What I Have Learned from Kids

For the past few months, I’ve invited high school boys to come to my house and play penny poker on Thursday nights. Usually 10 to 15 guys come over.
So when only four guys showed up at my recent poker night, the seeds of disappointment started to grow. Then I realized I might have a chance to discuss something of substance with a smaller group. So, I asked the non-religious question, “Why are guys willing to sell out for something like football, but aren’t for most anything else in life?”

At first the conversation wasn’t going anywhere, but then all of a sudden we launched into a discussion that lasted more than two hours. It was the most significant discussion I have had in many years, if not ever.
I have always considered myself lucky to get these guys to just admit a little bit of what they are actually doing — the drinking and partying. We usually don’t make it much past that, at the end of poker night I’ve often wondered what the heck we accomplished. I hope our time together allowed them to be more honest. I also hope they didn’t think I was condoning their actions. It’s hard to find a balance.

On this night, we made a simple but very profound leap. Their burning question: “Can I drink in high school and still be a Christian?” As tempting as it was to jump into my answer, I knew God just wanted me to ask a simple question in return.
“Why do you drink?” I asked them.

It all came flooding out. It’s never felt so natural and so alive to discuss the things of the world and the things of God. They drink because they are afraid. First, alcohol alleviates their inhibitions so they can act how they really want to. Usually they don’t have the guts to do that if they’re not drunk. Second, when the night is over, it gives them an excuse if they do something stupid: “I only did that because I was drunk.” It had never hit any of us how cowardly this is.

On the other hand, the reason they are so willing to sell out for something like football is because of their deep desire to be a part of an adventure that is bigger than them. We all want to be part of a story that’s bigger than ourselves. That’s what makes a really good movie good, that’s why we (guys, anyway) deeply connect with a sports team we play on or even just watch. What we all deeply desire is adventure, but what we are actually living is cowardice.

From there, it was remarkable how easily and how passionately the Gospel story flowed out. Sin and fear go hand in hand. Our only possible escape is in the triune God who desperately wants to invite us into that bigger story. I was living that bigger story that night and this week, and it was abundantly clear to me and to these guys. I found out the extent to which each of them is struggling with the authenticity of his faith. One of them, who has gone to church all of his life and Young Life clubs for the better part of three years, didn’t understand that he had a say in his decision to turn to God through Jesus. Unbelievable, but I am so thankful that I know that now.

So, in the middle of a poker game, with money — though not much — on the table, the conversation continued for two hours. The cards were laid down and never picked up again. My own faith felt so real and so alive. It clearly related to every issue they brought up. I wish I could say that this is always the case for me, but it’s not. Many times my understanding of the Gospel falls short of the intense need that is desperately presented. The need was intensely and desperately presented that night. The Answer matched it. It was profound. It was not manufactured. It was real.

I could never have planned this time with these guys who I so dearly love. As best I can tell, I was sometimes obedient to the small things God asked me to do, and sometimes I was not. He is the author of hope, of which I have been praying for a renewal in my life. This week has been like hitting that one good shot in a long round of golf. It gives me hope to keep “playing the game.”