I am a 21 year old daughter of missionary parents. I have been taught the Christian faith from early childhood. I attended a Christian school as a young child, then I was homeschooled on a Christian based curriculum, I then completed high school in a Christian school. According to the accepted pattern I should now be a stable, vibrant Christian, eager to take up the work of my parents and carry it on. I wish I could conform to that pattern. But I cannot.
Believing the faith of my parents
At this point in my life it seems that what I have been practising as Christianity is largely form with little meaning. I learned at a young age that I must ask Jesus into my heart, and so one night sitting on my bed with my mom, when I was just 8 years old, I did just that. That night was not different from any other night. I grew up praying, attending church, reading my Bible, witnessing and giving testimonies. I did all the works that are supposed to characterise a good Christian and I was known as such. And all my reasons for doing them I could back up with Scripture. My parents were happy with me because all through my growing up years I aspired to become an Educational Missionary and go full time into missions. That was not hypocrisy on my part – I meant every bit of it. Then came a series of events that stopped me cold. I began to wonder if I truly owned all that I claimed. I started to ask the meaning of ‘faith in Christ’, ‘salvation by grace’ and many other phrases I had tossed around all my life.
I examined my own motives for doing all the things I had been taught, and I began to wonder if I hadn’t been acting out of external pressures, not because I was really convinced in my own mind and according to my own experiences. Realising my faith was not truly my own, I then refused to give intellectual assent to forms of beliefs that I did not feel within myself. I could no longer accept without examination that which is supposed to be man’s deepest needs. As I now stand facing adulthood, I am overwhelmed with the incomprehensibility of life. I often see myself as an unwelcome guest in a seemingly impersonal deterministic universe. And I ask, “Why am I here anyway?” I am like many other 21st Century youths who have their ‘blazing optimism’ tainted and dulled by fear. Perhaps it is a fear that our individuality will be crushed by the demand of modern life.
Caught up in meaninglessness
And so I am caught in a philosophical web of meaninglessness, and I ask how Christ can bring meaning to my life. Where does the Christian message intercept my inner conflicts? I long to know God through an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. I have gone through the act of accepting Christ as my personal Saviour, but how can He meet my deepest needs? The simple statement of: “Just trust in the Lord” does not satisfy my intellectual restlessness or my turmoil. Such statements and phrases I have heard so often are trite and meaningless in the complexity of my individual context. I cannot accept ‘pat’ answers, for to me they are dead clichés and platitudes that do not meet my feelings. Even church attendance is a useless ritual, as well as hypocrisy, when its motivation does not come from within. I can no longer be bound by tradition nor accept precedence for its own sake.
My problem is caused by sin, you say? I know only too well my own lack of goodness and inability to help myself. Why else should I desperately want a vital relationship with Christ? But I do not believe that answers to deep problems are found in terms of packaged solutions such as through-the-year-devotional books, threepoint sermons and twice-to-church a week schedules. Occasionally I have suggested to my parents and other Christian friends that I must have an opportunity to think and discover for my own satisfaction the form of faith that is to satisfy me. The road to peace and satisfaction is not identical for any two persons. It must be found by the individual himself, and for some it seems to be a long, hard struggle. Some accuse me of ‘going away from the Lord’ – of backsliding.
Searching for the truth
They say my thinking is dangerous to my spiritual life. Perhaps so, but is it any less dangerous to be a robot responding to mechanical instructions? What is a faith that causes outward performances of what does not come from within? Although I love my parents and Christian friends, I can no longer conform to a pattern just for their sake. I am putting this down on paper because I have found that I am not alone in this struggle. Others are searching, too, for a personal relationship with God. I have talked with many other young people who have a deep desire for meaningful communication with Jesus Christ, though they have known ‘the answers’ all their lives, even as I. We wonder how parents and other adults can help us. I believe you can help by giving us understanding. Most young people in this situation are in the process of trying to discover themselves as well, and we tend to rebel against any ideas that seem to be offered to us as a substitute for thinking for ourselves.
Therefore, any attitudes of condemnation, judging and preaching on the part of wellmeaning adults will do more harm than good. It makes us feel as though you are trying to squeeze us into a predetermined mould, and we rebel against it. Even quoting Scripture to us can be infuriating because usually we are just as aware of those verses as you are and we tend to wonder if they actually meet your need more than they meet ours. So you see, by judging us you are likely to set in motion responses that make us judge you too – and this only compounds the problem by making us bitter as well as confused. What will mean more than anything else is to have you stand by in the spirit of love and say and show that you believe in us and accept us as individuals no matter how we feel.
Afraid to be myself
Your concern for me as an individual will have far deeper effects than if you try to offer me answers. You can also help by giving us credit for honesty. Young people are very sensitive to ‘phonies’, ‘fakes’, and we tend to bend over backwards to avoid being in that category. About the worst sin in our book is when people will not be themselves, and we feel that many Christians are afraid to really be themselves. We feel that in churches many insincere and indifferent feelings are beneath the singing of praise and other parts of the worship service. We are trying to be honest with ourselves and others. Thus, we want to be accepted as genuine individuals, and even though you do not agree with us we appreciate those who recognise our integrity in admitting how we really feel. It means a great deal to us when we find a person who understands that most of us are honestly searching and not just trying to get attention, nor are we rebelling just for the sake of rebelling. Believe me, it is humbling to expose our thoughts and doubts at the risk of being misunderstood and criticised by parents and other Christian adult friends.
I need patient encouragement
Finally you can help by giving us time. Learning is a process, sometimes long and hard. I must experientially build the great concepts of love, trust, surrender and commitment upon which the Christian faith rests. If the relationship with Christ is anything like an earthly love relationship, it must involve growth and development. Parents will do well to try to understand the effect that modern psychological pressures have on the emotions of youth and why we are reacting in this manner, instead of throwing up their hands in horror at the attitudes we express. Patiently encourage us and give us the freedom to search for a meaningful relationship with God and to find a real expression for that relationship. And if your faith is as real and as vibrant as you say it is, it will be rewarded by seeing us build a truly personal relationship with Christ, freely chosen and freely lived. It may not take form exactly like yours – but after all, are we not to be conformed to the One who sees within the heart?
Article adapted from JOY! Magazine.