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Used to Go to Church: "That's me!"

Recently I spent a day at a high school speaking to health classes about anxiety, depression and suicide. As a law enforcement chaplain, I shared about several teenage suicides and the devastating impact that choice had on the families, especially the parents. I tell students that you never just kill yourselves, you put to death the people that love you the most. Suicide is not an option.

Towards the end of my time I ask the students if they know someone who is experiencing anxiety and depression who may be suicidal. All day, about half of each class would raise their hand when asked the same question. If that doesn't get your attention regarding the state of affairs of our young people today, I don't know what would! It is a whole different world in which this Gen Z is living than the one I grew up in during the 60's and 70's. We certainly had drugs, wars, violence, racial injustice and partisan politics but today is different in a way that is difficult to understand.

The health class teacher I was with all day was a delightful veteran teacher. She had great rapport with her students and you could tell she loved her job. When school ended and the students had left the classroom I remembered I had a copy of my book, Used to Go to Church, in my backpack and I gave it to her. She excitedly accepted it and made me sign it (increases the value!). The teacher took one look at the title and said, "That's me! I used to go to church." I've heard that over and over again when giving the book away to those I know who don't attend church.

I explained to her how I came up with the title and she further elaborated on what she meant about "used to go to church." When she was a teenager she belonged to a church and attended youth group regularly. She recalled when the church had an evangelist come and speak. His fire and brimstone message profoundly unsettled her and made her feel so bad about herself that she eventually walked away from church. "I'm not an atheist, I still believe in God and am a spiritual person."

I shared with her how I run into a lot of people just like her and for whom I wrote the book. They no longer belong to an organized church but consider themselves believers. People who want God but they don't want church. Of course, most of these people I meet don't realize that they are the church and that by believing in God thus loving themselves, others and the world is actually, in part, doing church--if church can be done. We talked for about thirty minutes and I couldn't help but think that Christ "being in all things" was in her working himself out in her life in a way only the Christ could.

I also can't help but think about all those students who are experiencing great anxiety and depression, some of whom just don't want to live any longer in this world. Talk about a need for salvation. I mean to be saved from themselves into the loving arms of a God who is best displayed and received in the here and now from those who know the love of God themselves.

The world is changing rapidly before our very eyes. There isn't much time anymore for children to be children. With all the advances in technology, science and intelligencia the souls of many are in despair. How is that possible? Despite all the advances, we've neglected the significance of the soul of mankind and avoided progress in what counts most in life--faith, hope and love.

I left the school to go meet with a couple who are friends. Their young adult son passed away after a long battle with cancer and I'm officiating his upcoming memorial. They used to go to church. They believe in God.

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We're living in some crazy times. I wish we were all more open and transparent with our struggles with those that love us. Young adults seem to be losing the ability to verbally communicate with others leaving them and those that love them in an awkward/dangerous place. Also, it seems many young adults (I have 4) don't like to be asked probing/difficult questions. This prompts me to often think. What questions should I ask? What words would best be used? How or when to ask these questions? What order should I ask them? It's almost a daily self dialog.

Side note - How do we know that someone who used to go to church will enter the kingdom of heaven?…

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