Helping Teenagers Know Who They Really Are
Junior high was no fun for me. Part of my problem was that I was a strange looking dude. And that’s putting it nicely. I was a six-foot-four thirteen-year-old—clumsy, uncoordinated, disproportionately assembled klutz. On top of my much larger than average body was a much-bigger-than-average head, covered with a much-denser-than-average layer of pimples. The last of which explains why school acquaintances called me “pizza face.”
Hallway corners weren’t much fun either since junior high bullies often lurked around them. Frequently, eight to ten taunting goons surrounded and harassed me; pushing and shoving me to their heart’s delight. I. Hated. School.
And then it happened. I remember to this day—now about 50 years later—that life was stinking pretty bad when one day it stank even more literally. While I was surrounded by some of these bullying students, a flock of sea gulls flew overhead, apparently on a bombing mission. In moments they turned me into nature’s outhouse. It was not enough that humans mocked me; even the birds dumped their stuff on me. I was miserable.
Indicators of Value
My junior high years were miserable because bullies and birds failed to show me respect, and because I did not know enough to show myself respect either. The bullies did not know, the birds did not realize, and I did not understand, just who I was. My junior high misery—like that of a lot of teenagers—was due to an identity crisis. I’m not talking about some kind of proud identity or boastful full-of-myself me-ism. I had lots of that. I’m talking about the fact that I didn’t understand what it meant to be a person made in God’s image, precious in his sight.
The reason bullies bully, and the reason those of us who have been bullied sometimes struggle to get over it for years after, is because we do not know the dignity and value of each human being. We often miss this in both the small, easily bullied kid on the playground and in the bully himself, who feels the need to beat someone down in order to puff himself up. And yes, we also miss this dignity when we look in the mirror.
So how do we help the teenagers we love begin to know the worth with which God has made them, and at the same time help them gain respect for others? One helpful answer is to encourage today’s young people to check four indicators of their value to God. Too often our teens miss these, and the fallout can be devastating.
First, encourage them to check their label. They are made by God; formed and fashioned fantastically by his creative hand (Ps. 139:13-16; Eph. 2:10). Encourage them to do with themselves what they do when buying fashion clothes or jammin’ kicks: check the label to see who made them. Labels tell us value and quality. To have God’s name on our label means that our value must be great!
Second, encourage them to check their mold. They are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-31). God has fashioned us in the mold of his likeness (Jas. 3:9) which means that we are made both to live and love, and to be glad and good, just like he is. It means that we are not just animals or cousins to the chimps. We have dignity, worth, value, meaning, significance. It means God put each of us on earth for a reason.
Third, encourage them to check their price tag. Youth need to learn that while they were still sinners, Christ died for them (Rom. 5:8). They need to hear that God so loved them that he gave his Son—who died voluntarily in their place to cancel the debt of their sins (John 3:16; Rom. 6:23). They need to know that they are so “precious in his sight” that he paid the ultimate price to ransom and set them free (1 Pet. 1:18-19). How valuable are they to God? He gave his blood to make them his very own treasured possession (1 Pet. 2:9). They have quite a price tag!
Fourth, encourage them to check their boarding pass/final destination. People who believe in Jesus—yes including those as klutzy and awkward as me in junior high—are destined for immortal glory (Rom. 2:6, 7, 10; 1 Cor. 15:50-57). We all are going to shine like the noonday sun (Dan. 11:3; Pro. 4:18).
I Will Slouch No More
Remembering these truths doesn’t come easily to any of us. I noticed this as I was writing my book, Respect the Image. As I wrote about our dignity as human beings, I suddenly realized that my six-foot-four (now 250-pound) hulk was slouched in my easy chair in post-dinner sloth—full, frumpy, fat, and fallen. And I mean slouched. It looked, to paraphrase an old comic—like I’d been poured into the chair and the chair forgot to say, “When!” If you had seen me, you would have laughed along with me. But then it hit me: the Day is coming—and it is coming for all who believe—when the chair will be traded in for a throne. And on that Day none of us—including this huge hulk, along with every teenager who’s ever loved Jesus—will ever slouch again.
Our teenagers are not only human; they’re not just kids; they’re not merely anything. And it definitely means that they are not losers or nobodies. Just check the four indicators above, and remind teenagers of their worth. These are the truths that lead us to respect others even as we want to be respected.
I wish I had known these things when I was known as “Pizza Face” or when the birds dumped on me. I wish I had known them those many times when I teased and made fun of others, failing to respect the image that they bore. I wished I had preached them more in my earlier years. Thankfully, by God’s grace in Christ, we all can grow in respect and love. And as anyone who knows any teens would know: the next generation surely needs a good dose of both if they are going to survive the world in which they are being raised. Label. Mold. Price tag. Boarding pass. Four good indicators of the value we all have. Checking them regularly will lift us all up, and enable us to elevate others in the process. Make sure that your teens know who they really are.