I have a confession to make: I’ve felt myself at times becoming one of those “Get off my lawn” adults. This isn’t intentional on my part. I think it’s age’s natural response to change and time in relation to those younger than you. I tell myself that I can still relate to younger people, and I can, but only to a certain point. The world has changed by leaps and bounds. To give away my age, I was in 7th Grade in 2001. In 2001, cell phones were basic devices. The classic “Razr” that we all know and love wouldn’t come on the scene until 2004. Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook didn’t exist. The world that shaped my teenage years is nothing like the world that teenagers exist in now. The challenges you (teenagers) face are ones that I sometimes fail to comprehend. The economy, the current political climate of America, the growing unrest in the Middle East and Europe, terrorism hitting home on our shores, the unrelenting tide of influences and information brought about by the internet and social media, the list goes on. Teenagers are unfairly painted as lazy and entitled, while in reality this been done throughout history with every generation. This current generation of teenagers is no different, and like those generations of young people who later changed the world, they will grow and surprise the critics, as they always have.
However, only those that develop their foundations before early will change the world. Young people need some key things to hold on to when the ship starts rocking, and mark my words, it will rock. You will have moments that shatter what you previously believed, thought, and were told. You’ll find yourself questioning things you never thought you would question. You will ask questions that may frighten you, and the answers to them will only prove more frightening. If I could go back in time and talk to 15-year old me for a few hours, I would give him three pieces of insight I learned the hard way. But, I can’t. Thankfully, I have been given the opportunity and platform to share these insights with others.
1. Figure out what YOU believe on your own
There’s a secret in the adult world we don’t like sharing very often: we get things wrong. There’s an even bigger secret though: we sometimes have motives behind the things we tell others. Parents (the vast majority at least) really care about raising their kids the right way. Adults usually care about giving the right kind of guidance and tools to help you succeed. But, as the classic saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Adults get things wrong, often out of ignorance or just ingrained ideas from previous ignorant or wrong adults who never questioned things themselves.
So many people live their lives like secondary characters in a story: you’re a spineless entity who only does what serves the story or other main characters. You are the main character of your story. No one else is going to do it for you. No one else in your world is going to step up and be the main character. You are the Katniss Everdeen of your Hunger Games, and that means you need to understand what you believe for yourself. Do the research. Study the Bible on your own. Investigate the politics you’ve always assumed were right. Look at every issue from every side in light of Scripture. In most cases, you may find what you’ve been taught to be pretty accurate, but you will now have a deeper understanding. In some other cases, you may find you believe differently on certain issues. I think Adam Savage of Mythbusters said it best: “I think one of the defining moments of adulthood is the realization that nobody’s going to take care of you. That you have to do the heavy lifting while you’re here. And when you don’t, well, you suffer the consequences.”
2. Learn to forgive yourself
You are going to make mistakes. You are going to do things that you will look back on with bewilderment and think, “Really? REALLY?! How could I have been so stupid??” Guess what? Everyone has thoughts like this. This is part of the experience of growing up. You learn through trial, error, stubbing your toe or burning yourself on the stove. The main thing you need to reinforce to yourself over and over and over again is that these missteps are not what define you as a person. You are far more than your mistakes.
Psychologist Carl Jung was the first to coin the term “Wounded Healer”, which is something we should all strive to be. In essence, a Wounded Healer is someone who uses their own painful experiences and how they got through them and formed them to help others going through the same things. When apartheid was ending in South Africa and the new government under Nelson Mandela formed the Truth and Reconciliation Committee to help the nation heal from its history of racial segregation and violence, the committee sought people described as “wounded healers”. One of the leaders of the committee, when asked what kind of people he wanted for the hearings, said “I want victims. I want people who were abused, hurt, had family members killed, who went through horrible pain. But through it all, they didn’t stay victims.” In this life, your biggest critic will always be you. You must learn to let go of past mistakes, learn from them, forgive yourself, and use what you learned to grow and help others. If you live your life always looking back and hating yourself for mistakes you’ve made, you’re never going to be able to see how these things can be turned into things for good. Remember, you are a victor, not a victim.
Don’t expect and demand perfection from yourself, because you will always fall short. You don’t have to be perfect, because thankfully our God is perfect on our behalf.
3. Be ready to be surprised
Life is going to take you places you never expected to go. All of your plans and ideas about the future can change in a heartbeat. When I think about where I thought I would be by this time back when I was graduating from high school compared to where I actually am, it’s mind-boggling how much things have changed. I am in a career I never thought I’d be in, unmarried, and I haven’t accomplished hardly anything I thought I would have. Here’s the strange thing about all of that: I’m OK with it. I could look at all those setbacks and unchecked bullets on my life list and consider myself a massive failure, but in fact I am exactly where I am supposed to be. God has a funny way of making things happen in ways we don’t expect. So often in the church we hold on to God’s promise of “giving us life abundantly”, and we put our own stamp on what we think that should look like. The truth is, we don’t get to define that reality, and God does. And many of us don’t like this. One of the dirty secrets that many Christians carry is feelings of bitterness and disappointment, and sometimes they look at God as the enemy of their happiness. This isn’t the case at all.
God promised us life abundantly, but a problem forms when we find out that our definitions of abundant do not match God’s. God’s promises are not fulfilled in the way we expect or on the timeline we expect, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t follow through. One of my favorite examples of this is Joseph. He was promised by God that he would be powerful and that all of his brothers would bow to him. Was the promised fulfilled immediately? Absolutely not. Those same brothers threw him in a well and later sold him into slavery, then as a slave he was imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. In prison he thrived, but was still held there longer than necessary. It wasn’t until he was finally brought before Pharaoh to translate a dream did he get his opportunity, and he soon was the second most powerful man in Egypt, and arguably the world. The key to all those setbacks Joseph went through was this: they prepared him for what God had ready for him at the proper moment. Every single thing he went through trained him and gave him the experiences he needed to thrive in the place God had ready for him. Why do we look at our setbacks any differently?
Don’t think that God doesn’t love you just because something you planned doesn’t work out. I promise God’s plans are better. You just may have to get thrown in a well before you can fully see how they are better. This is where trust is so important. Learn to trust God and let him lead. I promise he won’t take you somewhere you don’t need to be.
Teenagers (and even adults who are reading this), every day is a new opportunity to be a better version of yourself and to grow closer to the God who created you. Don’t waste these exciting and formative days on things that don’t last. Learn something new every day. Challenge yourself and take some leaps of faith. Above all, TRUST GOD. That’s the best advice anyone can give, and it’s advice I sometimes don’t take to heart as much as I should. Take it to heart every day. This is what I strive to do, so let’s do it together.
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