What I learn from High School Students: Vulnerable vs. Venerable

I love working with high school students. I have spent the last ten years or so hanging out around youth camps and youth groups, and whether leading small groups at church or speaking at camps, I have learned some valuable lessons from the millions of interactions I’ve had over the years.

I want to talk about one lesson I’ve learned this summer that has affected the way I think about myself and other people. When we become adults, being vulnerable gets traded in for being venerable. (Vulnerable-capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt Venerable- Commanding respect because of great age or impressive dignity) Let me explain. As an adult, I go thru life with life with something to lose. At thirty years old, I have quite a bit to lose that I didn’t have 10 years ago. And people with something to lose act different than those that don’t. As we get older, and as we acquire more influence, money, children, square footage, or whatever else makes us venerable members of society, our life posture is about self-protection, and we live with the fear of what we might lose and how it might hurt us. I don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing, I just mean it to say it clouds our judgment, and often leads us to make choices that are less about what is right and more about keeping what we have. As Al Gore once said ““You can’t make somebody understand something if their salary depends upon them not understanding it.” As we get older, ignorance isn’t about what we don’t know like it is when we are young, it becomes about what we choose to not know.

Perhaps this is the nature of high school students I have come to enjoy, envy, and respect. They don’t live their life in a state of self-protection, wondering what they might lose if they say the wrong thing or appear to not have the answer. This is perhaps the nature of vulnerability. Living your life, speaking, dreaming, and being as if there is only something to gain, not something to lose, is a beautiful place.

As an adult, vulnerability flattens me. It puts me on equal footing with the most influential and least, the wealthiest and poorest, the righteous and the unrighteous, and it frees me from the exhausting game of self-protecting.

When I read the scriptures, who is it that Jesus wants to be around? It’s vulnerable people. Vulnerable people bleed for twelve years and throw elbows to get thru crowds. Vulnerable people tear roofs off of houses. Vulnerable people sell all their stuff. Come to think of it, having faith like a child is starting to make a lot of sense.