Shelby Abbott: They’re Craving More than a Big Mac
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Real Life Loading podcast host Shelby Abbott knows what young adults sinking with doubt and anxiety–crave from the Church. Could you help?
Shelby Abbott: They’re Craving More than a Big Mac
Shelby: “Come to me because I want to be a representation of Jesus to you,” [to] your kid. We want to share the gospel with our kids verbally, but we want to share the gospel with our kids in our actions as well. That’s one of the most remarkable ways to do that—is to enter into their pain—that is the gospel.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: We had Shelby Abbott in the studio—
Ann: —which was really fun.
Dave: Yes; people were like, “Oh, now I know a little bit of the story behind the voice.” He’s the voice wrapping up FamilyLife Today every day. We did two programs with him about his life, and passions of his life, and helping our listeners get to know him.
Ann: Then we ended, and we just kept talking.
Dave: Yes, we thought the mikes were off, actually.
Ann: You can tell, because I keep responding over and over. [Laughter]
Dave: Bruce kept the mikes on, as a good audio engineer should do, because you never know what you might capture. Our conversation went places that was really good content—
Ann: —amazing! [Laughter]
Dave: I mean, it really was a really good conversation; so we thought, “You know what? Let’s let our listeners hear what we talked about after we thought we were done talking.” [Laughter] We were still talking, and it’s content that I think is life-changing; so listen in.
Shelby: The way is narrow; the way is narrow. By its very nature of being narrow, there are going to be people, who are just never going to walk that narrow path.
- But in humility, [some] saying: “This is what it is…”—and being open to our blind spots, and allowing people to point that stuff out instead of being right all the time.
- But narrowness of like: there are going to be people, who walk away; and people who I would label as never walking away/never ever walking away; or like compromising in certain areas and calling evil good.
I have discovered, all the more: “But for the grace of God go I,” and “Lord Jesus, protect me. May I never lose my first love.”
Ann: Yes, yes.
Shelby: Because I’ve seen a lot of people—and granted, I’m only in my 40s—but I’ve seen people I went to college with, I went on summer missions with, shared the gospel with—pitch it [the gospel] for something that’s just never anywhere close to as glorious as a relationship with Jesus; and [I] go, “Really?!”
I could have made those decisions, too; and I really honestly think that the fact that I’ve not been successful in the world’s eyes, and the fact that I’ve suffered, is what’s kept me walking with Jesus. Again, while those are bad in some ways, I look at them and go, “Those are the greatest things that have protected me from walking away.”
Ann: We would say the same. It’s so true—because you’re so needy; you can’t do it without Him—the celebrity status of Christianity is killing us.
Shelby: It’s crumbling now too.
Ann: Yes; good!
Shelby: Keller’s talked a lot about this, too: “I didn’t write my first book until I was 55.”
Ann: Oh, I didn’t know that.
Shelby: Yes, Paul Tripp got published the first time at 45. Keller’s cancer; Paul Tripp, kidney failure;—
Dave: See, honey, we’re in good company.
Ann: I know!
Shelby: Matt Chandler, brain cancer;—
Ann: —brain cancer.
Shelby: —Piper had cancer; David Platt lost everything in Hurricane Katrina, sold everything, went overseas. People, who are generally—not always—but generally influential for the kingdom, they are sufferers.
Ann: I agree.
Dave: I also think what you’re tapping into—at that ten-year window, or ten-, or fifteen-year window—that’s a pivotal time; because so many college kids, often, are involved in some kind of ministry if they’re walking with Jesus in college; they’re connected.
Dave: They step out of college—we’ve seen this over and over—it’s like they don’t—
Shelby: —don’t know how.
Dave: —get connected in a church or whatever, and they just/they walk away slowly—
Ann: —they drift.
Dave: —from their faith. It doesn’t happen in one year but in five to seven years. Who’s speaking into their life? How are they connecting? So you’re tapping into that generation. They may say they walk away at 40 or 45, but it might have started at 20.
Shelby: It started, yes, a lot sooner; and it usually is a slow drift. It usually is.
