I’ve never been good with teenagers. I live in a state of constant dread of the day I have to raise them, which is why I’ve been laying the groundwork early with my two boys (starting conversations now that we can continue to have until they lose their minds in their teenage years). Whenever ministry opportunities come up where I have to work with teens, I generally eschew them.

I think that’s why when folks reach the “teenage” phase of their spiritual walk, I tend to get a little frustrated with them. I know, I know, we don’t often read of the teenage phase of our spiritual walks. We are told we’re to be child like (“He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” –Matthew 18:2-4) not childish (“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” –I Corinthians 13:11-12). But there’s got to be some sort of transitional steps between being children (though keeping the child-like sense of awe, wonder, and appreciation of mystery) and having a mature faith.

I’m dubbing these knucklehead times our teenage walk.

As a child, your parents know everything. Then as you get older, become a teenager, your parents don’t seem to know anything. As you mature into adulthood, your parents suddenly seem to know a little more again. Or, to quote Mark Twain: “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

So as we grow about maturing in our faith, I suppose there must come a time when we are in our awkward teen years. Possibly marked by

-an attitude that plays out in a practical way as “I don’t truly want to think through my faith – I just want to rebel against everything I’ve been taught”
-general issues with authority, from pastors to the Bible to anything resembling leadership or accountability
-cynicism to the point of abandoning
-a chip on the shoulder aspect to their interactions

It would be easy to dismiss it as the equivalent of a spiritual temper tantrum. However, being reckless in so many things, wanting to experience everything, jumping off cliffs (often landing on rocks) is sometimes the only way many of us can learn.

The journey inward is part of the progress. You have to stick to it. Some people compare this time to God actually “giving” you more responsibility by not guiding you by the hand any more. Kind of like a parent with a teenager, how dealing with them is akin to handling a wet bar of soap: you want to keep them in your hand, but the best way to do so is in a loose grip because the harder you hold onto them the more likely they will just squeeze out. Discipleship present traditions of faith. Help people think through faith not tell them what IS the faith.

Give them room to go and explore where they need to go, but continue to be present in their lives (in order to be a guard rail). We know the signs of maturing: an increase in humility and teachability; the acknowledgment of the need for help. In the meantime, we need to keep the lines of communication open. Let them come to you and, more importantly, be there for them when they do. At least that’s the theory I’m going with.

Not that I’ve ever been one or anything.

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