Rev. Bruinsma is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan.
While in my teens I gave no thought to the meaning of being a teenager or just where I was in my development as a human being. I was too busy getting on with my life to worry about this. Besides, I simply did not care! Now, as I look back on these years, I think that it would have been helpful to understand this about myself: what was there about my teenage years which was distinct from childhood and adulthood?
Perhaps this does not interest you either at this stage in your life. But relax for a few minutes and read anyway. Maybe you will discover a few tips that might be useful as you assert your independence as a young man or woman.
In his book entitled The Secret of Christian Family Living, Ralph Heynen attempts a description of the teenager.
The adolescent is required to live as gracefully as he can in two worlds, the lingering world of childhood and the opening world of adulthood. He is seldom sure of which of these two areas he occupies at a given time. In a sense these young people are still children. They still have some of the feelings of dependency of childhood. And yet, they have a strong desire to be independent. They need their parents and yet they desire to break the ties of parental controls.
Now, I realize that you may not view yourself in this particular way. It may seem that this definition of adolescence describes a teenager as nothing more than a confused, overgrown kid who is trying to act like an adult. Let me assure you that this is far from the case! A teenager is not a kid anymore! He has reached the age of puberty. He has definitely gone through certain physical, emotional, and psychological changes in his life that separate him from his little brothers and sisters.
Yet, this description of an adolescent is accurate. In every person’s life there is a certain period during which he makes a change from childhood into adulthood. That was true of me and it is true of you too. A person does not simply change into an adult overnight. It is a gradual process through which a young man and woman must go in order to master what it takes to be independent. It is a sad and harmful thing when children are cast out into the world to fend for themselves prematurely, that is, before they have reached a certain age of maturity.
That you stand at the brink of adulthood, but have not yet quite entered it, makes these years very special in your life. You have left childhood behind, and stand at the door of maturity. The teenager is a young adult. Yet, you would have to be quite proud not, to admit that this whole area of adulthood is new to you. You have had no previous experience in it and therefore are ignorant of its demands and responsibilities. You do not yet have the wisdom of which you can assert your independency from mother and father. All this you have to learn. This is why the teenage years are referred to as adolescence; they are years during which one comes of age, grows up, becomes mature.
There are three very important questions you will need to answer during these years. When you answer these for yourself, then you will be ready to become independent. The first end by far the most vital question is: what will be my spiritual commitment? Will I walk in the way of God’s commandments and Word? Will I love God and live my life in service to Him? Or will I choose to walk in the way of sin and unrepentance? Will I despise the ways of God and take my place with the rest of the ungodly in this world? This question, of course, has everything to do with the other two questions a young person must answer. Those are: what will be my life’s work? And whom will I choose to be my life’s mate, if I choose to marry? You must make commitments in all these areas before you can truly call yourself an adult or a mature individual.
I know there are those who do not wish to face these questions. They-are indeed difficult to answer. Some young people do not wish to grow up and become responsible for their lives. But these questions will not go away. They press themselves on the teenager. This is why the teenage years can be so difficult. You, as young people; are not children anymore! Yet the fact remains: to become independent of mother and father you must be ready to stand alone spiritually, financially, and emotionally. You must be able to say with Paul in I Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Until we can put away childish things we have not become mature enough to be independent.
There is more to all of this. Not only is the teenager caught between childhood and adulthood, but he is caught between two spiritual forces at work in this world as well. Think about that for a moment! There are two worlds that surround Christian youth: the world of righteousness and the world of unrighteousness. Both of these worlds exert a tremendous amount of pressure on a young man and woman. There are parents, teachers, and ministers who constantly urge the teenager to walk in a way of holiness, to serve God and to love Him above all else. Before the shift from childhood into adolescence this was fine. We simply accepted what they taught us as true. Now, however, we want, to be free to make this decision for ourselves. We want to be independent. And sometimes, to show that we are not kids anymore; we deliberately reject the urging of our parents and follow the other spiritual force that pressures us. The wicked world surrounds us and waits in the shadows. She is as a beautiful woman with all her charms and allurements. She constantly beckons from the sideline, offering us her ways as an alternative to the ways of our parents and church. These are ways of sin and rebellion against God and His Word. Yet, these ways seem so much more simple, so much less demanding than the ways of holiness that our parents, taught us in our childhood. Thus does the wicked world put its pressure on us as youth without our even realizing it. And we are suddenly swept up in the battle of the ages—a battle that we would just as soon ignore, but which forces itself upon us.