I saw this video online of this guy—it must have been overseas/this canal—and he had this sheep who was wedged into this canal. This video starts with him pulling this sheep out, and pushing him up over the hill; and the sheep pops out, and it starts running; and he climbs out of the canal. The sheep runs and goes on a U-turn and, literally, jumps right back into the canal, sideways again. [Laughter] It’s completely stuck, and he just throws up his arms and walks off camera. [Laughter]
I’m like, “Thank God that God doesn’t do that with us.” Because that’s like literally what we do: He picks us up, pries us out of this canal; we run/we jump back in; and He jumps right back in after us. That’s what we need. Young people are going to fail—they just are—they’re going to make stupid decisions. We’re going to go, “Why did you do that?” They’re going to go [sheepishly], “I don’t know.” “But that’s okay; I did the same thing when I was your age. Let me help pry you out of this canal and go back.”
Ann: That’s a good reminder as disciplers: “Just stay in the ditch; they’re coming back.” [Laughter]
Shelby: Yes; “Just walk ten feet north, and they’ll meet you there when they jump back in again.”
Dave: I think the other lie we sort of believe is they don’t want moms and dads/they don’t want mentors. They are longing—
Shelby: They are.
Dave: —for those of us who are a little older, and have life experience, to turn around and say, “How can I help?” Am I right?
Shelby: Maybe, yes—not: “How can I help?” in theory—but: “Let me help you here specifically.” Asking pointed questions: “Are you struggling with this?” “Are you struggling with porn addiction? Because the statistics say that you are, and you’ve got internet streaming into your pocket at all hours of the day/anytime you want to. So don’t tell me the right answer; tell me the real answer. Then let me help you by talking to you about the areas where I’ve failed, and where I continue to fail. Let’s see some success together and drag that darkness into the light.”
But saying: “Let me help you specifically,”—it’s kind of like, when you have a friend, who loses a loved one, and then—I’ve heard this from people, who have lost a loved one close to them, like a parent, or a child, or friend—they often hear from people in the church community: “Let me know if I can do anything for you”; which really puts the weight on them as the mourner/the sufferer. When, in reality, say, “I’m going to bring a meal by tomorrow unless you tell me not to,”—stuff like that.
We can do that with young people, as well: “Hey, I’m going to meet with you every Monday at lunch to talk to you about this issue, which has been a struggle for me. It may not be a struggle for you, but we’re going to do that unless you tell me not to. I’m not going to force myself on you, but I’m going to put myself into your life.”
I was in much need of a mentor at one point in time. Someone told me: “They’re never going to ask to mentor you; you’re going to have to go to them.” Surely enough, I did; I said, “Will you be willing to meet with me?” He was like, “Yes, let’s do it.” And that’s one of the best decisions I made, because I moved [toward] him.
What if it was the opposite though? What if we had older people, who were constantly approaching younger people, and saying, “How much time do you have this week? Allow me to graciously insert myself and annoy you enough to care about you and put myself in your life.” I think our churches, and Christians in general, would be changed by that; because there’s wisdom there that is untapped.
Dave: When you talk about the next generation, you—and it’s even in your tag line—Anxiety. Talk about that, because I know that my generation had anxiety. There seems to be a level that’s different, and I’m not sure we always understand it. So part of your tag line is to help understand and navigate the anxiety of that generation. What’s that mean?
Shelby: This is Shelby Abbott, and you’re listening to my conversation with Dave and Ann Wilson. We’ll get right back to what some call “The Anxiety Epidemic” that young people are facing in just a second; but first, I want to jump in here and say that I joined FamilyLife’s team because I believe in the mission: biblical truth applied to today’s family is arguably more important now than ever.
If you feel the same way, would you consider supporting FamilyLife Today with a donation? When you give any amount this week, we want to send you a copy of my book called What’s the Point?: Asking the Right Questions about Living Together in Marriage. It’s our way of saying, “Thanks,” when you give this week. You can do that online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can give us a call, with your donation, at 800-358-6329. That can be a one-time gift or a recurring monthly gift. Again, the number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright; now, back to my conversation with Dave and Ann and the anxiety epidemic young people are facing.
