Why Millennials Struggle to Trust God’s Love

I think some of our better insights come in the cross-pollination of ideas as we read and discover truth across disciplines. Recently I’ve been reading Jim and Judy Raymo’s Millennials and Mission, a great resource for an aging GenX’er like me to figure out these young bucks (i.e., new co-workers who are my kids’ age) coming into our organization. Some great insights, and some over-generalizations I’m sure; but expected in a book of this nature. All in all, I highly recommend it to those who are trying to help bridge the generation gap within ministry (no matter which side of that gap you find yourself).

But to the point of this post: I was reading this book and simultaneously doing a study on Psalm 18:1: “I love you O Lord, my strength.” I begin to ponder the love of God and our love back to Him. It dawned on me a major reason why Millennials (and many GenX’ers) may struggle with holding on to the wonderful truth that God loves us even as we walk through difficult times. Raymo writes,

Perhaps unwittingly, the parents of these young people have contributed to the making of a group that has been called “Generation Me”…Smaller nuclear families and the threats (real and perceived) of contemporary life meant many of them grew up with “helicopter parents,” who hovered about with zealous care and the anxious desire to make their children’s lives perfect. Mom and Dad did all they could to guard and protect young self-images from failure and embarrassment and intervened to smooth out any problems. (emphasis added)

In other words, parents of most Millennials and many GenX’ers (because I think this trend began before the generational divide), shielded and sheltered their children from the difficult realities of life in order to keep them from pain or damaging their self-image. We see the fruit of this when every kid gets a “Participation Award” in a sports tournament rather than naming winners and losers—just so no children feel bad about themselves.

We can see the change in generational thinking by looking at a concrete example. How have parents dealt with their kids when they got into trouble at school? (Disclaimer: I realize this is a terrible over-generalization, but I think it largely reflects the attitudes of the eras, though I’m sure you can find many exceptions.)

  • Builders (before 1942) – “If my Boomer child gets in trouble at school, they’re in double trouble at home.”
  • Boomers (1942-65) – “If my Gen X child gets in trouble at school, they will need to learn their lesson from it.”
  • Gen X (1965-82) – If my Millennial child gets in trouble at school, I’m going up to give that teacher a piece of my mind…e., intervene and “fix” the problem.

Thus, we have a generation or more growing up where parental love is expressed by intervening to fix all of the child’s problems. I know as a parent that is my own tendency. I fit the Gen X pattern. But the problem is that’s not God’s pattern. In fact, sometimes God in his infinite love and wisdom takes us through extended periods of difficulty and times of testing for which there are no quick fixes or easy answers. Thus if we are conditioned to think that love is expressed by the removal of the problem, when the problem persists we begin to doubt the constancy of the love of God.

But the pattern of the Scriptures is that God is with us through the difficulties, through the darkness, even when he does not rescue us out of it. Consider the story of Job. Or Joseph. Or David. All of these great saints went through many years of difficulty before God brought them to a place of rest and victory. And the suffering was for a purpose.

We do well to remember these and other examples, along with the words of Romans 8:35-38:

 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So, parents, the next time your young one has a problem, instead of rushing in to fix it right away, instead of marching down to the principal’s office, instead of intervening to remove the difficulty, take an example from our heavenly Father and walk with your son or daughter through the problem. Teach them to wrestle with it, to learn resilience, to overcome. It’s not the easy route; it’s not the popular route. But, to steal a line from Robert Frost, that less traveled path may make all the difference.

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About Neil Burleson

I serve as a missionary in the country of Papua New Guinea.
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