Word Magazine February 1998 Page 23
A TEEN LOOKS TO CHRIST
By Rebecca Shwayri
WITHOUT A STRONG RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD,
THE SPIRITUAL LIFE OF THE TEENAGER DECAYS
AND EVENTUALLY BECOMES NON-EXISTENT.
ST. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians directly addresses the weaknesses that each one of us must face throughout a lifetime. Ultimately, we are not strong enough to hear these burdens and struggles alone. Rather, we must let Christ share in these burdens with us. Teens face these same trials and tribulations on a daily basis. Tragically, many teens of this day and age turn their face away from God and look for other means to fill their spiritual vacuum.
As a teenager growing up in the 1990’s, I have witnessed a discouraging collapse of faith in the teenage world. When most teenagers want to forget about a problem, they do not embrace the love of Christ, but, sadly, turn to drugs and alcohol. Physical, emotional, and psychological abuse is rampant in the teenage world today, and it’s only getting worse. Members of the adult world feel that teens abuse their bodies in order to fulfill the age-old conflict between adults and teens. This is a way for teens to directly violate parental authority. However, this assumption is only partly true, and the abuse of substances among teens is only a part of a bigger problem — a problem that transcends religion, ethnicity, and culture. Because of the pressures and stereotypes placed on teens today from school and society, teens feel that they are unable to fulfill the demands placed upon them. Rather than turning to the church to help them meet the pressures and demands of growing up, teens embrace alcohol and drugs in order to create a temporary utopia.
Growing up in today’s world, in our society, is so much more difficult than it was even twenty or thirty years ago. Children are told from a young age that education is the key to success, but I feel that an education on life is so much more important. In today’s typical high-school rat race, teenagers are forced to balance difficult college-level classes, after-school activities, family life, and a social life at the same time. Obviously, teenagers are not able to meet all of these demands; so family life and the relationship with the Church are what suffer the most. Without a strong relationship with God, the spiritual life of the teenager decays and eventually becomes non-existent. Many of my closest friends haven’t been to Church in several years, and others have totally denied the existence of God. It is only through the abuse of drugs and alcohol that teens are able to temporarily relieve themselves of this spiritual void.
Unfortunately, in our quest to fulfill what an ideal teenager should be, we lose sight of what’s really important in life. Hardly a day goes by at school when I don’t hear someone talk about their application to Harvard, or their SAT scores, or how they would die to get an A in math class. I refuse to acknowledge that our self worth as teenagers is based upon what university we attend, our SAT scores, or our grade-point average. Without this fundamental relationship with God, the life of the teenager becomes meaningless. In that respect, it’s hardly a surprise to me why teenagers today abuse themselves physically, spiritually, and emotionally. We, as teenagers, feel the enormous societal pressure to have a successful life; we feel the pressure and so our relationship with God degenerates.
The enormous amount of pressure placed on us is what ultimately results in this abuse of our bodies.
Keep in mind that not all teenagers have fallen into this spiritual void. Many teenagers are happy with their lives, and have refused to succumb to the societal pressures. The best way that a teenager can avoid this problem is by having a supportive family, a nurturing church community, and a strong relationship with God. These three things are the answer to this problem. School and other activities are important, but an education on life and a spiritual relationship with God should make up the fundamental aspects of a teen’s life. By being an active participant in Teen SOYO and attending Divine Liturgy, we, as Orthodox teens, can allow God to share our burdens and anxieties. We can not carry this heavy burden alone. It is only by submission to Christ will we be able to carry our own cross.
Ultimately, when we look back on our lives, the question we are forced to ask ourselves is if we are happy and content. The key to a successful life is not a six-figure salary, but a general contentment and a relationship with God. We, as Orthodox Christians, must be willing to give up everything in the quest for a relationship with God. We are not strong enough to bear every burden and anxiety that comes our way. In short, we must give our burdens up to God willingly and allow him to share in our hardships, because we are unable to do this alone. By allowing the love of God into our lives, we will be able to fill this spiritual void with the light of Christ.
Rebecca Shwayri is a member of St. Mary, West Palm Beach, FL, and President, Southeast Region Teen SOYO.