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Answer the Questions the Need Answering

Last Saturday evening I spent about an hour and a half sitting crossed-legged on the bed in the basement room of one of my 13-year-old parishioners while she and her two friends fired questions at me non-stop. As soon as I took a breath in an answer, mostly to check my own brain to be sure that I was on track, the next question shot out, hung in the air in a pleading way and fell into my lap.

The reason for this break-neck-paced session (imagine ordination exams on MTV) was the young person’s declaration that she was “a Satanist or a Wiccan” (she seemed to go back and forth between the two). This revelation, as I’m sure you can imagine, had so traumatized her parents that they had sent for the cavalry (me, our Christian educator and her husband, a recently retired high school principal).

As my colleagues talked with the parents upstairs, I felt the Spirit drawing me to the basement to talk with the girls. I did not know what to expect, but I surely did not expect the torrent of genuine questions and the irrepressible energy they had for things spiritual. It was a very holy time.

The last few days I have pondered that experience with almost every breath I take. Their questions were simple and in many ways profound. What happens to us when we die? Do we know that we are dead? What does it feel like to die? I used to pray but God never answered me; why? Why don’t I feel God’s presence? If God created me and loves me why am I fat? Does God ever really do anything? Did God just make us for God’s entertainment? Why are so many Christians so afraid? Is my friend that was killed in hell because he was not a Christian? Satan says that the only purpose of God is to thwart natural human impulses and desires. What do you think the purpose of God is? Why are so many Christians so judgmental? Why are so many Christians so unhappy? If God is powerful why did God let my friend’s father break his arm when he came home last night? Is sex always wrong? If we are supposed to wait until we’re married, then why did God make boys so determined to have it all the time? (I’ll admit I stumbled a little on that one!)

And on and on the questions came, so much so that when I finally had to leave, the girls followed me up the stairs saying “Just one more question. Just two more questions?”

This young teen-ager lives in a beautiful home. She is loved and cared for by two well-educated, affluent young parents. She attends church regularly with her family. Yet she and her friends, and I would submit, all of our children are vulnerable in ways that even those of us in our 20s and 30s cannot imagine. They do not see the church as authentically spiritual nor do they see the God of the church as a real source of power, comfort and identity. So they are looking elsewhere for those things.

So what are we to do? A couple of things have occurred to me so far.

1. We are to recognize and to celebrate the spiritual energy and eagerness that our young people have and do what we can to channel it into faithful directions.

2. We are to live the life we want them to have. If we believe that Christ is the answer, then we need to live as if we do. If we believe that God has power for today we need to be vehicles of that power in ways that are tangible and discernible.

3. We are to take their questions seriously and to give them serious answers. I pray with all my heart that I will never again smile from a distance at the honest questions and struggles of young people in my charge.

I’ve spent a lot of years of ministry answering questions that nobody but me was asking. Perhaps that is what I will give up for Lent.

Why not join me in orienting the services of worship during Lent around the real and profound questions that believers young and old have? (I could use a guest preacher some Sunday to address the 13-year-old male psyche.)

Anybody available?


Eugenia Gamble is pastor, First church, Birmingham, Ala.