Teenagers in the Pews

Teenagers in the Pew (1,179)

June 16th, 2011

I raised six boys. Most of you already know that. My relationship with those young men went through three distinct stages during their growing-up years. When they were seven years old, I loved them dearly. When they turned twelve, I liked them well enough. But by the time they hit sixteen? Well, honest to God, I tolerated them. Anyone who has raised teenagers has learned the meaning of the Jesus exclamation from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

I think this is why most people like babies, because they are fully aware that a little time-clock is ticking off—pleasant years until those infants gain the raging hormones of ferocious adolescence.

For when a child is about seven years of age, he walks around believing that you are the best. You gain the status of God with a side of Superman. Oh, occasionally they will pout if they don’t get a candy bar in the grocery store check-out line, but that is dispelled by coming home and tossing a football in the back yard. There is a dispensation of mutual admiration and an unrealistic anticipation that this particular child will escape all the rigors of rebellion. It’s the “You’re the best, Dad” phase.

Along about twelve years of age, they wake up one morning, and it’s like someone has given them a narcotic of nonsense. You are no longer the best. Instead, you have become something they permit in their lives, and you begin to hear that annoying response, “Yeah. I guess.” You seek any sign of passion or desire, only to be greeted with an emotional yawn, often accompanied by a physical nodding off while you speak.

You resist the temptation to be angry with their indifference, but sometimes it gets to you and you challenge their torpor, only to be greeted with a confused expression because they have no idea whatsoever what you are talking about.

“I did it, Dad. Didn’t I? What do you want?”

Some ideas immediately pop to your mind. How about excitement? A smile? Some enthusiasm? Or even breath in your lungs?

But you’re still convinced that you can overcome the horrors of other parents’ encounters with adolescence. That is, until they turn sixteen. This is where even the more liberal parents begin to believe in demon possession. A creature has moved into your house, stalked your child and inserted itself inside his soul, turning him into a fire-breathing dragon of misery and misconception. I refer to it as the “Whatever” phase. It is so annoying. Not only are you NOT “the best,” or barely pleasantly tolerated. No, you have become an enemy to attack simply because your temples have grayed and your skin dared to wrinkle.

I bring this up to you today because I see the same thing happening in the spiritual life of our country. I certainly understand why God is delighted with the fruits of evangelism—going out to preach the gospel to every living creature—because after all, new babes in Christ are so sweet, so excited. They can’t praise God too much for their salvation and new birth. They believe He’s “the best.” They will nearly tear up over being given a Bible.

And then they get in the church for a while, survive some committee meetings, experience a scandal or two, and they become the twelve-year-old version of, “Yeah. I guess.”

· “Yeah, I guess I need to go to church.”

· “Yeah, I guess we should read the Bible.”

· “Yeah, I guess we should pray for the sick and care for the homeless.”

· “Yeah, I guess we should repeat the liturgy.”

· “Yeah, I guess … “

I meet these people all the time. Matter of fact, they think my faith is a little childish because I’m still enthralled. They look at me like, “Eh, give him a little while. He’ll soon lose his joy…just like me.”

But as I travel the country, what is truly frightening is the presence of adolescents in the pews—people who have hardened their hearts so strongly to the fatherhood of God that they accidentally find themselves rebelling against renewal, revival and the restoration of enjoyment and new life. They have a “whatever” attitude. If you suggest praise, they offer assent. If you request they clap their hands, they reluctantly tap their foot. If you promote humor and a smile, they generate only a leer or a smirk. They feel that maturity grants them the privilege of refusing to be overly involved. They are the “Whatever” movement of religion that has a form of Godliness but has begun to rebel and deny the power of Daddy.

You still love ’em. You still include them as family—but you’re vexed by how miserable they are at the genealogy of being a part of you. We have teenagers in the pews who have developed a brusque approach to interaction with their heavenly Father. It makes you want to go out and make new converts, just so you can get the bad taste of the sour pusses out of your mouth. You want to be around some people who really believe that God is “the best.” You want to play on the playground of spirituality with some individuals who giggle instead of gag. No wonder Jesus says that he likes hot OR cold. But lukewarm he spews out of his mouth.

Can you be a seasoned veteran of the church wars and still have the heart of a seven-year-old child? I believe it’s possible—but not without acknowledging that religion has taken its toll on your soul and caused you to become more cynical than willing. I don’t think you can be a good Christian without truly hating religion, because religion turns us into rebellious teenagers who do not believe there’s anything new under the sun or good below the heavens.

When you consider this, it gives you great pause—even concern—especially when you ruminate over the words of Jesus:

“Except you become as little children, you will not enter the kingdom of God.”

Published in: on June 16, 2011 at 12:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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