My mom wants me to be confirmed this year, but I’m not sure I even believe in God.
I love Cathedral Camp, but I’ve been through a lot in the last few years; I’ve prayed and prayed, and it feels like God isn’t listening.
I used to love church and pray all the time, but now I don’t even know if God is real.
These statements have come to me just in the last few weeks, the last one from my own preteen. This is the same child who told me when he was 3 that before we’re born we live in God’s heart, which is also where we go when we die. I knew the day would come when I’d hear something like this from him, but it still took my breath away the day it happened.
As Lent begins, I wonder how we can use this season to help the teenagers in our care, at home and at church, keep the door open for faith. First, I think we need to dig deeper into what it is that makes them hold God at arm’s length.
I’m not sure I even believe in God…
Our children live in a world informed by scientific thought and innovation. They receive constant input from the secular world, some of which tells them that science and faith cannot coexist. And they’re exposed through a variety of media to some ‘Christian’ messages that do not include the least of these, do not “respect the dignity of every human being” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 305).
On top of that, as they grow it is developmentally right and vital for them to seek autonomy by setting themselves apart – sometimes against – what their families have taught them to believe. Sadly, that can include God and worship.
It feels like God isn’t listening…
Kids are all about instant gratification, and before we blame technology, let’s look back and admit it; we were much the same. It has to do with brain development, which isn’t complete until we reach our early to mid-twenties. As hard as it is for adults to wait for our prayers to be answered, and to accept that they won’t always be answered according to our will, it is so much harder for our teens, many of whom still dabble in magical thinking. The deeper their childhood faith, the higher the potential devastation when God doesn’t save a beloved grandparent or take away feelings of worthlessness and depression.
I used to love church and pray all the time, but…
This one breaks my heart every time, despite its developmentally appropriate normalcy. Our young children in church know God in their hearts and minds and are wide open to the Holy Spirit. As they experience more of life’s hardships and discover more about the times and places where humanity can be brutal, and as their own sense of identity grows more complex and not always positive…doubt takes root like a choking vine.
How perfect then is it, for those of us striving to raise Christian youth, that Lent begins with Jesus in the wilderness? What more apt metaphor could we have for the tumult of adolescence than wilderness?
And there is nothing better than a good story to help us connect with our children’s innermost thoughts, feelings, doubts, hopes, and fears.
I have a deep love for this video depiction of Jesus’ 40 days in the Judean desert:
In 4 minutes, we see Jesus hopeful, determined, bored, anxious, playful, longing, despairing, lonely, curious, exhausted, angry, tempted…a full range of emotion, most of which our teens experience in tidal waves every single day.
Our teens’ emotions change in a matter of minutes, jumping from despair to anger to hilarity in tidal waves of hormone-driven confusion. Adolescence is like living in a Nutribullet® filled with intense emotions instead of fruit and kale.
This will be my Lenten practice with my son this year: watching this video together and asking open questions…
- Imagine being totally alone for 40 days; no friends, no devices, no connection. What would be the hardest part?
- What do we think about Satan or Evil?
- Why are the apple, the snake, and Temptation red when everything else is black & white? (Also, will he notice the other slight color, when the angels appear?)
- What is Temptation and where does it come from?
- I wonder if Jesus ever wished he’d gone ahead and turned the stone to bread?
I cannot force faith. I cannot mandate belief. But through relationship, story, and open-heartedness, I can walk with my son through his wilderness.
I can pray for and with him, and hopefully help him catch a glimpse of God in the stories of who we all are, where we’ve been, and where we hope to go.
Anne Delgado says
This is such a timely message for me–thank you. My own preteen announced at dinner this Ash Wednesday that he is now an atheist (after asking about the definition). I know that this is him reaching out for more information, and trying on new roles as he matures, but it still stopped me in my tracks. The questions you articulated are exactly what he said, in addition to some prayers he felt went unanswered. This is the same child who used to say, “I love you and Papa 100% and God 1000%!” I know the Holy Spirit has this one, but these are good points for walking with my son on this part of his journey. My prayer for him for this next stage is asking God to open the eyes of his heart. Thanks again!