In defense of those millennials who people often complain about
I just spent the last three days with 100 really impressive millennials on the Campus Ministry First Year Retreat Experience (FYRE). Let me tell you a little bit about them and the experience. These young people don’t fit society’s negative characteristics of their age group, like:
Millennials are plugged in 24–7.
Not this weekend. These students opted for plenty of good old fashioned fun this weekend. They rode the world’s ricketiest water roller coaster. (Much to the dismay — and amusement — of this director!) They kicked actual soccer balls around. They wrote in physical journals. They watched the waves roll onto the shore in real time. One of my leaders shared with me how excited he was that his phone didn’t get service at our camp. He said it felt “really good to just be present here to these first years.”
Millennials are lazy.
You can call my FYRE leaders many things — lazy is not one of them. These 20 year olds were up at 7:30 a.m. each morning for our team meeting. They led rousing games of rock-paper-scissors Star Wars dodgeball (don’t ask me to explain it) and other outdoor team-building activities on Saturday morning. They facilitated small groups, prepared witness talks on their relationships with God and community life. They played live praise & worship music. They vacuumed and made sure no slippers got left behind and offered to help me with whatever I needed, over and over again. These young people had energy — and knew how to use it.
Millennials are self-absorbed.
I think what struck me most on this retreat was how genuinely interested these students were in building community. They sat with different people at each meal. When one gal wasn’t feeling well, her leader checked on her every hour. I constantly overheard things like, “So tell me about yourself,” and “How’ve your first few weeks in college been going?” People stayed up until 3:00 a.m. writing affirmations to each other. Brown bags were filled to the brim by the time we rolled out. On Saturday night, small groups came together to create five minute skits. The rules? Skits must include cheesy dance moves and UFOs. They were hilarious. And so creative! The students were willing to be silly and vulnerable with each other. They were willing to engage each other in conversations and games at a deeper-than-classroom level.
Millennials don’t take their faith seriously.
Prayer walks. Lectio divina. Ignatian meditations (!!!).Meal prayers. Adoration. Faith-sharing groups. Praise & Worship music. Rosary. Journaling. These are just a few of the student-planned prayer opportunities on FYRE. Faith drove the retreat. Authentic, vulnerable faith. They didn’t have all the theological answers. They didn’t claim to. What these young people had was a strong desire to know God. I saw this especially during Adoration last night. Adoration is not one of my normal spiritual practices, but as I sat in that room and watched 70 students awe at the Blessed Sacrament, I also sat and awed at them. They made Christ present to me as much as the consecrated host did, in their emotions, their reverence and their attention. This was the case all weekend long. Christ was alive in these millennials. Trust me.
In a few minutes, I’ll head over to the 9pm Student Mass, where the leaders and retreatants will reconvene to listen to Scripture and break holy bread together. The FYRE keeps on burning!