Monday, March 25, 2019

Anonymous Asks (32)

“I’ve read many stories and testimonies of Christian brothers and sisters, including Jesus, and almost all SKIP a portion in their lives: the teenage years. So, how and what is an effective way to show, shine, and represent our faith as hormonally crazy teenagers??”

There’s a very good reason many personal accounts leave out the teen years: our teen years are frequently riddled with embarrassing incidents we would rather not even recall, let alone repeat to others, along with more than a few tales that might not be all that profitable in the telling. Most of us learn by failing, and some of us learn by failing repeatedly. Our very first attempts at anything are likely to be our absolute worst, whether it’s witnessing or asking a girl out on a date. Who wants to hear about that?

Also, people who write testimonies usually wait until they have lived a bit, which means they have also had time to forget the things that happened long in the past, or that did not directly and obviously contribute to the circumstances around their salvation.

What We Learn From

In any case, whatever the reason, you’re right: lots of biographies and autobiographies go fairly light on the teenage anecdotes. Certainly the gospels do not dwell on these years in our Lord’s life. All the reasons for this are not immediately apparent, but John hints at one when he says, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” This is of course hyperbole, but it indirectly points out a major problem with very long stories: people either don’t read them, or, having done so, don’t remember them. The one thing we could guarantee about a world chock-full of books is that most of them would never have their spines cracked.

Still, the relatively small number of direct instructions to teens in scripture, and the relatively low number of testimonies that delve into the teen years in detail, may leave a young Christian feeling a bit directionless … that is, if one assumes that people are only able to learn from hearing about situations comparable to their own. A quick analysis of that argument shows it is fairly questionable. Lots of experiences resonate universally whether or not reader and protagonist are of similar ages. When I was a teen, I read primarily action-adventure stories about fully-grown men and women without pining for something more relevant to my personal experience. In fact, the very last things on earth to interest me during those miserable years were stories about high school age kids doing typical teen stuff. I wanted to be as far away from that world as possible. When I was in high school, even Peter Parker (Spider-Man) was already in college with one foot in the working world. I did not find those stories unrelatable because of the difference in our circumstances.

Stories of Faith and Conscience

Moreover, the Bible does not lack for accounts of teens with great faith. If we read between the lines, the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac is as much about Isaac’s faith as Abraham’s. Isaac, old enough to carry all the wood for his own sacrifice up a mountainside and a full century younger than his dad, could easily have overpowered Abraham had he chosen to, and yet he allowed his life to be put at risk at God’s command.

But we don’t need to read between lines. David was a teen when he killed lions and bears caring for his father’s sheep, a “youth” when he fought Goliath, and very possibly still a teen when he first served in Saul’s army and played the lyre in his court, learning politics, tact and how not to get murdered. There is much we can learn from the way he handled himself early in life.

At seventeen, Joseph was rejected by his siblings, sold into slavery and subject to all sorts of real-world pressures. Jephthah’s daughter was not yet old enough to marry, but showed tremendous integrity under dreadful circumstances. Josiah came to the throne of Judah at the age of eight with no godly family support, but by eighteen he was taking spiritual initiative and doing what was right in the sight of the Lord. Daniel and his three friends were youths when taken by force to Babylon. If there are better stories of young men demonstrating wisdom, courage, integrity and dependence on God, I can’t think of them.

Sure, lots of testimonies leave out the teen years. That doesn’t mean Christian teens lack examples of how to conduct themselves in the world.

Showing, Shining and Representing

As to the latter question (“What is an effective way to show, shine, and represent our faith as hormonally crazy teenagers?”), I would say: (1) don’t use hormones as an excuse for being less than the best servant of Christ you can be; and (2) don’t be overly concerned about showing, shining and representing. Work at being the right sort of person and doing the right sort of things. If you do that, the shining, showing and representing will absolutely take care of themselves.

What sort of things, you ask?
  1. Obey your parents. Honor your father and mother. This is so easily forgotten today. Don’t just make a show of following their rules because you have to, use even the times they cramp your style as opportunities to learn patience and self-control. Don’t mock or slag them to your friends, even if they sometimes deserve it. Be unusual that way. You will not regret it.
  2. Treat the opposite sex with unrelenting purity. Our culture promotes sexual experimentation at a very early age. Don’t follow its lead. When you finally find a Christian girl or young man you want to marry, you will be unbelievably grateful if he or she comes without a lot of sexual baggage and emotional hang-ups related to guilt. You will also be delighted, believe it or not, to find that he or she is not particularly sexually knowledgeable. Your marriage will go a lot better for it. The obvious conclusion: if you want a partner with a clean slate for yourself — and you should — then resolve right now not to become a contributor to the sexual history of others.
  3. Study to show yourself approved. School is fine. Success is fine. But invest yourself above all in studying the Bible. I guarantee you will have forgotten 90% of the stuff you learned in high school or college within five years or less. You will never use most of it. Your Bible, on the other hand, is your best ongoing resource for all of life. There’s almost nothing you can learn from it that doesn’t matter. Get familiar with its contents while you can still memorize easily and while your mind is sharp and avid. Then live out what you learn to the best of your ability.
  4. Bear the yoke. If you make a public stand for what you believe, whether in high school or anywhere else, you will definitely encounter conflict. In fact, you’ll provoke it, even if involuntarily. So learn to take a hit. That’s what Jeremiah is talking about when he refers to a “yoke”: persecution for acting with integrity and faith. He goes on to add, “let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults.” If that doesn’t sound like much fun, well, it isn’t. But you’ll grow up fast and be doing something that matters.
  5. Establish a deep personal relationship with God. It’s never too early for that. You cannot be too young to know and love God deeply. Samuel was just a boy when he started “ministering before the Lord”. Admittedly, his situation was a little unusual, but I don’t think he was doing the work of an adult priest. He was serving in an age-appropriate way under supervision. The word of the Lord was rare in Samuel’s day, but of all the people in Israel, God spoke directly to a child — but it was a child who deliberately chose to make his bed right beside the ark of the covenant. Do you have that level of commitment to the things of God? If you want a deep personal relationship with the Lord, then demonstrate that you care about his things above all.
There is a great deal more to be found in scripture that a young man or woman can do to become the sort of person who shines, shows and represents, but I’ll leave the further investigation to you.

You wouldn’t want me to do all the heavy lifting for you, would you? That’s kind of the point of growing up.

1 comment :

  1. Well, should the way the human being grows and matures then be considered to be an interesting problem and should or could it have been done differently? How about if it simply takes a kiss to get the female pregnant and orderly procreation then simply depends on making kissing somewhat mundane and nearly taboo. Let's look at the animal kingdom, there are so many other possibilities. Why are we stuck with the one we have that demands a huge investment of time and energy? Any suggestions ;-). I at least see that there may be multiple purposes behind the way it is currently. E.g., shaping of character and growth through a cycle of failure and success in a physically and spiritually burdensome and difficult material reality (something some of the angles could have used to help build character and that's why we have to do it now instead, even at the risk of cyclic failure). Why would we even question what we are evidently designed for? And by that I mean we are meant to go to the gym of life (some call it the school of life) to try and strengthen our spiritual biceps even at the risk of the occasionally or repetitively dislocated shoulder or back.