Why I love hanging out with 16-year-olds

It was the spring of 2012 and I sat in a tent as two hesitant teenagers who were seeking prayer looked at me with skepticism. I was eight years their senior and in their minds I may as well have been an out of touch 50-year-old. I was completely uncool in their book- until I switched the gamut on them and pulled out the heavy artillery. I started sharing a laundry list of mistakes and indiscretions that would make my mother cringe. It did the trick. They slowly relaxed and began opening up. The rest was history.

That was two years ago. One thing led to another and each Sunday since I have had the privilege of meeting with a group of guys who are now juniors in high school. Our Sunday afternoons consist of watching sports, eating gobs of food, diving into the Bible, and keeping each other accountable. They may walk in with their chests puffed out and feel the need to make their voices as deep as possible, but ultimately as I learned that night in the tent, they crave vulnerability and authenticity.

Huddle 11-3-13

In Matthew 28:19, Jesus calls all His followers to make disciples. As I’m learning, this command is often easier said than done. Weeks go by and I often feel as if absolutely nothing is happening. Is anything I am saying getting through? Is one word that we read accomplishing anything? I need to constantly be reminded of these words by Robert Louis Stevenson: “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” I am forced to humbly accept the fact that in some cases I may not see fruit for years. However, I love what I’m doing and I love these guys. Here are five reasons why:

They don’t treat me differently. Going in, I figured high school guys would be the most awkward about my current physical condition and treat me differently as a result. It surprises me how a group of teenagers are sometimes quicker to look past my reliance on a wheelchair than people my own age, or even those twice my age.

No fear of asking questions. With topics ranging from where people spend eternity to digging up dirt on me when I was their age, there is no topic they are too ashamed to ask about. Some classics: “My dog that died is in heaven, right?” Instead of physical therapy questions related to my injury, they simply see that I cannot move right now and have asked, “How are you not fat?”

12 identical looks from teenage boys when older women walk in the room

12 identical looks from teenage boys when older women walk in the room

Nonstop entertainment. Seeing them wrestle it out on my basement floor never gets old. Watching their faces as they listened to two girls my age talk with them about the hearts and sexuality of women after we finished up a study on Every Man’s Battle was priceless. When I shared with them that I was starting a blog they got excited and said, “You better write about us!” (Here you go, guys). A few weeks later I asked if any of them had read it. No one said a word. ($20 to the first guy to text me actually having read this.)

The reflection in the mirror. Time and time again my frustration mounts as I attempt to break through blank stares, spotty attendance, and a view of God as a distant figure that does not necessarily fit into their narrow focus of sports, grades, and girls. A few of the guys have made it very clear that they would not want to continue on with life if they were in my shoes, with “not being able to play sports and video games” as major reason why. How do they not get it? I often wonder. Then it hits me: I’m staring at a reflection of myself in high school.

If my friend Bryn (on the left) got married last weekend and I have since learned to zip up my fly, there is no high-schooler without hope.

If my friend Bryn (on the left) got married last weekend and I have since learned to zip up my fly, there is no high-schooler without hope.

Unlimited potential. One wants to go to the Army. Another has a vision to one day spearhead an initiative to help inner-city schools. I often wonder what their futures hold. Will they go about their jobs with integrity? Will they be treating women with respect? Will they be following Jesus? Looking across the pool table in my basement, I see there is so much potential in the room. I am ecstatic about how God will use each one of them.

While my prayer is that God will use me in the process of developing these nice Christian boys into strong Godly men, I can see how the past two years have been about my own personal growth as well. I’m realizing instead of regretting certain aspects as I progressed into manhood, it was all part of the learning process. Looking back, I realize that night in the tent taught me about the power of being vulnerable and planted a seed on the value of opening up and being authentic. Without opening up, I would have missed out one of the absolute most fulfilling opportunities of my life.

  1. Jennifer said:

    That is awesome of you to pour into the lives of teenagers. I’ve worked with kids and teens as well, so thank you for the encouragement. I so often just look for the fruit and forget about the seeds planted. You’ll have to give us a report when you get a text, so funny! 🙂


    • Jennifer, The $20 has been claimed! (A couple of my buddies tried this morning but it was reserved for the high school guys).


  2. Dwight said:

    Hey, watch it with the out of touch 50 year olds stuff!


  3. Virginia Wilson said:

    Ryan I think that is so cool that you have chosen to pour into these young men. Unless they are involved in sports or something along those lines, I believe you’d be hard pressed to find young men opening up and talking frankly about things that really matter. Even those on sports teams would rarely have someone in their life who would really understand and LISTEN and participate in subjects that are deep and intimate.

    YOU are FILLING a gap at a pivotal time in these guys’ lives. Absolutely!

    You may be the person who scatters the seed, adds some fertilizer, waters the plant, or is able to see the fruit! These young men are being placed in your life, for such a time as this. I just keep feeling that YOU ARE PLAYING A VITAL ROLE. And yes, as we go out with the intention of serving / blessing others, we are often the ones who are ultimately blessed way more!

    I have a sense that your ‘sphere of influence’ will continue to grow / change! It’s exciting!

    Way to go!! You are so inspiring. And some of these dudes had better get on here and say something! 🙂


  4. Stan Kazee said:

    Hey Ryan, Being the father of one these young men, I’ve been privy to the effect your obedience and diligence is having on them – simply remarkable. You are connecting with them at a formative time and in a unique way,filling a gap that’s difficult for parents to reach. The values you’re equipping them with are essential on this earth, but also the pathway to life eternal -what a gift! Plus – the spiritual growth you’re experiencing as you go about making disciples is exemplary and divinely inspirational.

    All I can say is: “Thank you and way to go!!” May God continue to abundantly bless you.


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