Being a millennial can be rough.
I don’t typically care about labels, as I find them restrictive, but categories of things clearly matter and being a millennial does predict certain traits.
It’s a generation of people whose jobs have been gutted by stupid trade deals.1
Most of them were raised with self-esteem centered parenting styles that can leave somebody crippled by even slight criticism.2
The majority of them were raised during the time when the public school system was facing it’s most colossal crises of content, teaching style, classroom sizes, and stupid advice to graduates.
The baby boomer generation has a tendency to make fun of millennial types for still living with mom and dad, but if the only jobs in an area are in the service industry or if those jobs are entry level internships with little to no pay, somebody can’t just move away and take them.
On the other hand, millennials can demonstrate above average narcissism and anxiety (one must ask though, do they simply have more outlets available for the normal human desire for honor and appreciation?).
Millennials also have, it seems, made some of the stupidest decisions regarding student loan debt of any generation. But, they go to college as kids after having been told that: any degree is better than no degree and that student loan debt is “good debt.” While the racket is obvious to adults, millennials hear these stupid messages in in high school.
Spiritually, millennials have grown up in the generation of parental outsourcing. Over the years working with college and high school students I’ve surveyed hundreds of millennials. Very few of them who identify as Christians read the Bible, prayed, or discussed discipleship to Christ with their parents.
Now, why do I care about all of this?
It’s actually just a clever segue for introducing you to a song:
In the song, the main character has had his car radio stolen and he’s forced to sit in silence:
I ponder of something terrifying
Cause this time there’s no sound to hide behind
I find over the course of our human existence
One thing consists of consistence
And it’s that we’re all battling fear
Oh dear, I don’t know if we know why we’re here
Oh my, too deep – please stop thinking
I liked it better when my car had sound
There are things we can do
But from the things that work there are only two
And from the two that we choose to do
Peace will win
And fear will lose
There’s faith and there’s sleep
We need to pick one please because
Faith is to be awake
And to be awake is for us to think
And for us to think is to be alive
And I will try with every rhyme
To come across like I am dying
To let you know you need to try to think
In ancient times, some Christians found the need to simply sit in silence in order to overcome the temptations of being within a society dominated by evil ideas, destructive images, and worst of all their own words leading people into evil. Henri Nouwen wrote very eloquently of modern man’s experience of silence and 21 Pilots’ song reminded me of this paragraph:
“In solitude I get rid of my scaffolding: no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to entertain, no books to distract, just me-naked vulnerable, weak, sinful, deprived, broken-nothing. It is this nothingness that I have to face in my solitude, a nothingness so dreadful that everything in my wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness and make myself believe that I am worth something. But that is not all. As soon as I decide to stay in my solitude, confusing ideas, disturbing images, wild fantasies, and weird associations jump about in my mind like monkeys in a banana tree. Anger and greed begin to show their ugly faces. I give long hostile speeches to my enemies and dream lustful dreams in which I am wealthy, influential, and very attractive- or poor, ugly, and in need of immediate consolation. Thus I try again to run from the dark abyss of my nothingness and restore my false self in all its vainglory.”3
Now, the horrors described by Nouwen are the inheritance of all the sons of Adam who, like their father, have chosen to go astray from God. And most of us love the darkness of being distracted because our deeds are evil and exposed by the light, whether or God or simply of a silent moment wherein our consciousness can absorb the quieted cries of our hoarse and weakened consciences.
If I were to give a challenge to millennials, I would tell them to spend more time in silence and solitude. Many don’t know themselves or even know that they have a soul. We cannot repent if we do not know what’s wrong with us. And we cannot, in my mind, love our enemies if we do not know how thoroughly we’ve been the enemy of our own happiness.
If millennials would spend some time in silence, perhaps they would know that one’s response to circumstances does not have to be a spirit of defeat. And indeed, for Christians there is a Spirit of love, power, and self-control. But one has to see the wreckage of their own soul in order to submit to it’s reformation.
There is a distinctly Christian response to living with an existential dread that your deeds don’t matter and that the wrungness in your soul is unique to yourself. It’s to get to know this person that you’ve become and to recognize that the God before whom every quark and quasar is displayed knows you even better and still loves you. Even further, it’s to think about genuine solutions to the problems you face. The purposes in our hearts are deep. Nevertheless the wise man, and I would add, the wisdom of solitude can help us draw them out. Once you know your habits of thought and feeling when undistracted, it’s a lot easier to change them.
1This book made me rethink almost everything I think about trade. I highly recommend it:
Ian Fletcher, Edward Luttwak, and United States Business and Industrial Council, Free Trade Doesn’t Work: What Should Replace It and Why (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Business and Industry Council, 2010).
2Carol S Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (New York: Random House, 2006).
3Henri J. M Nouwen, The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry, 1981, 17-18