My Generation

I attended a prayer service the other day for a man I had a three-degree separation with, knew vaguely, having met once. The man, a very Christian man I was told and remembered, is starting treatment for a brain tumor. I went hoping, trying to cope with the constant flood of self-centeredness that is in me. I went hoping that for however long the service lasted, however long I was asked to pray silently with others, that I could keep my thoughts focused on the topic at hand, a man who could possibly die.

I left home knowing there would be many distractions—the probable attendance of a girl I liked, the anxiety of walking into a crowd of people I don’t know and the lingering doubt that I was only going to get out of the house on a Monday night.

So I set the goal. And began to pray. I sat in the back, arriving just as the crowd of about 100 or so had begun to pray. It was not my place to pray out loud but I went hoping that by listening to others pray I could better learn how to show agape, that I could better learn how to address God.

I went hoping that my mind wouldn’t drift to work, to where I was with God or where the girl I liked was sitting.

I opened and closed my eyes, moved my feet from the back of the chair in front of me to the floor a few times and dragged my fingers through my hair every now and then.

But I was praying, I knew I was.

I was listening to the great words about God others were saying and told myself I knew what they meant. I was keying on the promises of God I know—he will always be with us, the God of all comfort, the one who suffered for us, the great Abba.

But after my best abilities to concentrate on something that was so spiritual and needed, I noticed a piece of hair on my sock. Then I remembered the time in college when I subscribed to the newspaper and was rude to the person who called wondering why I wasn’t continuing it after three months. Then I remembered at work the next day I had to calculate some frustrating numbers.

Then I remembered…then I remembered…then I remembered…then I remembered what generation I am from.

We want more than one distraction. We don’t like silence. We don’t like idleness. The most we can stay in one place, doing one thing, probably is as long as it takes Friends to get to the first commercial. We don’t write letters—we speak in fragments in e-mail. We abbreviate forever—24-7. We have no patience for life. We have no patience for its slowness. That we can’t have it now, that it takes five minutes to warm the Salisbury steak. We don’t like songs with five verses, the hymns never used in our modern services. We don’t like books, the kind that aren’t daily devotionals.

We don’t like paragraphs with more than one sentence.

We don’t like a God who is long on patience. We don’t care for His ways not just because they are not our own, but that yes, we are glad He planned it all but for God sakes why does He take so long to show it to us?

My generation. I am wondering how I ever learned to live outside it. I wonder at times if I ever do.

My rightful place is not of this world, though I was born in this generation, in this era of instant access. I wonder how my personal world might sometimes be better if I stopped trying to live above my generation and just flock to its patterns.

I wouldn’t have to like long books, letters with 16 chapters and holy hours. I wouldn’t have to like confession, repentance, confession, repentance, confession… I wouldn’t have to like just a certain percentage of the single women in the world.

But I do like those things. I like knowing some girl out there is hoping for a heavenly home and a sacrificial husband. I like conversations that include no second face to nod. I like prayer when I don’t say much, or nothing at all. I like silence, especially when it is filled with presence.

I like those things, those things that have been taught to me. I was not born loving them and that is perhaps why at times I live like I don’t need those things.

My generation is lost, I know that. Hope for my generation is not large. That’s not because being lost is anything new—generations before have been just as lost and perhaps hid it better. My generation is different, though. My generation knows, more than any before it, that it is lost. Perhaps that is why we run headlong into life, and its lostness. We know how lostness feels and we love it—because we have grown so numb to other ways. Pigs relishing their own mud. We are fated to this because we have ignored the light for so long.

At every turn, at every chance of turning to God, who gives abundant life, my generation admits its lostness and keeps walking toward the mud. I wonder why I don’t more often. The answer—He chose me. Why, I don’t know. I am only blessed He did. He chose me so I could find myself—find myself by knowing Him and his presence. I like presence that overwhelms me, overtakes me. I like presence that forces a little less of me and a lot more of Him. Isn’t that the definition of presence, like when a beautiful woman or powerful man enters a room—we all look and are lost in their presence.

In so many ways I am a product of my generation. I had acne. I made out. I read Catcher in the Rye and took up writing because I read so many good people who did it. I moved when I was young but spent the teens in the same town where my parents still live in Georgia. And I went to college where none of my friends did.

I was 6 or 7 when I watched the Challenger explode, though I don’t recall. I sent a message by pager to my father when the gulf war started. And I was on my way to work when the towers were hit.

But of course I am so different.

I talk about vision sometimes, how the church is failing, how the world is too much in her midst and how sometimes I feel no one knows the difference. But I am no prophet of my time. Outside my circle of friends I am not known, as far as I know.

I found Christ as a freshman in high school through Young Life. And while I hope it is not a knock on their reputation to have me in their group, I am paying back the favor. So maybe there is a legacy there. Legacy is a strange word for a 23-year-old. I worry that someone might think I am too young to write an autobiographical essay.

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So there are both hopes and hang-ups. There is both depression and joy. There is both sin and the spirit living in me.

The biggest gulf between me and my generation may be that I may work harder to be more of a man, a real man and therefore falter more at it.

They may do better with women in the short run, but I am clinging to the principle that my way, his way, will pay off. Though I pursue relationships like someone waking up in the middle of the night groping for the light switch—with some sense of direction but no clear guidance. (I think sometimes I don’t know how to do it, and catch myself taking lessons from MTV’s The Real World. Then I remember that God has not just given me a new way to live, he has given me a new way to love.)

The hang-ups are not superficial, though. They are deeply ingrained in me. So much that some times when I get real depressed, I think of the mansion he is building and ask if my room is ready yet.

But the hopes are just as deep.

I know that each day I end His because you can’t erase something that happened 2,000 years ago. And I am not alone in these hopes (and hang-ups) because my friends tell me so. Each time we pray for each other and each day we are not like the rest of the world, each time those acts happen, God smiles. He tells us that his grace is not about our works, but about His. And that dichotomy is the one others have struggled with, all the way back to my friend Paul. And because I relate to people way back then I know I relate to people now.

It’s why I was put here—somehow by speaking about myself I speak to others, for others who want to speak to God but don’t know where to start. I tell them He began where I was and has moved me closer to where He is.

That is my ministry, hopefully my legacy. And hopefully that simple goal will be a light to my generation.

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