Shelby: Anxiety is something that people would admit to sporadically. When I work with students, one out of every three would be like, “I’m kind of anxious about this…” or “I’m wrestling with significant anxiety about this…” Now, it feels like almost everybody/it feels like three out of three are wrestling with anxiety—
Shelby: —I mean, to varying degrees. It’s not: “Everybody needs to have medicine and go see a counselor,”—a lot of people do already, which is great—they’re trying to get on the solution side of that. But there’s this sense of looming dark anxiousness over the next generation. That cloud is very heavy on a lot of young people.
I think it has to do with a bunch of varying factors, but one of them—think about this: if you lived before the age of social media and cell phones, if you were being bullied at school, you would be bullied on school grounds—
Dave: —and then you’d get away.
Shelby: —and then you’d be able to get away. Maybe you’d go to a sports team, or something like some extracurricular activity—and maybe it would still happen there—but then you can get away.
There are kids, who are being bullied 24/7 on their phones; or if they ignore their phone, and they log in the next time, then there’s are all these comments there. People are bitterly mean and cruel on social media, because there’s no repercussions. If you say something mean to someone, you see how they react; and you, in your natural/the way “made in the image of God,” you go: “That’s wrong; I should not have said that.” But when you’re typing with your thumbs on a phone, you can be cruel; and there’s no filter whatsoever. We’ve seen that over the last couple of years: people are just more and more viciously outraged and angry.
If you’re being bullied, as a young person, that’s formative; and that fear gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and bigger. So: “Hey, just trust God,” “Just don’t be anxious,”—those are the platitudes—this is not going to go anywhere.
I’m all for counselling; I’m all for the chemical aspect of it as well. If it’s something wrong in your brain, go get medicine; I’m all for it. But it needs to be a combination of: “If it’s a chemical thing, and if it’s a counseling thing, pursue those things,”—but—“Yes, let’s come alongside you in this process and help you to see that Jesus is the answer to your problem.” It’s just not going to be maybe as clear-cut and easy as you want it to be. You’re not going to be able to take a pill, swallow it, and then you’ll be better. Jesus loves us too much to let it be that easy, because He wants us to rely on Him—not just as this destination one day: to rely on Him and arrive—but rely on Him in the process of going through anxiety.
I’ve found that, in my life, when it comes to my fear and anxiety, He’s intent not so much on getting to the solutions out of stuff—but on throwing His arm around me, and walking me through it so that I can get to the other side in whatever thing I am wrestling with—look back on it, and see that it wasn’t that big of a deal, not that that thing is the thing itself I need to dwell on—but on the fact that Jesus’s arm was around me in that process, because it helps me to appreciate my relationship with Him instead of dwelling on my circumstances all the time.
Ann: I wish I would have done a better job, as a mom, with high schoolers. Because I’m thinking about when high schoolers are feeling that angst, or they’re worrying, or they’re anxious, or they’re struggling—as a parent, you hate that—you hate for your kids to be fearful or anxious; we hate for them to feel any kind of raw emotion, where they’re suffering and hurting.
So as parents, what do we do?—I try to get them out of that.
Shelby: Protect them, yes.
Ann: I’m trying to protect them.
What my kids have said now is: “Mom, you just tried to fix us.” It’s like you tried to put a Band-Aid®: “Stop looking at your phone,” or I had these pat answers that were basically: [Child speaking] “I’m bleeding out, and you’re putting a little kids’ Band-Aid on it; and it’s not working.”
I remember saying to our kids, who are in their 20s, “What should I have done? Because I hated seeing you in that much pain, and I just wanted you out of the pain.” They said, “I just needed you to sit in it. Quit trying to fix me and just ask me questions.”
I don’t know, if at that point—even as a 16-year-old or an 18-year-old—they could have expressed what was really going on. But I wish I would have been okay with just sitting and empathizing, like, “Wow, that’s got to feel really bad.”
Shelby: Whether or not a teenager is recognizing that, what they’re doing is they’re asking you to move into something that’s uncomfortable and difficult as well. We’re like: “Let the pain stop,” and “I’ll do that by trying to help you to let the pain stop.”
If we’re honest, it’s: “I want to help you for the pain to stop, because I love you; but I want the pain to stop for me too.”
Ann: —“for me,” yes.
