This is gonna be dark for the next few paragraphs. Bear with me, I promise it’s for a good reason and has a lighter ending.
I don’t think I even need to explain why the title of this post has relevance or significance today; you can hardly take in a breath without hearing another joke about millenials, about “kids these days”, about how we’re ruining society because we *insert whatever you particularly feel like today here*. And ultimately, most people draw the conclusion that we just don’t understand how the world works, that we’ve been brought up wrong, that we took a wrong turn, that we should just “do the right thing” and get back on the glorious track society used to be running on.
I could write an entire post on how screwed up was the direction society was heading in, or how previous generations had a hand in how we’ve gotten to where we are today, or how we suck less in some ways, or a myriad of other defenses of why we really aren’t as horrible as we’re made out to be. But there’s enough of that out there, and frankly, I don’t have the time, resources, or patience to get into all that. What I want to talk about is what I think is the fundamental reason why millenials just don’t seem to care when older generations start to yell at us for wrecking everything.
It’s because we let ourselves realize that we’re all going to die.
Like I said, dark. Now obviously, everyone knows this. The thing is, much of modern society which millenials go against is built around busying ourselves and bettering ourselves at such a dizzying pace with such stringent ideals that we don’t have time to think about our deaths until they’re just around the corner. Millenials are so different from recent generations because we’ve gotten tired of the mad dash, stopped to ask why, and realized that it’s all been a huge distraction from what everyone knows is coming. If you think I’m making this up, ask yourself why you care so much about climbing the corporate ladder, or doing something meaningful with your life, or that whitewashed image of a suburban house with 2.5 kids. Why do you try so hard?
Because you want to be happy? And why do you have to continually try to be happy, here, now? Why do you grasp so hard at what seems to constitute your happiness and meaning?
Because one day, you won’t have breath in your lungs to support your grasp at happiness and meaning, so the sooner and more aggressive, the better.
See, here’s the thing: the vast majority of people have bought into the lie that our story ends when our life ends. The structure of modern and postmodern society hinges on the lie that we have a limited number of years to find our own happiness and make our lives meaningful, and then we’re gone, and then we’re not happy or meaningful or anything at all, really. And if that’s the case, what does anything matter, anyway? Albert Camus’s main character in The Stranger gives us the cry that lies at the root of the millenial upheaval:
“Nothing, nothing mattered, and I knew why…Throughout the whole absurd life I’d lived, a dark wind had been rising toward me from somewhere deep in my future, across years that were still to come, and as it passed, this wind leveled whatever was offered to me at the time, in years no more real than the ones I was living.” (pg. 121 in my copy…sorry, too many college papers)
If our story ends when our life ends, then every demand that we “do the right thing” rings hollow. Traditions become nothing more than centuries of attempts to create our own meaning, and let’s be honest, bucking it all and finding our happiness our own way is easier than sticking to a system that just seems to wear you down.
Still think I’m making this up? Look back at the Garden of Eden in Genesis. What is it that’s the tipping point for Adam and Eve? Believing that God is withholding something from them, the one thing for which they were made: to be like Him. What is the one and only threat that God can impose in an attempt to convince them of His love in forbidding them to eat that fruit? Death, an end to their story, a loss of their purpose, a separation forever from the one something, or rather the one Someone, that could constitute our true happiness.
See, here’s the thing: we were born, we were made, we were lovingly fashioned by God, to be with God. That’s why Christ came and died and rose from the dead: to take away death’s power to end our story, to cease our chance at happiness that comes in resting forever with God, in sharing His divine life. Any real hope the true Christian has in this life is precisely hope because it doesn’t rest in this life.
If it seems like millenials are going recklessly astray, it’s because for several generations, the world has operated on the idea that there is no life after death, no God Who intimately loves us, and so the world has been desperately trying to establish some other vehicle for us to find happiness, to create our own meaning and purpose. Like Adam and Eve, we’ve been grasping at happiness ourselves, thinking it’s up to us to take it for ourselves. Millenials are just figuring out less stressful, more fun ways to do that.
Want us to get back on “the straight and narrow” again? Shift the end of that road from the suburban house to our Heavenly Home. Want us to not go to Hell? Remind us that Heaven is real and worth getting to. Want us to “do the right thing”? Give us a better reason than “because it’s the right thing to do”.
