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Why Christian Kids RebelTrading Heartache for Hope
By TIM KIMMEL
W Publishing GroupCopyright © 2004 Tim Kimmel
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Sheer Weight of Rebellion
There's nothing that hurts a mom's or dad's heart quite like having a child who is going astray. It is a constant ache, and sometimes it's worse than the pain you feel for a child who is seriously ill or contending with some kind of disability. Those problems aren't of the child's choosing. But when your son or daughter is consciously turning his back on God or is hellbent on rejecting the value system you have tried so hard to give her, it's like a sucker punch to your faith. To think that your son or daughter would deliberately choose a path that can only lead to disappointment and regret-well, it's a hurt that can seep its way into the deepest crevices of your soul.
And it tears you up to see what kids' rebellion does to them personally-to their relationships, to their health, and to their potential. They lose credibility as fast as they are losing emotional and spiritual momentum. Many of the kids who take on a mantle of rebellion put together a series of bad choices that place them in bondage to their mistakes-bondage they often can't get out of on their own. Yet when you try to help them, they react like a cat stuck in a tree, snarlingand striking out at you as you attempt to coach them out of the mess they are in.
Most of the time these young people are unresponsive to your reasonable ideas. Sometimes they are closed to talking at all. They won't let you inside their hearts long enough for you to get a decent glimpse of the contradictions that are tormenting them. When they finally do speak up, you not only face their hostility, but you often hear them spewing out philosophies of life that bear no resemblance to the one you thought you gave them. It hurts to see them making 180-degree turns away from the direction they were going during most of their childhood. It's as though the little cherubs who sat on your lap and basked in the Bible stories you read to them have suddenly enrolled in Osama Senior High.
Wendy's daughter serves as an example.
A Good Girl Gone Bad
She couldn't decide which distressed her the most: the hurt, the resentment, or the fear. Each was fighting for mastery of her heart as she watched her daughter disappear across the front lawn. The screen door still quivered from the power with which the girl had slammed it as she stormed out of the house. It was so hard to believe that the fifteen-year-old who had just fired those F-bombs at her was the same girl who, only a few months earlier, had arrived home from a mission trip with her high-school youth group ready to change the world. How could one child regress so far in such a short time?
This teenager had thrived on her family's church activities. She had loved her youth group, her youth leaders, and her friends from church. Now she wanted nothing to do with any of them. While she was at it, she had decided she wanted nothing to do with her parents, either-and she especially didn't want to hear any of her mom's spiritual insights. "Save your homily for someone who gives a (expletive)," was the last thing Wendy heard before her daughter rushed out of the house.
The only thing Wendy's daughter seemed to be concerned about now was her boyfriend-a young man who was the polar opposite of everything their family stood for. Wendy's heart sank as she considered what all of this meant. How could this girl, who had been handed Christianity on a platter, suddenly reject everything? What kind of horrible path would her daughter's antagonism lead her down?
The Profile of Rebellious Kids
Rebellious Christian kids often share many similarities. They are blocking God out of their lives, parents annoy them, and family life ticks them off. They are capable of being stubborn, obstinate, argumentative, aloof, and moody. They often seem embarrassed by your outward commitment to God and are disinterested in your spiritual advice. They are no longer fans of church and Sunday school. These kids have no problem making a series of dumb decisions that will get them into trouble. When you inquire about their thinking, it seems almost as though someone has sneaked in and erased most of the spiritual programming from the hard drives of their souls. And it's not uncommon to hear them offering the most illogical and irrational reasons for their behavior.
Some Christian kids' rebellion is a short-lived parenthesis of stupidity that they get through rather quickly. It's just a brief little jaunt down the wrong side of the spiritual street and then they're over it. It's an isolated "My kid got suspended from school for being a bonehead"-type rebellion (an exercise I put my parents through twice), or a "My seventeen-year-old daughter bought a thong bikini for the church pool party and can't seem to understand why I, as her mother, can't stop hyperventilating"-type of spiritual crisis. These are the kinds of incidents that jumpstart our relationship with God. It's as though, during these crises, God puts two spiritual cardiac paddles on the sides of our hearts, yells "Clear!" and gives us a jolt of reality. As difficult as they are, these incidents can be used to create a greater bond between struggling teens and their flustered parents.