Shelby: But by the nature of the issue itself, they’re inviting us into their pain. We’re going, “I’m not sure I want to do that.” Because we roll our eyes at teenaged drama, and that kind of thing, and call it all stupid. But it’s real for them; it’s very, very real for them.
While we might have the “right answers,” stepping into the pain with them/coming alongside them, this is what we see with Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus. This is exactly what we see. Jesus doesn’t say, “Hey, Mary and Martha, it’s going to be fine; it’s going to be okay.”
Ann: “Stop crying!”
Shelby: “Wait for ten minutes. Get your stuff together; it’s going to be fine. I’m Jesus.” No, He steps into it; He moves into it, and He weeps with them. Why? Because He’s our suffering servant; that’s what He does.
Our kids are inviting us—it’s an invitation, whether or not they recognize they’re inviting us into it—they’re inviting us to be a suffering servant alongside of them. We can be the physical manifestation of Jesus to our kids by suffering along with them. That comes with a measured level of authenticity—discernment, of course—but authenticity/realness, and not trying to fix their problems all the time.
Ann: I remember one of our sons/he had a friend who was running track. He told me/super honest, he said, “Mrs. Wilson, I have panic attacks before I race.” He was really gifted; he had a scholarship for college at a Big Ten school. He said, “I’m so anxious and nervous, and I can barely function before a race.”
It’s so crazy—I just took this little flat rock, and I wrote a Scripture verse on it—I can’t even remember which one. I never knew this until maybe 15 years later—he came to my house—he had that rock! He shows it to me; he said, “I want you to know that I have carried this with me all through college, and all through my adult years, and it has gotten me through,”—just one little Scripture verse!
Ann: Isn’t that crazy?—not even knowing the impact that Scripture and the gospel can make.
Dave: As I’m listening to both of you talk, I thought, earlier, Shelby—you said, “Jesus puts His arm around you and walks you through the suffering,”—I’m guessing that’s usually through a person/a human being that usually God uses.
Even as Ann said that about Joe, coming back to our house, I just thought, “I want to be that parent that our kids run to—in pain, anxiety, doubt, loneliness—all the things you’re talking about in your podcast. I want them to run to mom and dad, rather than run away to someone else. I want to be able to be the hands and feet/the arm of Jesus in such a way that they feel safe; they know I’ve struggled with the same things.”
That’s what we want to be as the church; but I think, even as parents, it’s like—if we have more empathy, and we’re willing to listen and just sit with our children when they go through this, they’re going to want to come to us—rather than we’re the one who fixes it, and tells them they shouldn’t be feeling this way, and “Here’s what another Bible verse says…” Even though all that can somewhat be true, as well, we want to be the place they’re running to; because people ran to Jesus, not away from Him, when they were in pain.
Shelby: Yes; it’s a conscious decision that you make to enter into their pain and their sadness. But what’s the alternative? The alternative is that they don’t come to you, and they go to someone else—not in a jealous way of like, “Don’t go to someone else,”—but “Come to me, because I want to be a representation of Jesus to you,” [to] your kid. We want to share the gospel with our kids verbally, but we want to share the gospel with our kids with our actions as well. That’s one of the most remarkable ways to do that—is to enter into their pain—that is the gospel: Jesus entering into the pain of humanity.
Dave: Boom! [Clapping]
Ann: That’s good.
Dave: You can turn it off now, Bruce. We gave you four more days. [Laughter]
Shelby: I feel like, for the first seven minutes of that, “We’re just talking; we’re not really—
Ann: We were just talking.
Dave: That’s what it needs to be.
Shelby: I’m Shelby Abbott, and we’ve been listening to my conversation with Dave and Ann Wilson on FamilyLife Today.
My upcoming podcast, for 18- to 28-year-olds, is launching in the next few weeks. I wanted to give you a sample of that right now. Here’s a sneak peak of FamilyLife’s newest podcast called Real Life Loading…
[Real Life Loading… Podcast Excerpt]
Shelby: Today, I’m talking with my friend, pastor, apologist, speaker and author, Sam Allberry.
