A week or two ago I was reading, as I often do, Tim Challies’s daily blog. The observations he was making about millennials struck me as having exceptional insight. Take a look and see if what he writes strikes a chord with you in your own interactions with millennials at your workplace, in your retail outlet, at your gym – or even in your home …
We hear a lot about the millennials today, don’t we? Millennials are that generation born somewhere between the early eighties and around the year two thousand, which means they’re mostly young adults today. The way you hear some tell it, you’d think these millennials are the cause of or maybe the solution to just about every single problem in the world. Speaking personally, I love the millennials. Some of my favorite people just happen to be millennials. Well, I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with one of them and as I spoke with her, something clicked and I think I came to understand why that generation seems to be having some common struggles. So let me tell you today about the making of a miserable millennial.
Just a little while ago I was at the physical therapy clinic, getting some work done on my ailing arms and the therapist worked on me for a little while and then he handed off the treatment to this young student. She was there, I guess it was part of her training program. Now, if there’s ever a time you feel compelled to make small talk, I suppose it’s when someone is massaging your arms, or working over your arms in some way. And so, as she was doing that I started talking and I asked her about her program and about her work-place experience and what she planned to do with her life, and as we chatted, what came across was this deep discontentment. This deep sense of purposelessness. Really it was this deep, deep sadness. And I started asking myself, how did she get there? I know the neighborhood she’s from, and I tell you, it’s one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in all of Canada. So, it’s not like she’s lacking for anything in life. She went to a great high school and then had gone on to this higher education at a premier college. She had every privilege. She even had a work placement at what’s considered a really good clinic. And yet, as we talked, she was really, really unhappy. So how did she get to be such a miserable millennial?
Okay, I don’t want to extrapolate too much from a single conversation. It’s dangerous to make one person kind of stand-in for millions and millions. But, I asked her a lot of questions. And what she told me really displayed, and what she said to me was very consistent with what I’ve seen from so many other people from that generation. So here in my view, is how you go about making miserable millennials.
First, give them the notion that they’re all exceptional. You see, for years now, children have been assured, you are special, you are exceptional, you are one of a kind. Really, it’s been communicated to them that the world revolves around them. Their parents and their teachers, and even their therapists. Everybody’s been making this effort to boost their self-esteem, to make them feel like they are especially amazing people. I found out recently that, at my kid’s high school, something like 60 or 70 percent of the students are on the honor roll. Everybody’s on the honor roll. Well, that’s just in keeping with this whole philosophy of self-esteem. Make everybody special by putting everybody on the honor roll.
The second step is to entitle them. You see, in the past, we used to speak a lot of duty. Duty towards family, or nation, or society. No, no, today, we get rid of all that talk of duty. Instead, we talk about passion. Assure people, if they do have a duty, it’s only to themselves. Give them the notion they deserve to be happy. Fulfillment comes really by pursuing your personal passion. Assure them they deserve nothing less than to dedicate themselves to that thing in life they’re most passionate about, the good life, the best life. The only significant life is to pursue that one great passion.
Finally, when you’ve done all that, make sure you remove any notion of the transcendent. Let them believe that this life is all there is. This life is all that matters. Let them think, if you don’t find the highest pleasure now, you’ll never find it. If you never find the highest pleasure now, you’ve wasted your life. And maybe you can allow them to absorb some notion of life after death, maybe reincarnation, or something like that. But certainly, don’t let them think that they’re accountable to a true higher being, to a personal deity, to somebody who created them and created the world around them and because of all that, has a claim on them.
And I saw that’s exactly where this girl was. She knows, she’s convinced that she’s special. And she really believes she deserves to pursue her passion in life. She knows that nothing in the world is more important than her own happiness. She knows that her ultimate duty in life is to her own joy. She believes that she’s accountable to no one but herself. And that there’s nothing for her beyond this life and beyond the grave. So she’s been well educated, and she’s been well trained and she’s got a great job and she’s living a good life, but she’s miserable. Because she’s not sure that she’s passionate enough about this job, that she’s doing the best thing with her short little life. And she’s wondering, what will her life add up to if she doesn’t change the world? If in this short little life she’s got, she doesn’t accomplish something that’s worthy of the history books.
Well, I kept thinking about this, and I thought about how the Bible offers something so much better. The Bible offers true meaning and true hope. See the Bible assures us there is a higher being, there is a personal God who created the world and created all that’s in the world. The Bible begins with the words, in the beginning, God created. God pre-existed this world. He formed this world. And if he’s the creator, he’s got rights over everything that he’s made, and that includes people.
Second, the Bible agrees that each of us is exceptional in some way. It tells us we’re all created by God, we’re all created in the image of God. Each of us, fearfully and wonderfully made, just as God intended us to be. But it also tells us that we’re sinners. We’ve fallen far short of the glory of God. We’ve rebelled against God. Well, this knowledge then compels us, we must seek a solution to our sin. And that solution is to put our faith in Jesus Christ, to receive His salvation. We understand ourselves best when we understand we’re made in the image of God, we’ve rebelled against God, we’ve been saved by the kind grace of God.
And finally, that matter of entitlement. As forgiven sinners, we become deeply aware that we live by grace. We now live to bring glory to the one who saved us. We don’t need to live out our own passions. Something far better happens. We get to live out God’s passion. We don’t have to make much of ourselves. Far better, we get to make much of God. We don’t have to love ourselves. We get to love God and love others. See, it turns out that our true joy, that our deepest fulfillment comes by living outside of ourselves. We gain this glorious duty, this great delight of living for the good of other people, rather than the good of ourselves. We get to turn our gifts and our talents and our time and our energy and our enthusiasm, everything we are, we get to turn it all to doing good for others, which in turn brings glory to God. And of course, we now believe in someone. Someone who transcends this world. The fact, we’re convinced that we will exist beyond this world. We don’t need to live our best lives now because a better world is coming. A better world is awaiting us, where we’ll live eternally in a state of perfect harmony with God and man. We don’t have to experience every joy in the short time here, but we can wait and we can experience the fullness of joy in the life to come. So I guess my message to those miserable millennials is to look to the Bible. Pick it up, read it, try it. Why don’t you try it? Because within its pages, you’ll find out who you really are. You’ll find out who God really is. Who He calls you to be. And you’ll find how to live a life that is truly satisfying, a life that is never-ending.
27th November 2017, at challies.com
I think Challies is absolutely correct when he describes the angst millennials feel: all their lives they have been told they are exceptional, and yet they fear they will not have exceptional lives. Reality can be so disappointing to those who expect so much more for themselves. As we once heard a brother-in-law tell his wife, “You have to realise that the world isn’t your oyster – the oyster is your world.” What Dick meant was that it doesn’t hurt to realise our failings and mediocracy. This is where the gospel makes all the difference in the world. Once reconciled to the glorious God of the universe, we have the honour of being part of his great and truly exceptional plan of redemption. We are connected into the most exciting project that there has ever been: the salvation, and moral rescue, of men and women and boys and girls; and an eternal future in which there is no spot, wrinkle or possibility of failure. Rather than becoming irritated at their arrogance, have compassion for the millennials in your life and give them the greatest news ever. S.D.