You may have experienced a few curveballs that have created varying degrees of sadness in your life.
Maybe it was a missed opportunity of forgiveness, a job or financial loss, health struggles, a death, a breakup or some other deep disappointment that may have caused sorrow.
As parents responsible for children, these sorrows only worsen because we feel the need to be strong.
Sadness is a natural characteristic of being human. Fortunately, each has an opposite that causes joy, peace and passion. Even more fortunately, we are allowed forgiveness, healing and redemption through our faith.
The sweet and saltiness of life adds flavor. These combined experiences provide tremendous opportunities for perspective and perspective usually mellows the saltiness and makes things easier to digest.
I am in the exciting, yet stressful stage of completing my first book. Because I have worked with so many young people and their parents, I wanted to explore my own life journey and see if there might be something worth sharing.
I quickly realized the good and bad provided me with a rich perspective that fueled my living what I consider a passionate and purpose-filled life.
During my research, I came across a statistic that I often use when speaking to parent groups. It is something that all parents should know.
Every few years the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) prepares an in-depth report regarding our children’s behaviors. Just as President Barack Obama recently delivered his State of the Union Address, the CDC brings the public a status report on our youth. This, in my humble opinion, is even more important than the status of our nation. Our children are our greatest asset.
This comprehensive, eye-opening report may scare you, but hopefully it motivates you through knowledge to help create a healthier atmosphere for youth in your home and community. Explore it in depth at alturl.com/vmbid.
The most alarming statistic that has fueled me over the years whenever I work with youth in schools, churches or my leadership organization is that 29 percent of high school students self-report feeling sad or hopeless.
What? “Hopeless”? Adolescence and childhood are about dreaming. They’re about the opposite: hope!
We, as a Catholic community, are hopeful even in light of our brokenness. We must be the answer to this terrible trend. We must find little ways to create major change in a youth culture that feels hopeless.
That is not to say that the majority of teens are sad and hopeless. What it does mean is that almost three of every 10 teens feel that way, and many are on the path toward sadness.
As I said in the opening, hurt and sadness are a part of being human, but that number is too high for such a young age. Even if your son or daughter is not feeling sad and hopeless, there is a great chance he or she will be surrounded, if not affected, by hopeless teens. Hopeless teens do not make healthy decisions.
Like the sweet and saltiness of life, there is opportunity to mellow the saltiness. We have the opportunity to breathe God’s hope into the hopeless.
Your son or daughter has the chance to be an agent of change, and so do you. Even if there is one person, in one given week, that is lost, experiencing hurt, loneliness and hopelessness, God wants us to seek that person out and bring them to a more hopeful place.
In Luke 15, we are given a fantastic model for how to help those lost: Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has 100 sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the 99 in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
Sadness and hopelessness are not sins, but the decisions that stem from hopelessness most definitely are not healthy. God becomes distant in those dark moments. What can we, as parents, do to foster an atmosphere of finding lost children?
Let us always remember that we are a community. We live in communities, support community activities and worship as a part of a community. That means we are surrounded with daily opportunities to look for those who may be sad and lonely.
Our lives are so busy, and, if you are like me, they can grow selfish in nature, tending to your own needs that we don’t take the time to look around.
A community offers so many chances to reach out and “communicate” with neighbors and friends. In those interactions and relationships we discover needs and desires of those around us. Just knowing that statistic makes me want to more actively participate in the lives of young people.
Consider making your home a sanctuary for pizza and movie nights and sleepovers. Ask more questions, engage your kids and their friends in conversation beyond the normal. Ask more open-ended questions and most importantly, take the time to let their stories and concerns unfold.
A quick, “hi,” before homework or videogame time or as they run out the door is not going to do the trick. Find a way to get more involved and you will breathe hope wherever you go in the smallest of ways.
(Jeff Wenzler is a hopeful, single father of three children. Jeff attends All Saints Catholic Church in Milwaukee, and lives in Mequon where his children attend Lumen Christi Catholic School. Jeff is the founder and executive director of Pivotal Directions www.pivotaldirections.org, a non-profit servant leadership organization for youth. Jeff’s first book “The Pivotal Life: A Compass for Discovering Purpose, Passion & Perspective” will be published in spring.)