(an overtly religious post about church culture and the adolescent turmoil)
I was driving into work the other day and I had a sort of mundane epiphany.
(Now for all of you non-religious readers, you may want to turn away now. Or, you may want to see what I have to say. I am NOT going to get crazy or anything.)
I realized that I believe in God. (I’m not to the epiphany yet.)
Kind of weird I know. It’s not that I’ve never believed in God, because, actually, I always have. But I just realized that I really do believe. Like, I can’t separate myself from that belief.
In the same moment, I realized (here is the epiphany) I don’t have any doubts about God.
So when I say “God,” I’m talking about the whole Christian spiel: Jesus, miraculously born of a virgin and dying on a cross to save the world because he loves us. I have literally no doubts about it.
God loves me. God loves you. Jesus was real. What he did really happened. (I’m kinda making myself itchy just writing these things because I really don’t like religious jargon or flowery spirituality, but there comes a point when you just have to rest in who you are.)
Let me explain why this was an epiphany and a mundane one at that.
Church Culture Says…
I have always gone to church. But I’ve found that the culture of church, and I think the culture of American church in general, is very don’t-do-this-or-that. It was all about don’t, don’t, don’t.
Don’t doubt. Don’t do drugs. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t have sex before you’re married. Don’t smoke. Don’t rebel. If you do any of these things, you aren’t a good Christian. Oh, and make sure to pray two hours a day.
We, as people, get caught up in what we shouldn’t do, rather than what we should do. But this negative perspective makes for children who feel inadequate and ashamed.
If I ever doubted, I felt like I was failing as a Christian and I would be told so by church youth leaders.
My sister actually told me that the reason she decided to stop going to youth group was because one of the leaders told an entire room of students that their sins made God sick. Newsflash, the last time I checked, God is kinda all-knowing and he isn’t shocked or surprised by anything we may or may not do. We certainly don’t make him sick to his stomach if he even has one…
(I’m not hating on church, just so you know. I’m just saying it is flawed like everything else in the world.)
The Boogie Man aka Sex
I particularly remember sex being this big bad monster. A whole book could probably be written about how our mindset about sex causes issues in young children, but I’ll just leave it at this:
I genuinely thought if I had sex before I got married that I might go to hell. There is an issue with that.
Do I think people should be off having sex with anyone and everyone? No.
Do I think it is healthier to devote yourself to one person through marriage and have sex with only that person? Yes.
Does that always happen? No.
Is anyone going to hell over it? No.
Adolescents are stinky, hormonal catastrophes waiting to happen. Middle schoolers are like the butt-sweat age. The smell like it and are just about as bad as experiencing it. They’re these little psycho almost-adults, and I’m not sure the youth group/middle school education model is doing them any favors.
Church culture said: don’t, don’t, don’t.
But adolescence says: do and experience everything with no regard to self-preservation or general tact. I’m honestly not sure if young people can help it. They’re just crazy.
So, as a young person, my primary concerns for my life were: don’t doubt that God is real, don’t be a bad person and don’t you dare have sex.
But, as a young person, I was constantly doubting and doing bad stuff. So it was a perpetual battle.
I fought and fought to be good in the eyes of my leaders and peers. I fought to not doubt. I fought to believe God loved me, but since I failed and messed up so often, it was really, really hard. How could he love someone like me?
And ya know what? All my striving didn’t make me good. It made me hide. I just pretended to be an obedient, non-rebellious, faithful Christian who believed in God’s unconditional love.
In striving to be so many things, I was actually making it harder to be those things. I believed it was impossible to be good, so I wasn’t good.
My parents divorced when I was 6, and my dad pretty much told me his job was more important than me. So…. I attribute a lot of my issues to that. BUT, as I get older, I kinda think it was just hormones – or at least mostly hormones.
I was just a crazy, butt-sweat teenager just like all the rest. I was the definition of turmoil.
A Mundane Epiphany
So what does all this have to do with my epiphany?
Well, I realized on my way to work, that somewhere along the way, I quit trying to be a good Christian. I quit trying to convince myself that God loves me. I quit trying to be more and more faithful. I quit trying to not do bad stuff. I quit trying to appear like I was the best. Pretty much I did away with all outward spirituality.
Somewhere along the way, my hormones chilled out. I stopped being so psycho (barring my time adjusting to birth control… good lord that was horrendous).
I didn’t make a conscious decision to change my focus from negative to positive. But at some point, I stopped focusing on don’t, don’t, don’t, and I started focusing on simply loving others. No idea when that was. It just happened as I’ve gotten older (I know 25 is not very old, ok? Just saying).
The result of this subconscious shift in mindset? All the things I was fighting against disintegrated.
So as I was sitting in my car, with the engine purring beneath me and my eyes on the Knoxville skyline, and it was like, Oh. Hmm. I’m not fighting anymore. I’m at rest, and I believe. I’m not filled with darkness and turmoil.
Maybe all those things were only issues because I made them so. Maybe all those things were only issues because of hormones. Maybe that’s just an excuse. I don’t know, really.
My greatest desire is to one day look back on my life and be able to say I learned to love. Love is the answer, always.
Humans are flawed creatures. I don’t believe we naturally point ourselves and our own towards choosing love. I think we are more concerned about fitting a cultural mold or moral standard than we are about learning what it really means to love.
To me, God is love. And so my belief in him ended up being all that was necessary to become a more loving, more faithful, better person. Sure, it’s a process and I make mistakes and I’ll never be perfect, but I don’t really have to worry about that if I’m moving in the general direction towards love.
So don’t make abstinence (from doing bad things) your focus. Instead, focus on love, and all the other things will fall into place. Teach your children that love is the answer, and their actions will align more with good and less with bad.
And if you’re a butt-sweat teenager, don’t worry. Your hormones will chill the crap down here in a few years and you’ll be able to actually exist without being a psychopath.