Tell us the only two things that really matter: that God is real, and that He cares where we end up after we die. Tell us how everything He asks of us is precisely because He wants us to spend eternity with Him, precisely because that is what constitutes our true happiness. Tell us that God loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for us just so we could spend eternity with Him.Tell us that God loves us so much that He meets us where we are, and too much to leave us there. Tell us that He has adopted us by dwelling in us, and that as long as we are “mourning and weeping in this valley of tears”, He comes to be with us, and to strengthen us, to empower us, until our last day comes. Tell us that on that day, even as we die, we are born, born to eternal life, born to the happiness we were always seeking and don’t need to seek after anymore. Tell us that on that day, we will see His face, and any doubts we ever had about His love for us, His faithfulness, His methods, His power, will melt away.
In other words, both older generations and fellow millenials, if you want to see change happen in this world, “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15) For “[b]y [God’s] great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in Heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)
If you’re a Catholic millennial, chances are you’ve heard the catchphrase “Love is more than sex” more times than you can remember. I’m pretty sure there are literally bumper stickers, pins, t-shirts, and the like that have that phrase in big, bold letters. And to be fair, in the world in which we live, that catchphrase ought to be a battle-cry, a rallying point around which the beauty of love can be defended against modernity. There are certainly people who need to hear that love doesn’t just begin and end with sexual experiences or attractions.
The thing is, people need to hear more than the battle-cry. When we move others to desert the camps of the enemy and join our ranks, we need to teach them the truth behind the battle-cry, the reality which we have encountered that lets us shout it not just from our lips but from the very depths of our hearts. And speaking as a Catholic millennial, oftentimes, as soon as we take the bumper sticker, we’re kind of left hanging, still questioning, still uncertain.
See, we get this. We know love is more than sex. In truth, even most people who have bought into modernity still realize that “love is more than sex”. To use a semi-crude example, there’s an episode of Friends (POTENTIAL SPOILER) where Phoebe says about Monica and Chandler, “I just thought you were doing it! I didn’t know you were in love!” *cue laugh track* Yeah, it’s totally eye-roll worthy, but take a second and look at what the implication is. There’s a distinction between “doing it” and “being in love”. There’s something more going on, something that brings more than pleasure; it brings a certain happiness, a good feeling of closeness that’s more than physical. So as long as they have that other part to it, the “being in love”, it’s all good, right?
Not so much; any good chastity speaker will tell you so. And that’s where the snag is. The thing is, I think this is where we miss the mark in particular when ministering to our brothers and sisters who struggle with same-sex attraction. Just telling them that “love is more than sex” isn’t enough, because chances are, they already know that. What they really mean when they say, “Why are you against love?” is really something closer to, “Why do you want me to be unhappy?” There are a lot of these people who aren’t really arguing so much for unrestrained sex as they are for their chance to be happy with another person, to have what those ideal married couples have, even if it doesn’t look the same.
If we want to be taken seriously in our defense both of chastity and real love, then we need to get the concept of intimacy right. Intimacy is that “something” that modernity sees as the difference between “doing it” and “being in love”. It’s closeness, it’s seeing and knowing the other person at their deepest levels, it’s being tied together on a spiritual level that manifests itself on the physical level. It’s present in any kind of real love there is–familial, friendly, romantic, you name it. And while romantic intimacy most obviously manifests itself as sexual, that’s only one piece of it. Holding hands, knowing each other’s intimate likes and dislikes, always sharing with one another, finding happiness in just being close to them and even more in knowing that you’re “with” them in a way no one else is–these are all facets of it, and I’m barely scratching the surface. And we all have an ache in our hearts for that. We all see the goodness in this deep interpersonal intimacy. So how do we tell a man who wants to be with another man that it would be wrong without robbing him of some of the deepest desires of his heart?
We have to show him that the desire for God runs deeper.
We can’t just keep shouting “Love is more than sex”, we have to show them that love is even more than intimacy. We can’t just argue that real love is desiring and acting for the good of the other person, we have to bring them to an encounter with the One Who IS their good. We can’t just appeal to their confused minds, we have to tend to their wounded hearts. We have to be willing to step into the myriad facets of this unique struggle that has such popular prominence in our world, to engage not just our idea of what the problem is but the actual day-to-day fight for authentic love and happiness these people face. We need to go beyond telling them to “offer it up” and introduce them to the beauty of suffering love that Christ has made possible on the Cross.
In short, catchphrases and battle-cries aren’t going to cut it if we hope to turn the tide in our war against a world that turns a legitimate struggle into a glorified rebellion against God and His Church; the only One Who can win this fight is Christ, made present by the Holy Spirit, leading us to the Father. If we truly want to evangelize and minister to the broken-hearted, our job is to make His voice, not our own, heard as rolling thunder in the public square and, more importantly, as a still, small voice in the intimate moments of each human life.