Many of us, as at least somewhat resourced and experienced adults, find ourselves battling decision fatigue, creative burnout, and “the overwhelms” during this time of ongoing pandemic. Our children and youth experience the same thing. Mentors, parents, and youth leaders can support young people in their resilience and faith through fatigue and frustration. A helpful way to do that is to lift up others who have found ways to thrive outside of their comfort zone in situations that were previously inconceivable. The key is not to lift up the superpowers of solo warriors, but instead to point out how everyday people wrestling with fear or hindrance can still do incredible things through God and accepting help.
A gift from this unconventional era is the wealth of heroic, courageous, and loving stories that have emerged from around the globe. Young people have been powerful voices for climate justice, anti-racism, and gender equity. Youth groups have raised funds and volunteered hours for disaster relief and support of unhoused people. In our current pandemic time, though, how we share these stories and what aspects of bold role models we lift up can be as or more significant than the achievement.
Moses is often referred to as a miraculous, sea-parting liberator of enslaved people. Oh, and he can also call down plagues of multiple insects on folks who get out of line. Dramatic but not terribly accessible. When using the story of Moses with our young people, we can help them see themselves in the hero role by centering Moses having a speech impediment and partnering with his sister and brother to brainstorm solutions that saved the day. He also took regular breaks to process with God, seek discernment, and rest up! One of my personal heroines, Deborah, also called upon a friend with considerable knowledge and experience (the soldier Barak) when God called her to do something she wasn’t terribly familiar with.
There has been an encouraging turn in recent news cycles toward also emphasizing the importance of shared support, self-care, asking for help, and admitting when we are struggling. The Olympic coverage transitioned from the high-pressure label of “G.O.A.T.” (greatest of all time) for gymnast Simone Biles, to millions of Americans offering support as she withdrew from the majority of her Olympic events to care for her mental health and also actively supported her teammates in their quest victories. Singer/songwriter Taylor Swift’s recent Netflix documentary showed a young woman taking a foray into political activism and battling an eating disorder—and not always being successful.
The highly regarded research-based youth development resource, Roots of Action, names three attributes in truly empowering role model choices for young people; they emphasize that failure is necessary for success, taking initiative on things that bring internal as well as external reward, and overcoming life challenges by embodying a growth mindset.
It can be terribly tempting to fall prey to the competition that pits our young people against each other, the world, and their own well-being. During this time of increased stress and demand, it is more important than ever to give concrete examples of faithful accomplishment, spiritual bravery, and practical resilience that resonate with our youth. Thoughtfully curating our contemporary and biblical examples can be powerful inspiration for that journey.