that what you were about to say. They dominate youth group sports, and every conversation ends up about them.
- Chameleon Teen: For this teen, the social situation and group of people with whom they are speaking sets the tone for how they are going to act. Around kids that party? Yeah I party. Around kids that don’t? Never had a beer in my life.
- Always crying over a Girl/Guy Teen: You asked, “How’s it going?” Before you know it, you have been in your office for 90 minutes listening about how this boy/girl just won’t notice this teen, and how he/she doesn’t know how they are going to deal with not going to prom with out him/her.
- Hyper/Hypo Teen: This teen won’t slow down even to breath. This is the teen that you pull aside think you have calmed them down and yet, 30 seconds later they are poking another teen with a stick.
- Résumé Teen: Ever had teens that only signed up for events, mission trips, and leadership roles so that they could pad their résumé? They are great to have, but the point of all that we do never seems to stick.
- “My Buddy” Teen: Every now and again a teen will stick so closely to the youth minister, mimicking them and seeking to be like them, that they forget they are supposed to be emulating Christ, not their YM.
Any names come to mind? I thought so. I know that these characterizations aren’t the whole story on any teenager, and that no one is completely described by one of these descriptions.
But the question remains: what do we do with these teens? Is our first instinct to surround ourselves with the teens that are easy to love and get along with? I think that the ‘difficult to love” teens are gifts from God to remind us what it really means to love unconditionally.
Remember, God set the standard:
“But God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8
God did not wait for us to be “lovable.” He chooses to love us when we are difficult, sinful and even ugly. We can love even the “ugliest” teen because God loved us first. We love teens and minister to them out of response to this unconditional love. No youth minister, parent or priest will ever love teens (or anyone) enough to overcome all the reasons not to love them, but God’s love can. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are both a testament to that love and a calling to all those who wish to follow Jesus that we must love those who are hard to love.
My very first year in ministry a priest at our parish had just handed a check for $100 dollars to a woman to help pay her rent. After looking at the information she had provided, he realized that she had just cheated him out of the money. He turned to me and he said this:
“Chris, you are probably standing there wondering how I still do this, hand out money to people who need it, after I have been cheated so many times. The answer is when they walk through the door, I don’t see Kenseisha or Daren or Mario; I see the face of Christ. If I hadn’t made the decision to look for Christ in each person, I am not sure I would still be able to do this.”
And he walked back to his office.
My prayer for both you and me is that somehow we look for the face of Christ in every teen we encounter no matter how “ugly” they are. For when we encounter these teens, we are meeting Christ face to face. Let our response to the face of Christ, always be that of love. Thanks for reading. Keep it real. God Bless.