On May 18, I began a 7-part series, offering some thougts about how to teach the Catholic faith to “Generation Me” (those born in the 70s through the 90s; Generation Me, Jean Twenge, M.D.).
Click on the following to read:
Part One: The Decline of Social Rules
Part Two: Excessive Individualism
Part Three: You Can Be Anything You Want
Today, we address another unique characteristic of Generation Me: “the age of anxiety”
The Age of Anxiety – Gen Me has more than other generations but feels worse (in terms of the rates of depression and loneliness). Although they have been relatively free from major traumas such as the World Wars and Vietnam, they are anxious. This is a result of the disproportionate focus on self which magnifies ones’ own disappointments. Gen Me has less of a sense of perspective when it comes to their own disappointments. As a result of putting themselves first and having so much freedom, they experience more loneliness and isolation. They are marrying later and thus experiencing a longer adolescents with more painful break-ups of relationships. Gen Me has more anxiety and stress in relation to college acceptance and job searching because they have such high expectations (that leads to bigger disappointments). They tend to lack the following: stable close relationships, a sense of community, a feeling of safety, and a simple path to adulthood and the workplace.
How Catechists Should Respond: One of the phrases that appears most often in the Bible is “be not afraid” or variations such as “fear not,” “do not fear,” and so on. It would seem that Gen Me is not the first generation to experience fear and anxiety. However, it appears that anxiety is magnified for Gen Me because of their very high expectations which are often unrealistic.
As catechists, we can offer Gen Me an antidote to anxiety and despair: trust in God. Although we have justifiable fears about how dangerous our world can be, we tend to have a much greater fear: we fear that God’s love will not be enough for us. We do not trust that God’s grace is all we need. And so we search for things to place our trust in, only to be betrayed by their inability to satisfy us. Through it all, God invites us to return to him and to place our trust in him. Why is this so hard for Gen Me? Because to trust someone is to admit dependence on them. Gen Me’s focus on the self and independence leaves little room for trust.
We can help Gen Me to cope with anxiety by instilling an attitude of trust. This attitude is highlighted in our Creed and in the Lord’s Prayer. When we say the words, “We believe in one God,” we are saying that we trust God. To pray the words of the creed at Mass is to proclaim a relationship. All too often we think of the creed as a list of doctrinal statements to which we have sworn intellectual assent and adherence. Perhaps if we mentally inserted the word trust wherever the word, believe appears, we would have a different understanding of what it means to profess our faith.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray the words, “Thy will be done.” Four simple words. And yet these are among the hardest words to utter, especially for Gen Me. To say, “thy will be done,” is to surrender. That’s something that we don’t do very readily. This world teaches us to fight for control, to win at all costs, to never give in. TV reality shows suggest that they key to survival is the ability to exert one’s will over that of the other contestants. We need to help Gen Me understand that to say “thy will be done” is not a sign of weakness but rather is the only thing that can truly make us strong. Why? Because God’s will is the driving force of the universe. Conspiring with God’s will is the ultimate strategy for strength. Standing in the way of God’s will is the ultimate folly. As we strive to become more like Jesus, the next logical step is to pray in the words that he used and that he taught us: “Thy will be done.”
Bottom Line: Dependence is beneficial when the one we are dependent on is stronger than we are. To be like a child before God is to realize that God is stronger than we are and that we are in need of his protection. It is no coincidence that right after we pray the Lord’s Prayer, the priest prays that we will be protected from all anxiety. Anxiety results whenever we face something or someone that we feel ill equipped to deal with. When we pray that God’s will be done, and acknowledge that all power belongs to him, we have no more reason to be anxious. And when we are not anxious, we are capable of hope and are filled with peace—the peace of Christ. This is what we can offer to Gen Me!