Who was Whistler?

In the movie Shadowlands, CS Lewis has a student in his class named Peter Whistler who he catches sleeping during the lecture. Instead of waking him up, Lewis addresses the rest of the class in a philosophical discussion as to why Whistler is asleep. Lewis says, "Aristotle said plot is character forget psychology. Forget the inside of men's heads, judge them by their actions. For example, Mr. Whistler is asleep. From this action I take it that he has no interest in what I have to say. If that is the case, then why is he here at all? So we construct a plot from Mr. Whistler's actions. He comes, he sleeps. Aristotle would say that the next question is not why, but what is Mr. Whistler going to do next? (Whistler wakes up and exits class seeing he was caught asleep) He comes. He sleeps. He goes. So the plot thickens."

Later in the movie, CS Lewis decides to go visit Whistler at his home after he sees Whistler steal a book from a local book store. In short, when Lewis visits Whistler's little one room apartment where he lives alone, he discovers that Whistler is not the disinterested student that he thought he probably was, but rather that Whistler had a hard time staying awake in class because often his passion for reading books would keep him up all night wanting to see how the story unfolded. He also learned that Whistler had no money and thus stole the books to fuel his love of reading.

There is more to the Whistler story, but what I've shared will make my point. I have learned of late that what we see of kids and teens in church isn’t telling us much if anything of the real story. It is not fair to conduct any sort of evaluation on any young person until we do what Lewis did. Visit them. Get personally involved in their real lives and not just their classroom life, or in our case, their Sunday school life. We can't expect to really do all that much good in the spiritual realm of their lives until we understand the earthly realm of their lives. If we don't really know the person, what we teach will most likely be off target and they will perceive it as irrelevant and unneeded in their life. What are they really going through? Is everything about their life beautiful or broken? Maybe its bad because its beautiful or beautiful because its bad? We won't know until we can get that young person to be real with us.

I've heard it said many times at various workshops and conferences for ministry leaders that "We can't expect our volunteers to do what we are not willing to do ourselves." Every time this discussion has been had its been connected to ministry jobs that most people don’t want to do like change baby diapers, take out trash, discipline a tough child, etc. In the last several months, God has challenged me on this very point, but in a way I never dreamed.

I wanted very much to truly make deep, life-impacting change in our church's young people and I was seeing that our Sunday school time was just not cutting it. They didn't need another general message about Moses. They needed specific examples from Scripture that fit within the fabric of their own personal lives. The lessons had to be relevant to them. It had to somehow help them with their struggles; their questions. Not anybody else's.

In order to do this, I had to get real. If I wanted these kids to be real with me and tell me the truth about their lives, I couldn't hold anything back about my own. All my struggles, my own doubts about God, my own fears…they had to see this. In doing this, many of us have found connections. He's been through what I'm going through! He understands.

I've also had to get much smaller. Not teach big to big groups, but teach small to small groups…even to the point of one on one, focusing on one idea.

I also couldn't be afraid to give my very heart and soul away. I had to be willing to step out there and be real, take risks, allow my emotions and my personal life to be poured out on these kids.

CS Lewis discovered a very different Whistler when he reached out to Whistler's real life. I have discovered this too. I have discovered that so many of our young people are dealing with pain, struggles, doubt, and fears, beyond my scariest imagination. Our young people of today need us, all of us, that have "gone through the war" before them, to get into their lives, forget the small talk about "news, weather, and sports" and give deeply of ourselves to listen to their heart through their eyes, their words, and their actions and reach out to them with guidance from God's word, our own life's experiences, and our showing of authentic care by our love.

Whistler ended up following in his professor's footsteps by becoming a teacher. I believe Lewis had a significant impact on this decision. Who's footsteps will our kids and teens of today follow in? Will it be the steps of a godly Christian example in their lives or a lost and hopeless stranger of the world? We, the adults, decide this fate. So are you going to go visit?