I sat down for a meeting with our youth pastor the other day. My husband and I work in the youth ministry on Sunday mornings, and every so often I sit down with our youth pastor to check in. This coming Sunday, he’s planning to speak about loving your enemies, and he asked me who I thought a middle school girl’s enemy was.
For a minute, I was stumped. Who is a middle school girl’s enemy? Enemy is one of those words we don’t use very often in this day and age. Unlike in earlier eras of history, we don’t live in day-to-day fear of another person or country causing us harm. In this day and age, our enemies aren’t quite as easy to identify, especially when it comes to our kids.
Then it hit me. A middle school girl’s worst enemy is the judgment of other people. It’s worrying about what others think and trying desperately to fit a mold that someone else has made for her. It’s the constant battle to take the unique creation that God has made her to be and trying to conform to the pattern of a world she was never designed to fit.
Our kids, middle school girls or not, all struggle to fit in at times. They all struggle to be liked and find their place. They simply struggle to make their way in a world where everyone is watching, and it seems everyone is judging.
We can tell our kids not to worry about what other people think and to live their lives worrying about what God thinks, but the reality is when they make a choice that isn’t popular, when they choose God’s path instead of their friend’s, our kids are going to face judgment from their peers. They’re going to struggle with the need to fit in versus the need to follow God. And they are going to sometimes make decisions based on avoiding that judgment.
The truth is that we do it, too. We never really outgrow the need to have the approval of other people. We never really get to the point where we can live with our hearts and minds only concerned about what God thinks and not what anyone else thinks.
Because it’s hard to live in the face of someone else’s disapproval. It’s hard to stand up when the world says one thing and God says another. And it’s especially hard when you’re just a kid, and it seems the whole social world revolves around being accepted.
So, how do we help our kids choose God’s road when all of their friends are taking the world’s road? How do we help them stand up in the face of judgment from their peers?
We face down another enemy — self-doubt and low self-esteem. For our kids to have the confidence to choose the right path in the face of the judgment of others, they have to be secure in who they are and secure in who God is. We have to teach them that they are God’s masterpiece. They have to know that God is always with them. They have to understand that though the path may not always be easy, the rewards are so very worth it.
And that means we spend time talking with them. We spend time pointing out that the judgment of others is often based on those people’s insecurities. We make sure that home is a place where they feel loved and like they can talk without judgment. We remind them continually that they were made to be holy, they were made to be set apart. And, to the best of our ability, we surround them with friends who choose to build up rather than tear down. We help them choose a circle of friends who are also seeking to follow Jesus — because it’s so much easier to walk God’s path when you have someone to walk it with you.
Our kids’ worst enemies are fearing the judgment of others and facing down their own insecurities. They can’t deal with those things and choose to walk God’s path for them without our help. They need to know we have their backs and no matter how much judgment is heaped on them outside the walls of our home, inside they will be sheltered and rebuilt. They will be loved and prayed for. They won’t ever have to wonder if anyone is walking that path with them — because we will be right beside them.