Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 13, 2008
Following the leader can prove fruitless
But teens, caught in their peer acceptance, need to include God
Our Young Church
By ROY PETITFILS
I read an article recently about procession caterpillars — a special type of caterpillar who, as it walks, leaves behind it a trail of silk. Other caterpillars follow behind one leader who searches for food. Once the leader finds food, they are able to stop rest and eat.
A scientist who was fascinated with the caterpillars was curious to see how they would react if there were no leader. So he put them in a circle, leaving the group with no lead caterpillar. As he suspected, the caterpillars never stopped circling.
They walked on and on in a circle for days, for some a total distance of one third of a mile, until several of their number died from exhaustion. They were so caught up in their routine and so trusting in their leader, it never occurred to them that they were not moving toward their goal, which was food and rest.
I find this to be a common situation with a lot of young people I work with today. They follow a string of trends, fads and leaders often in an unbroken circle of futility — no idea where they are going, no real understanding of who they are following and why.
To test my theory, I’ll occasionally ask a group of kids who do they see as the leaders in their circle of friends. Often I’ll find that the person everyone believes to be the leader does not see him or her self as a leader, but rather as just one of the gang.
When I report this back to them, they are always stunned to find that they are mindlessly following someone who has no idea where they are going, much less someone who realizes that he or she is taking other people along for the ride with them.
Many youth today are following a worn-out path with no clear destination, much less one which they have consciously and prayerfully chosen. Their discernment process is characterized by “My dad did it and it worked for him” or “that seems pretty cool” or “I’ll make a lot of money” or “I think I’ll be good at that.”
No Christian discernment
Let me be clear. In and of themselves there is nothing wrong with any of these decision-making factors — they are practical, helpful and an integral piece of the process. But even taken as a whole, they are not representative Christian discernment, which is a prayerful consideration of God’s will for our life.
As best I can tell, most kids’ career paths are not one of discernment but rather a reaction to whatever feels and sounds good at the moment.
At the same time, it is not our job to tell them or force upon them what we think God wants for them, or even worse what we want for their life, but rather to encourage them to include God in that process.
A life of passion
As role models in their lives, our job is to help them break the processional circle of futility. Our call is to interrupt their apathetic march toward mediocrity and offer them a new hope in a life of purpose lived with passion.
We can pull them out of their leaderless circle and walk with them along the exciting path of Christian discipleship, with Christ as our leader.
(Roy Petitfils is a syndicated columnist and school counsellor at St. Cecilia School. He lives in Youngsville, La., with his wife Mindi and their two-year-old son Max. For more of Roy’s columns go to www.roypetitfils.com.)
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