Other than causing parents to temporarily wonder if they are losing their minds, these brief excursions usually do little long-term harm and leave everyone slightly better off for the exercise. They are like mini pop-quizzes on what you believe and how sincerely you believe it. Parents that grade a C or above on these little tests of their faith learn that God indeed is who He says He is, and that His grace is truly sufficient. 1 Most families go on to live happily ever after.
But there's another brand of Christian rebellion that has the potential to sear a hole in the entire family's belief system. This more debilitating brand of rebellion has, among other things, the potential of wrecking a child's view of God for the rest of his life. As serious as that consequence is, it's just the beginning of many things that can have a long-term negative effect. Debilitating, toxic rebellion can set up young people for relationship nightmares that can dog them for decades. I'm talking about the kind of rebellion that can create babies or destroy them, create marriages or destroy them, or plunge kids into deep financial debt, depression, and even jail time. It can permanently rob young people of their future earning potential in the marketplace.
It can even kill them.
I buried a young man whose poor choices led him to take his own life. My children buried a dear friend whose rejection of God's best for him ended in an overdose. In both of these cases, the abrupt end to these young lives was like putting a period before the end of a sentence. Both were bright, decent young men whose spiritual choices cost them everything. There was great potential for a better story to be told, but death stole that story from them and from us. When it comes to these more serious incursions into the world of rebellion, there's nothing funny about where some of them can lead. Martin can testify to that ...
A Boy with a Fire in His Soul
He sat alone at his son's desk. With his face buried in his hands, he fought his conflicting inner urges to either explode in anger or implode into the sense of helplessness that churned inside him. His visit to his son's dormitory had been unannounced. The boy's roommate was nice enough to invite Martin to wait until his son returned from class. They exchanged the obligatory small talk for a few minutes before the roommate came up with a polite reason to leave. Then, in the privacy of his son's dorm room, Martin had enough time to validate all that he had feared.
The alarms had actually started going off in his (and his wife's) heart a year and a half earlier. It seemed to them that their son had put his spiritual life on autopilot somewhere around his junior year of high school. He wasn't antagonistic to the things of God, although he didn't appear to have the same spiritual passion he'd demonstrated in his early teenage years. But when he came home for Christmas break from his first semester at college, it seemed he had shut off the autopilot, slammed on the brakes of his spiritual life, and had actually shifted into reverse.
For a kid who had left home with a lackadaisical attitude toward Jesus, he seemed to have arrived back home with a clear ax to grind with Him ... and with them, too. Martin and his wife had assumed their son would change a little when he went off to college, but they never figured he would change so dramatically in one semester. During Christmas break they encountered a boy who had no interest in calling or connecting with any of the close Christian friends he'd left behind. He responded with a deliberate, glazed-over look the few times either one of them mentioned anything about God or church. He seemed annoyed by his mom and dad, as though they had suddenly morphed into alien entities with which he shared no common ground.
Now, in this tiny room that served as a microcosm of his son's value system, Martin could see the evidence of a boy who was heading down a road that bore no similarity to the one his parents had encouraged him to take. The woman on the screen saver of his son's computer was probably scanned from one of the pornographic magazines neatly stacked on his nightstand, next to an opened box of condoms. Martin's supposedly virgin son had been busy. He'd taken up drinking, too. The sculpture of beer cans that covered half the window wasn't just dorm-room decoration. There was enough evidence in this room to indicate that a fire was burning in the boy's soul. But it wasn't the fire of spiritual passion. Not now.