Now, do not get me wrong. I do not wish to discourage you. This time of your life is marked by strength and vitality. God strengthens you that you might assert you independence and learn your particular place in life. I write these things only to help sort things out, in order that the transition from childhood to adulthood might take place as smoothly as possible.
There are two roads to becoming independent. There is the way of the world. In this way we reject the church, the old paths of our parents, and, worst of all, the God of our salvation. The spiritual commitment we make is to walk in the way of unbelief, turning our back on the truth of the Scripture that parents taught us during childhood. Having answered this question, we then choose a vocation that may violate scriptural principles (perhaps union membership or Sabbath desecration.) The spouse we choose need not have any spiritual moorings either. What she believes is of no consequence to this decision we make. We then assert our independence by leaving father and mother behind and making a new life for ourselves in this world. This is one way of asserting our independence.
The other way, the right way, is to follow in the spiritual ways we were taught as a child (provided, of course, these were the ways of God and the Scripture). The right way to assert independence is to remain faithful to God and His cause in this world, and to take our place in the midst of Christ’s church as an active, enthusiastic member. This will in turn determine what vocation and what spouse we choose. In this way too we can assert our independence. We can leave father and mother and make a life for ourselves in this world and in the church.
So… which will it be? I cannot plan your life. Parents cannot determine your future life. You must determine where you want to be when you have finally reached maturity. All we can do as pastors, teachers, and parents is to instruct and admonish. The rest we leave in the hands of our almighty and ever faithful God who by His grace alone works in the hearts of sinners. As parents we are thankful for the work He has accomplished in us through the cross of Jesus Christ, and we are confident that the same work He has performed in us He also accomplished in your hearts. To be sure, that does not remove the struggles you confront while asserting your independence, but it ought to encourage you.
There are several means God give you as covenant youth that will assist you in becoming mature, independent adults. If you make use of them, the many, difficult and burdensome questions you must answer for yourselves will become lighter. The first is the Word of God. We learn from the Bible that God’s Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light upon our path in this world. No, it is not a ready-made handbook that will tell us exactly what we must do in a given situation. It will not tell us, for example, what job we must choose or who will be our wife or husband. But the Word of God will lay out for us the spiritual principles required of us to make decisions in these areas of our lives. This will make our struggles easier. In this connection, do not forget that careful application of the preaching of God’s Word assists us too in the many questions and problems we confront.
A second means God has given us is Christian adults. Christian parents, teachers, and pastors are not a bane; they are not a source of harm or ruin for us. Rather, they are a boon, a blessing or benefit given by God on our behalf. We must not view the Christian adults God has given us in our lives as the enemy, but as those who will help us through the hard times. If you take time out to probe beneath the hard veneer that we as adults can sometimes wear, you will find that we are human beings who have experienced the same pains and difficulties you have. Please, young people, please, do not allow our own imperfections, inconsistencies, and sins to keep you from talking to us!
The final means God gives you to ease your burdens is prayer. What is prayer good for in this respect? First, by means of prayer you must ask God to direct you in your decisions. Christ promises us in Matthew 7:7, 8, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you; for everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” Secondly, by means of prayer you ask that God’s will be done in your life in order that you might find contentment and peace even-when things do not seem to go your way. Finally, by means of prayer you can find forgiveness where you have taken the wrong turn and have ended up in failure. Prayer will certainly assist you as you assert your independence.
When finally all those struggles are behind you, when you have answered in the right way all those important questions for yourself, then you will look back across those difficult teenage years and thank God for His grace! I know I often do that in my life. How often I was tempted to turn down the wrong path. By God’s grace alone I am what I am: What godly, covenant adult does not feel that in his heart? What child of God does not thank his God every day anew for the guidance God gave him and still gives him in his life?
Rest assured in God’s promise to you, Christian young man and woman: “I will never leave you or forsake you.” That promise is the rock to which all of us must cling. That will lead you too as you make the transition from childhood to adulthood.