Sam, my friend, what do you think it would look like for a young person to make themselves uncomfortable for the sake of the gospel?—specifically, when it comes to threading the needle of standing for the biblical sexual ethic; and then, treating others in the LGBTQ+ community with dignity, gentleness and respect.
Sam: We don’t get to choose between those two things. If we think one excludes another, we’ve understood neither. The moment we think our sexual ethics mean that we can demean someone, actually, we’ve not understood that sexual ethic; because the very basis by which we might think we can demean someone else—actually, Jesus puts us all in the same boat—whatever we’re giving them, actually, is due to us as well.
Similarly, the dignity of human people doesn’t cancel out some of the challenging things Jesus does say about sexual ethics; in fact, it accounts for it. It’s precisely because we are worth so much to God—it’s precisely because we are dignified as His image-bearers—that He actually cares how we handle our sexuality. That means, as Christians, we have to both be those—who really do create a sense of safety, and compassion, and dignity—whilst also holding some beliefs that will be very counter-cultural to most of the people around us. To do both of those things at the same time; that is, I think, how we try to step into the space that Jesus Himself occupied so beautifully.
[Real Life Loading… Podcast Excerpt]
Shelby: We’re going to go deep today in the best possible way with Paul Tripp.
Paul: Can I talk about the other side of deconstruction?
Shelby: Yes, please do.
Paul: I think there’s a way that I should always be deconstructing my faith. But here’s what I mean by that.
Shelby: Yes, unpack that.
Paul: I think that I ought to always be humble enough to revisit my system of belief to see if there are personal and cultural corruptions in there. If things have been pulled into my faith—that are more American culture than Christianity, or more personal preference than Christianity, or more political than Christianity—I should be humble enough to say, “I have to look for what I need to ferret out of this system of belief that I’m doing.” I think that’s a very positive, humble, God-honoring form of deconstruction.
[Real Life Loading… Podcast Excerpt]
Shelby: She’s an associate teaching professor of English, with over 25 years of experience in the college classroom, Dr. Heather Holleman.
Help me understand what you mean here: “Because you’re seated in Christ, at your own seat, this day will look nothing like your best friend’s, your coworker’s, or your neighbor’s.”
Heather: That’s about jealousy and comparison; that’s about waking up and wishing you had a different life. I know, because I’m also on TikTok® with all of you guys. [Laughter]
I come from wealth; I have family members that get to enjoy a totally different life than me. I wrote that sentence; because God was really teaching me: “Wherever you are, I’ve ordained this for you. This is part of your seat in Christ. You are seated at a table; this is what your seat is, and the good works that I’ve prepared in advance for you to do.” That’s the end of Ephesians 2:10: that He’s designed and ordained the fruitfulness of your life. So the day is not going to look like anyone else’s, and it’s not less beautiful or powerful.
I don’t normally struggle with jealousy anymore; and if I do, I just remember
[Real Life Loading… Podcast Excerpt]
Shelby: Let’s get into my conversation with Rechab Gray.
Rechab: One of the things I love about up-and-coming believers: they are not okay with theology for theology’s sake. They’re asking the question: “So what is this producing in culture? How are we making an impact upon those around us?” as opposed to just looking inward. It’s a beautiful thing about this generation; it’s like: “This is Jesus’s words. He will one day say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’”
Rechab: I do think that—though that’s what Jesus says we’re looking forward to—what I think we’ve trained so many, not only Christians, but pastors is to believe that Jesus won’t be saying, “Well done good and faithful servant”; He’ll be saying, “Well-articulated good and faithful theologian.” [Laughter]
Rechab: When you get those mixed up, you disciple towards: “Well-said.”
Rechab: Even who you pick as leaders are well-said leaders rather than well-done leaders. I think we really do need to have a shift then of: “Our well-articulated theology is only actually good if it becomes well-done practice.” I think we can grow in that for sure.
Shelby: That’s a sample of FamilyLife’s latest podcast that I’ll be hosting called Real Life Loading… It’s about to launch in the next few weeks, so keep an eye out for that.
It might be tempting to believe that abuse only happens in marriages outside the church. Unfortunately, that’s not even true at all. Tomorrow, we’ll hear from Dr. David Clarke on the importance of recognizing abuse and what to do about it.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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