The Value of a Soul: Talking with Teenagers About Relationships
When it comes to questions about teenagers and romance, part of me just wants to say, “Don’t do it. It’s too important and too many things can go wrong!” But that doesn’t really help anybody, does it? As a father and as a teacher I want to equip my kids to navigate life in all circumstances. Yes, when specific questions in specific situations arise, I want to counsel and assist in navigating the present waters, but it is far more important to me that I direct my children to think God’s thoughts after him. I not only desire that they find peace, goodness, and truth in their immediate circumstances, but, more importantly, that they truly understand the underlying root of the matter at hand. I desire that they be equipped both for their current situation in life, and also for whatever the future may hold.
Too often we may not be addressing the most important question about relationships and romance with teenagers. Rather than merely asking what this or that relationship should look like, we should encourage them to see God’s purpose and design for relationship.
Relationship is at the heart of who we are as God’s creation. From beginning to end God has made us for relationship with him and with each other. We are relational beings. We must walk the narrow path of never neglecting that truth and never idolizing the gift of relationship over the Giver.
Every human being we interact with is an intentionally created, image-bearing soul who will live forever. This defines what it means to enter into any relationship. C. S. Lewis puts it this way in The Weight of Glory, “It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. . . it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit . . .” In other words, we are always interacting with another being of God-given value and eternal worth.
So, as we talk with our teenagers specifically about romantic relationships, here are three principles to emphasize: don’t neglect, don’t idolize, and don’t hold back.
We should emphasize that as human beings, we need the full spectrum of relationship for which we were made. We were made for family, friendship, discipleship, service, and a host of other human interactions, as well as romantic love. Sadly, we too often unfollow, unfriend, cancel, or otherwise get rid of any relationship that doesn’t specifically please us. If we neglect or reject the whole truth of relationship or the variety of relationships we were made for, we place an unbearable weight onto any remaining relationship in our lives.
As we walk with teenagers through their thoughts and feelings about romance, it is helpful to ask, “Are other relationships in your life being neglected?”
Before embarking on the path of romance, we should counsel our kids to honestly survey the nature of all relationships in their lives. If there are serious relationship wounds or voids, that should be an area of prayer, reflection, and ministry. One of the greatest roots of unhealthy relationships, particularly romantic relationships, is building them around a need to fill or fix a different missing or damaged relationship.
Idolatry of self is the constant threat to all our relationships. Feeling joy and pleasure in how someone loves you is a good thing, and part of a healthy relationship, but it can never be central or ultimate.
Think of the blessing God gives to his people through Moses and Aaron in Numbers 6:24-26: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”
We are made to have a perfect, loving God look upon us with shining graciousness that brings us peace. We need this kind of love, but only God can give it. Too often, we seek human relationships to satisfy this need. As we talk with teenagers about their friendships and romantic interests, we can ask “Are you mostly looking for personal satisfaction?”
We are made to dwell with God, walk in his ways, and bring all things to him in prayer and supplication. We must encourage our kids to be honest with themselves. Are they seeking another human to give them the love, peace, satisfaction, and security that only God can provide?
Relationships are not designed for self-satisfaction. We must teach our kids to see that relationships are a good gift from God to be enjoyed, and through them he is doing work in us and through us.
We give teenagers a good gift when we teach them that relationships are to be enjoyed, but that if we expect relationships to satisfy, we make them an idol. We are getting to the heart of discipleship when we teach the next generation that idols always demand more than anyone can give and they destroy people. When we make idols out of other people, we crush them and the relationship. We will only find true satisfaction in God himself.
Don’t Hold Back
If we are talking about serious relationships, then we are talking about being poured out like a drink offering for those we love. God, the source of love itself, showed us in Christ that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for those one loves. So, after talking with our kids about the weight of relationships, the full spectrum of relationships, and the limit of relationships, we should ask, “Are you prepared to be poured out?”
In Philippians 2:3-4, Paul exhorts all Christians, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others…” This is God’s call to all those who have been transformed by his love in any form of relationship, how much more so in our closest human relationships? Romance isn’t the highest form of love. Christ’s full giving of himself to redeem those who were dead in their sins and trespasses, receiving nothing in return, is the highest form of love. Every form of love, even romantic love, is to find its source in that truth.
So, I want to ask teenagers, “What is the value of a soul? Do you recognize the infinite worth of this image of God with whom you are choosing to be in a relationship? Do they recognize the infinite worth of your soul? Are you both seeking the good of the other?” If yes, then don’t hold self-sacrificial love back. Be so filled by the love of God that it overflows into the other person’s life, and be sure they desire to do the same for you.
If a teenager can’t say “yes” to those questions, if he or she is in a different type of relationship, then let’s keep talking. I want to tell him or her, “this is important, and I love you. God has so equipped us through his Word, his Spirit, and our relationship that we can walk through this together.”
A Father’s Prayer
Lord, make me the kind of father and teacher who is so filled by your love, asks for forgiveness in his failures so often, and turns to you for truth and satisfaction so fully that my kids desire to have these conversations with me and seek you above all else.