Yesterday we talked about how one of the main tasks of adolescence it to answer the question of Identity. Unfortunately, many students try to answer that with meaningless or shallow externals like relationships, clothing brands, extracurricular activities or certain behaviors. Today we want to talk about a theology of identity as it directly relates to the adolescent. In other words, what is a biblical interpretation of a proper orientation of identity that an adolescent (and their supporting adults) can work from?
No theology of Identity is complete without looking at the Creation accounts of Genesis. Genesis 1 describes the creation of humanity in a very interesting and important manner:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created humanity in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
What are some basic principles that adolescent can take from this passage? First and foremost, we must remember and affirm that:
Adolescents are created in the imago dei, Image of God. If there is one thing that adolescents struggle with the most as they try to answer “Who am I?” is that they don’t feel as if they possess any value, that they aren’t unique or that they aren’t special. The pressures that adolescents get to perform, achieve, stand out, etc. are immeasurable when one takes into account the increasing pressure to get into an elite university, to preform on an outstanding team, to earn a perfect GPA, to become the next musical prodigy, to star in the next Broadway show or to become the next American Idol.
What is interesting is that these pressures come from these organizations that were originally constructed to protect the child and to help them learn and love the disciplines of academics, sports, music and the arts.* However, our culture has twisted these innocuous activities into systems that simply consume the adolescent for what they can provide for the organization. Sadly, the way the question of “Who am I?” gets answered for the teen is something like, “You are only as good as you can achieve.” or “There is no room for second place.”
Instead these organizations ought to be more about how we can help the students best investigate their God-given giftedness. We should be asking, “How can my son or daughter delight in the Lord as they play soccer, act in the next school play, or get whatever grade on the next geometry exam?” Let us help them know that no matter how they perform, as long as they are investigating their giftedness as they participate in sports, the arts, academics, whatever, that they are infinitely valuable ONLY because they are made in the Image of God. So as they act–they do so in the imago dei. When they score a goal (or don’t) they do so in the imago dei. When they get an A, B, or D on the geometry exam, they do so in the imago dei.
This is going to mean that their delight in the action is secondary to their performance. This is a HUGE paradigm shift we adults ought to take. We want our students to identify with finding their giftedness BEFORE and ABOVE their ability. This means that second or third or last place is MORE important than winning as long as my son or daughter is happy as they participate. The moment we put winning above enjoyment is the moment we begin to consume that teen for our own agendas. Our job as the elders in a culture is to PROTECT our student’s souls at all costs.
There is an excellent character in ABC’s sitcom, The Middle, her name is Sue Heck. The daughter is one of those students who is not good at anything. She fails miserably at everything she tries, but she does it with such JOY. Her parents are great in this as well. While they know that she is going to fail, they continue to support and protect her. They never say to her face that she is not created to model, swim, play chess, etc. They allow her to find that out for herself. In doing so, she does experience disappointment, but it is never the kind of disappointment that crushes her soul. No, for Sue, it would be damaging to her soul to never have tried out for swim team, a modeling career or cheer leading. Since her parents gave her the space to investigate such desires of her heart, to be able to see that these activities do not fit into the Image God gave her gives her satisfaction.
When God created humanity in his own image, he created us to fail, to be different, and to be unique. In doing so, God also created us to search, yearn, journey, and explore HOW he created us differently from that person sitting next to me. It is when we set up certain, subjective standards and expect everyone to live up to those imaginary qualities.
QUESTION TO ASK MYSELF AS A GUARDIAN OF ADOLESCENT SOULS
- Do I value the win over my student’s JOY in simply participating in (insert activity here)?
- Can my son or daughter simply participate in (insert activity here) without me projecting my agenda on their participation/success? In other words, can my student simply participate and receive the SAME amount of support from me as whether or not they succeed or fail?
- How much do I value that Trophy? Grade? Letterman’s jacket? Starting Role? First Chair?
- Do I give my student value or take away value based on their achievements?
- Do I SEE and AFFIRM the imago dei in my student?
COMING IN THE SERIES:
- More Theology of Identity and the Adolescent
- Becoming a Guardian of the Adolescent Soul
- What is a Parent to do? Practical Suggestions of Affirming the Identity of the teens in my life.
*For more on this see, Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teens by Chap Clark.