On another topic….Spirituality of Teens

Books / Religion

All this talk of schism makes me feel like I’m losing my spiritual compass. Maybe it’s a good time to post something about spirituality~not just my own, but teenagers too. This posting about teen spirituality is for parents, god-parents, and anyone who ever witnessed a baptism and promised to support the newly baptized in their life in Christ:

As a young child my father told me, no, ordered me, to take some time to be
by myself. His demand both perplexed and angered me. What
was I supposed to do? I thought I was with myself all the time! In fact, so
much so that most times I wanted to crawl out of my skin. Daytime was time to talk
with friends, do homework, and play. But I usually gave in and dragged my feet to the hammock in our backyard, alone.

            Laying in the gentle rocking of the hammock and staring up into the canopy
of leaves above, I soon forgot my anger and I began to notice the warm rays of sun making their way through
the leaves. Their warmth opened my heart and I listened to a voice. I listened to its
goodness and love.

father wanted me to know myself and God. And like many adults, my father
believed prayer, or quiet time, was the way to do that. His sensibility was not uninformed. He grew
up in a Southern Baptist Church where Sunday, the Sabbath Day, was reserved for
prayer. No dancing, playing music, playing cards, or any of that fun stuff. My
father knew from the Bible about the many times Jesus withdrew from the crowds
to be alone and talk with God—after his baptism, after feeding the
five-thousand, before his arrest.

prayer isn’t just silence or solitary activity. It isn’t just polite
petitions. It is honest conversation. Miriam sang and danced in prayer after
crossing the Red Sea. Hannah wept in prayer for a son.
The psalmists yelled angrily to God. And Abraham dared to negotiate. These
prayers don’t fit our modern sensibility of quiet, polite prayer. But true
conversation demands honesty.

often hear about Jesus has having led a life of unceasing prayer. Jesus spent
much of his time ministering among people, studying, fasting, celebrating,
worshiping, and just enjoying the company of his friends. These, too, were
times of prayer. Unceasing prayer is acknowledging God’s presence in all that
we do. It’s living our lives in a close relationship with God.

whole life, too, can be a prayer. I think I knew that especially well as a
child. No wonder: we’re created by God, so it’s only natural that we yearn for
a relationship with God. Our God loves us deeply and is constantly calling us
closer. Children and teenagers know that same yearning. But do adults recognize
and name it or dismiss it? How many times have you scolded your teen for doodling
or daydreaming when you thought they should be doing homework? Perhaps they
were thinking about what life is all about. How many times do you complain
about their “IM-ing” or talking on the phone with friends? Perhaps they are
helping a friend, finding Christ in community. Does your teenager jack the
volume up high on his stereo? Perhaps he’s clearing his mind of the noise of
the world. Believe it or not, sometimes through the blaring music, comes the
still small voice of God. (It is also true that blaring music can be just blaring noise to help you avoid
that still small voice.) Or maybe, like the psalmist, he’s expressing anger to

Episcopal sociologist
Christian Smith’s four-year study of religion and teenagers tells us that
teenagers know themselves as spiritual people. But they have difficulty articulating
their faith. I wonder whether it’s because we don’t recognize and honor the
spiritual disciplines they are called to by God, and already practice

invite you to look with your teenager at what brings them joy, what they do
when faced with a challenge, and what they do to focus their minds. Explore the
things they already enjoy doing and talk about how they may be spiritual
practices. Their practice may be drawing, celebrating with friends, running,
journaling, breathing deeply in a quiet place, or listening to music.
Recognizing and honoring your teenager’s innate spirituality will help them recognize
the many ways that God talks with them and how they can talk with God. It will
help them turn what is natural into an intentional practice—a purposeful habit—that
will keep them in dialogue with God.

brings your teenagers closer to God? It might just be swinging in a hammock on
a sunny afternoon or squirreling away in their room, music blasting.

This posting is based on a chapter on prayer in her new book for teenagers, My Faith, My Life: A Teen’s Guide to the
Episcopal Church
, published by Morehouse Publishing. See http://www.myfaithmylife.org to order.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...

1 Comment

  1. Thanks Jenifer! This is not only a helpful reminder that the Church and our relationship to God is greater than the turmoil of the present moment, but it’s also a timely reminder as many of us have been talking about a 24 hour spiritual retreat this weekend so as to get our legs back under us.
    (We’ve used Jenifer’s book at my parish. It was VERY well received by the confirmands)

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