Living On Borrowed Convictions
By T. Suzanne Eller
Sagan has a check and balance system in place. If she strays too far from her faith or convictions, a talk with her mom or youth pastor can bring her back into the safety zone. But 17-year-old Sagan just walked across the stage and received her diploma, and she’s excited about living on a college campus in the fall.
However, mom is worried. Who will help Sagan make the right choices?
After years of working with teens, I’ve discovered that many teens falter in their faith when they leave the safety zone of high school. For many, it’s knowing what not to do, but failing to understand why they believe the way they do. They live on borrowed convictions.
That might work when you have people looking out for you 24/7, but it doesn’t work as well when you’re flying solo for the first time. What does it mean to live on borrowed convictions? It’s hearing 10,000 sermons, but never digging into the Bible to see what scripture says. It’s going to church because it’s family tradition, but never asking what it means to worship God one-on-one. It’s saying “no” because you don’t want people at church to think badly of you, or because you’d get in trouble at home, but not discovering the joy of obeying Christ as a modern-day disciple. It’s no secret that a teen can get off course when cultural perspectives and borrowed convictions get all jumbled up.
How do we teach our teens to establish personal convictions?
- Don’t be afraid of a teen’s questions about Christianity.
- Teach them the “why’s” instead of the “don’ts”.
Your teen has doubts about her faith. Does this frighten you? “Haven’t we taught her about faith?” you might ask, failing to realize that this is a key moment. Your teen is asking questions because she’s separating what she’s learned from a Christian upbringing and trying to make it personal. God isn’t afraid of your teen’s doubts or questions, and he’s big enough to prove himself real to those who seek him.
My children are in college, and it was difficult to watch each of them move from a faith-filled teen to a seeking adult. Each performed that in their own way. In the end, they transitioned to a believer. It would have been easier for me as a mom if they had just accepted what I believed, but instead they became life-long followers of Christ as they made their faith their own.
You may not have all the answers for your teen’s questions, but you can guide him or her to resources that will help them begin their search. Make an offer to help, if they desire. Pray as they carve away what is ritual or simply “church” to discover a living God who loves them even more than you.
What if the questions are sticky? Their questions may not be about their faith, but about cultural issues that clash with their faith. Our children are immersed in a cultural war every day. Consider this. A teen’s life span might be 15 years. What cultural standards have become commonplace or normal in their lifetime? How often do biblical standards state the exact opposite of what their peers or media or even other adults believe?
Abortion is wrong. But why, dad? Homosexuality isn’t God’s plan for our lives, son. Mom, do you know anyone who is gay? Marriage is for a lifetime. Then why are half the people I know, including Christians, divorced? Sex is reserved for marriage. But how do you define sex, really? Do you see the dilemma?
I’m not comfortable talking about that, Suzie. But mom and dad, 99 percent of the teen world is, and sharing the “don’ts” isn’t enough. These are valid questions, and if they haven’t taken the time to research them on their own (with or without your help), borrowed convictions might be enough reason to say no when they really need the answers.
Your teen’s question might be as simple as “why can’t I feel God?”. It’s awesome when a teen hears this: “What a great question. I’ve experienced that myself at times. Let me write down a few scriptures that helped me, and you can look them up for yourself” or you place teen-friendly books in their hands that will allow them to investigate their faith. When issues or questions arise, let your teen know that you are open to a dialogue, even if you disagree.
Last, model your own search for spiritual maturity as you pray and read scripture, ask tough questions, and search for answers. As a discipleship teacher for years, my prayer was that I would turn teens onto the Bible. I’ve seen them light up when I revealed this truth: the Bible rocks! Like a movie, you get to see the beginning and ending of real-life stories like Matthew the tax collector who finds out there’s more to life than money, or Peter, the guy nobody believed in who went on to be a pillar of the New Testament revolution. I gave my teens a journal, and asked them to start writing down their questions. When the youth pastor read a scripture, I asked them to write it down and check it out for themselves. Because teens are interactive, I asked them to journal what they felt or thought after reading their Bible each day, and to pray for seven minutes a day. That wasn’t overwhelming. It was do-able, and the results were exciting. Teens began to build personal altars, not literally, but spiritually. They went in for seven minutes, and some days it turned to thirty. Other days it was only seven, but they began to talk to God, instead of just hearing about him. They asked tough questions and we discussed them in class, but I assured them that God wasn’t afraid of the tough stuff. We explored the why’s behind our Christian convictions, and watched as one teen after another “got it”.
Last month we talked about Faithbuster #1 – Living By Feelings. Next month we’ll discuss Faithbuster #3 – Confusing Faith with Tradition, exploring how to encourage your teen to move from ritual and religion to relationship.
Read more from T. Suzanne Eller:
How to Have a Good Fight
A Different Type of Adoption
Parenting by the Faith Factor
Beyond the Dos and the Don'ts
What You Teach Me About God
T. Suzanne Eller is the author of the new discipleship book for teens, Making It Real: Whose Faith Is It Anyway? She is the founder of Real Teen Faith (http://realteenfaith.com) where teens get real about relevant faith. You can reach Suzie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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