Martin had seen this same thing happen to a few of his friends' children. He had heard the excuses they made and the blame they passed around. They tried to put the responsibility at the feet of the universities. In one case, it was an ironic accusation, since the daughter had enrolled in an elite Christian college. Other parents had felt that the lack of adequate programming in their church during their children's teenage years was the reason their children had fallen away from their spiritual moorings. Martin wouldn't make that foolish mistake. He felt three specific people were responsible for what was happening. One was somewhere in a class across campus, the other was back home waiting for Martin to call and give her a report, and the third was sitting in his son's dormitory room, wondering where he'd gone wrong.
Smoke-Screen Rebellion And then there are those textbook Christian kids who go through all the right motions, learn all the right truths, make all the right choices, and appear to be great candidates for becoming excellent Christian parents themselves. Yet they never seem inclined to make any spiritual difference in the world once they become adults. The fact is that rebellion isn't always outward and hostile.
Sometimes an adolescent's rebellion reveals itself as a lack of passion, a lack of concern, a lack of motivation. These can be the symptoms of kids who have been raised in a spiritual greenhouse. They've heard the truth and accepted it. They've learned the principles and believed them. They've seen God work in many miraculous ways and enjoyed it. They just haven't invested these gifts from God into a life that shines for Him. They've put their trust in a God who would actually sacrifice His Son's life on their behalf, but for some reason His gift of love hasn't motivated them enough to be a living sacrifice for Him in return.
This attitude invariably leads to indifference or even a low-grade cynicism, attitudes that pollute the child's view of God and his attitude toward the Christian community around him. It reminds me of a scenario I heard from a Christian school principal ...
Bad News at Good Schools
Dr. Evans stood in the hallway just outside his office as one of his high-school students passed by. The boy wore the uniform of the Christian school, and if you looked at his report card, you'd see that he had given all the correct biblical answers and theological responses to the tests he had taken over the years. He had even represented the school at a Bible memory competition and had brought home a huge championship trophy that stood in the glass case in the gymnasium entrance.
But as he watched this young student stroll by, the question, What's wrong with this picture? kept repeating in his head. This young man may have known all the answers to the Christian belief system his school taught, but there was nothing about him that reflected any appreciation for what Jesus had done for him on the cross. He was dead center in the daily sports, social, and academic lives of this Christian school, but his attitudes and actions reflected that he was really just a walking contradiction of everything for which the school was established. There were no signs of a genuine heart for God-just a bunch of carefully rehearsed answers that had been drilled into his head.
Dr. Evans knew how much this young man teased and taunted the handful of students on campus who were seriously trying to live out their faith in God. He was a spiritual "Eddie Haskell"-saying the right things around his teachers, then mocking them behind their backs. His mannerisms reflected the behavior his parents had put him in Christian school to avoid, and his conduct outside the school indicated that he was devoid of spiritual direction. The principal understood that, in spite of all this young man knew about God, his unvarnished actions were evidence of where his heart really was. What a shame, he thought. His parents have tried so hard and spent so much money, and all they are getting back is a son who couldn't care less about God.
Dr. Evans couldn't expel the young man, even though he was poison to the rest of the students. The boy wasn't breaking any stated rules of conduct; in fact, he was turning in excellent academic work. Besides, the principal didn't want to throw him out. He wanted to help him. But he just couldn't get the equation to add up. How could someone who had been given so much embrace so little? He'd had his faith spoon-fed to him, but all his parents and this Christian school got in return was an overindulged Christian brat.
As the student disappeared around the corner, the principal wondered whether the word Christian was little more than an adjective in his life-a mix of biblical platitudes and spiritually canned behavior that had never taken its position as a noun in his young heart.
There's something about a Christian environment that can actually set a child up to become a spiritually mediocre adult. Kids from Christian homes often grow up going to church only if it's convenient. They serve others if it doesn't put them out too much, they tip God with the leftovers of their money, and they remain mute about their beliefs. These homegrown Christians can go for months, even years, on end without deliberately studying their Bible. They never graduate from an elementary understanding of what they believe. They may be Christians for fifty years and still feel unprepared to lead a Bible study or explain to those around them the hope within them.
Excerpted from Why Christian Kids Rebel by TIM KIMMEL Copyright © 2004 by Tim Kimmel. Excerpted by permission.
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