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Teens can smell fear. Your high school science teacher will tell you it’s snakes or bees, or something, but they’re just trying to convince themselves that your teenage sensors don’t go off like a heat-seeking missile whenever Mrs. Biology shows a sign of anxiety in front of a class of tenth graders.

A few weeks ago my youth minister friend asked me to join a group of about eighty sixteen-year-old confirmation candidates for their weekend retreat. I admit, I entered the weekend hoping it would help me discern whether I could work with teens on a regular basis. I was selfish, hoping the effects would pour into me.

I heard a lot of the Bieb this weekend (I don’t own rights)

A week before the retreat my friend (call him Luke) asked me to give a talk about Theology of the Body during a session where the girls and boys would be separated.

Luke gave me a few guidelines, put a lot of faith in me and in God for guiding me, and ZIP. He let the reigns pull right out of his hands.

Luke had to handle more than one crisis over the weekend, such is the life of a youth minister, so everything flowed naturally throughout the retreat. Some of the kids might disagree as there was not a cell phone reception bar to be found anywhere on this campground. They weren’t supposed to have phones anyway, which was a sincere shock to the system for many.

The kids were “stuffed,” “emptied,” “recycled,” they “filled others,” (witnessed Jesus) “empty Himself,” “filled themselves” and (will hopefully soon) “overflow.” Each of these phrases headlined each adults’ speech that weekend, tying into the idea of the glass Mason jar each teen received. The teens and adults filled the individual Mason jars with affirmations over the weekend.

My talk, “recycled,” was all over the place. I really enjoy teaching (pigs are flying somewhere over Oklahoma) and speaking in “public” like this, so I was ready to get the talk started… the girls weren’t exactly ready yet.

I asked a few questions in the first ten minutes of my talk. WHOOSH, did you feel that? Oh, that was the silence knocking the air out of my lungs. Teenagers don’t want to be wrong, but more so I think they want to avoid being right, especially when it comes to a topic like sex.

“What is the first thing you expect to hear when you hear some lady is going to talk to you about Theology of the Body,” I said after a brief explanation of what TOB is. WHOOSH.

Eventually someone said “sex” so I moved on to explain that TOB is really a total encapsulation of our Faith: Love, true, pure Love. Because I’m kind of quirky and weird, I threw in some strange jokes, which died a quick, but lingering death. Argh, girls, throw me a bone.

THEN I hit gold. “I know the answer to this question, but I’m going to ask it anyway: Who knows the lyrics to Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream?”

Excited and a little giddy, they proceeded to sing it for me!

“You think I’m pretty without any make-up on…
let’s go all the way tonight.
No regrets, just love.
We can dance until we die.
You and I will be young forever.”

I repeated the offensive line, “let’s go all the way tonight” and asked in a light way, “Does that sound romantic to you? I mean, if you think about it, some beautiful woman, Katy Perry, is singing this. If a guy was singing this, would it be at all romantic? Let’s go all the way tonight? He’d be a creep. Someone should arrest that guy.”

They loosened up, I played the Boyce Avenue version that sings “Let’s just talk all through the night” instead of Ms. Perry’s To Catch a Predator line.

To the sounds of crescendo-ing “Awwwwwwwws,” I asked them about the difference. The consensus was that guys like that don’t exist. There aren’t guys out there who would only want to talk and wouldn’t want to make out or more, they said.

It’s hard to hear, “That’s not true,” when you’re a single sixteen-year-old watching other girls get attention from guys in your grade. I told them about a personal experience where a guy offered only a handshake at the end of the first two dates. Resounding Awwwwwwwwww commenced again.

This opened a lot of discussion about when the two sexes use each other (women: “money,” men: “sandwiches” –> real answers), why they do, how to prevent ourselves from using men, and how to prevent situations where men can use women.

“I’m going to let you in on a secret,” I said. “Women have the control in the relationship. Let the guy chase you and you get to choose if he can catch you, if you two will date, how far you will go physically, and how you will be treated. When something happens that is not to your liking, you get to end it.”

If these girls walked away with anything, I hope they walked away knowing it is NOT worth it to settle. Why settle with a significant other when you don’t settle with your friends? You don’t settle with your clothing choice, for crying out loud. Why settle for someone who isn’t offering you the true, pure love that God gives to you in abundance without cost?

I summed up with a quote they’d heard the night before, “There’s nothing you can do, will do, or have done that will make God love you less.” God wants to redeem us. “Recycle.”

Though I don’t remember every discussion question I asked or every answer I received, I remember seeing some genuine interest and a few light bulbs go off. Praise God for that! I’m going to pray for each of those girls and I would like to ask you to join me.