I was once a teenager. Which was ‘cool’ or at least that’s the word we used back then to describe things that were…well, cool.
Then I graduated into adulthood. I don’t remember the exact time or date, but suddenly, I was older. Older with a ‘teenage mission’ (which I chose to accept). First, as a teacher, then as a youth pastor and then as a remix of the two, a school chaplain.
However, the teenage mission didn’t end there. Fourteen years ago, I became a parent, and then two years later, it happened again. Moreover, along the way, as I raised my very own ‘soon to be teens’, I spent time with young people across South Africa as part of my work with Scripture Union.
Your journey is probably different from mine, except for three things.
You were once a teenager. You are now an adult. And you have a mission to a teenager.
THE GOOD OL’ TEEN DAYS
Some days the mission goes well, and you have real successes to report back to ‘mission control’: your spouse, your senior minister, a fellow teacher or even the ‘you’ in the mirror.
That teen at church goes from just coming to Youth on a Friday night to growing in Christ.
Surprisingly, it looks like most of the class studied for the test.
Your son or daughter says, ‘thank you’, makes their bed (oh the mountains that can move!) and decides to play a non-violent-not-ending-in-tears game with their sibling.
Some days don’t go well, and those are the days I want to talk about here.
WHEN ALL ELSE IS FAILING
On the days when the mission is all but failing, teenagers make you feel many things. Here are some of my favourites feelings (not) and scriptures, which help with regaining perspective:
Teens make you feel old.
None of us wants to feel old, right? However, here’s the thing. Being old is not going to derail the mission. You accepting the season you’re in (and we are not just talking about age here) is just the thing you need to get behind the guarded walls of ‘Teenageville’. Access is only granted to those who are themselves and not to those trying to be something they are not. You don’t need to look like them or talk like them. Be yourself. Act your age. Kick relevant and trend to the curb. Authentic is the password.
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
Teens make you feel inadequate.
No matter how hard you try. No matter how much effort you put in. No matter how prepared you are. The ‘not good enough’ squad will hunt you down. Somehow with teens, our imperfections and mistakes gain magnification. And nobody wants to play the part of the adult who messed up a young person’s life.
Thankfully, raising or educating or leading the tribe of teens is not only up to us. Every day God is taking our flawed attempts and completing them perfectly by His work of grace.
“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you (and your teen) will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
Teens make you feel angry.
As an adult, I now see boundaries and rules as there to ‘keep me safe’, to ‘guard my heart and mind’. However, for teens, the word ‘rule’ or ‘boundary’ is synonymous with ‘challenge’.
With great determination, with surprising disregard, with Noble prize-winning ingenuity, our ‘beloved precious ones’ (that phrase is dripping with pre anger sarcasm) break out of their perceived prison of ‘unfair’ running headlong into the world of hurt with little thought for consequences. Wow, how it gets under our skin and turns us into something straight out of a Stephen King Novel.
So, you’re normal. Please don’t beat yourself up about it and (sombre tone) for Heaven’s sake don’t beat up on your kid.
In its purest form, anger is rooted in love.
Love hurts when teens at Youth make bad moral choices.
Love hurts when words strip you down about your career choice.
Love hurts when your angel is devious and misleading.
But love doesn’t act out of anger and love, always hopes, always trust, always forgives (1 Corinthians 13).
Stand firm on your (reasonable and biblical) boundaries when your teen storms the gates. Tell ‘Anger’ to chill and let love win the day.
Teens make you feel ‘hope-less’
You keep sharing the message. You keep giving the time. You keep explaining the concept. You keep trying to understand.
BUT…nothing changes. All your trying, your efforts, your love disappear into the mysterious teen blackhole.
You are not the first youth leader to wonder if ‘not all are chosen’. You’re not the first teacher to think that you don’t have what it takes. You’re not the first parent to believe you’re not getting it right.
So, here’s the pep talk.
Which, I think, is best heard in your head in a Morgan Freeman voice.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate [insert teen name here] from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).
Jesus faced it all. Overcame it all and is always rooting for your teen to come home into the open arms of a loving Heavenly Father.
Now, get back out there. A teen is waiting for you. It’s a mission (for sure) but choose to accept it.