“I just wanted you to know that I am bisexual.”
What would your response be if one of your good friends told you this?
For many Christian teens, it would probably be scary. I know it’s scary for me–and I’m not even a teenager anymore. Topics, such as one’s sexuality, are really sensitive, hot-button issues. It could make or break your friendship.
An easy out for teens would be “Hey, we’re just teenagers. What do I know about such deep topics?”
Honestly–perhaps this is a no-no for the Editor-in-Chief of TheRebelution to say!–but there’s validity to that feeling. You are a teenager (or a young twenty-something, if you’re in my age bracket). You don’t have to have life figured out. You are in a designed-by-god developmental and preparational stage. Having questions you don’t yet know the answers to is good and okay (and I hope you never stop asking questions, even as an adult). However, does that mean you shouldn’t engage hard questions at all? Absolutely not! Part of developing into an adult is asking hard questions and learning the ropes to engaging hard conversations.
Here’s something I can say with pretty strong certainty about every teenager or young person reading this article: No matter how isolated you are currently from these hard, faith-challenging conversations (for example, you might not have friends telling you they are bisexual), you eventually will face them. It may not be in highschool or even college, but as teenagers and young adults in 2020, you will at some point, face these conversations if you haven’t already. It is not a matter of if you are going to face them, but when, where, and with whom.
So I propose we begin wrestling with them now–and I have three reasons why I think that.
Reason #1: It’s an opportunity to rebel against low expectations
Culture rarely expects teenagers to thoughtfully engage in hard conversations. Humbly articulated beliefs aren’t a stand-out feature of the modern teen nor is the ability to navigate difficult conversations with friends in a mature fashion. Even our own church cultures sometimes expect us to only be interested in childish, trivial pleasures and not in the real-life, consequential conversations of our day.
TheRebelution begs to differ with that assumption. We believe that young people are ready and able to engage in these hard conversations and wrestle with these deep questions, and we think they should!
When you, as a teenager or young twenty-something, ask questions and wrestle through hard issues with your friends, parents, pastors, and peers, it’s an opportunity to rebel against those low expectations.
Reason #2: It’s an opportunity to love your neighbor
There will come a time when you find that your beliefs directly contradict the beliefs of someone you love. That someone may be family or a dear friend or someone who attends your church and the beliefs may be deep and foundational or they may be less foundational and secondary, but important nonetheless.
There will come a time when your neighbor (a loved one, a stranger, or an enemy) comes to you with a deep, soul-shaping struggle or question (such as the one I opened with) and depending on how you respond, could make or break your relationship with them.
In either of the above cases, the temptation may be to brush off the disagreement and pretend like nothing is there. Or, the disagreement may feel so great that you are tempted to cut off the relationship because navigating the tension seems too hard. In most cases, neither response really fulfills Christ command to love our neighbor, which is at the center of what it means to be a Christ-follower.
If we wish to obey Christ’s command, we must learn how to humbly navigate disagreement and lean into hard conversations. This does not mean we sit them down and answer all their questions (unless they are truly asking for that) or that we assume an argumentative posture and try to debate them into “right” thinking or theology. Rather, it means we listen intently to their questions and we open our souls to empathize with them in their pain or their frustrations and we walk with them through their struggles as they seek hope, comfort, or healing.
For some people, it may mean opening up a Bible and seeing what Scripture says or simply taking their questions, frustrations, and pain together to Jesus through prayer. For others, it may mean talking through your differences and agreeing to disagree. Or, it may mean something completely different–it depends on the friend and your relationship to them and the specific disagreement. In any case, it means listening to them and engaging them where they are at–not just walking away or brushing them off.
Reasons #3: Having hard conversations now could spare you faith-destroying confusion in the future
This isn’t a guarantee. I cannot promise you won’t face some sort of faith-shaking disappointment in the future. I can’t promise that someone you look up to as a moral guide won’t let you down. Or that you won’t be hurt by the church or Christian friends in a way that causes you to question your faith or re-evaluate the things you’ve believed deeply. In fact, you will probably experience some if not all of those things.
But asking hard questions and engaging in hard conversations with your friends and mentors right now can give you the space to be wrestling with these issues before you experience those life-shaping disappointments.
If you are already in tune and familiar with some of the hard parts about being a person of faith in world that often opposes Jesus, actually experiencing those hard parts yourself won’t be as much of a shock for you. It will probably still be hard, but you’ll have “built up muscle” as it were and hopefully developed a habit of running to Jesus with the hard questions.
Your Life Will Be Filled with Hard Conversations
I wish I could protect you, as a teenager, from hard unsettling questions and the potential confusion they can bring. I wish I could say that Scripture is crystal clear about every important issue and that all true Christians agree and if you simply read scripture, pray every day, and attend church you won’t ever struggle with faith. I wish I could tell you that navigating the world as a follower of Jesus is smooth and carefree, but that is simply not true and to pretend like it is, would do you an incredible disservice.
While there are some really important things the Church has historically been united around, the reality is that Christians have disagreed and fought over some significant differences for centuries. And while Jesus calls us to love our neighbors (including our enemies) and to be the salt of the earth, the church is–by design–in constant conflict with the world around it as we participate in God’s restoration. When this boils down to the individual level, it can get pretty messy and complicated and hard.
It’s not that Scripture and the Holy Spirit are insufficient to teach and instruct us–it’s that God, the world he made, and humans are complex. This means that the pursuit of Yahweh and the pursuit of understanding who he is and how he made us and what it looks like to be in right relationship with him is an incredibly complex journey. When you combine the God-given complexity of the world with fallen humanity and a universe that groans under the curse, you end up with some really hard, painful, frustrating, and confusing situations. Situations that don’t have easy answers but–because they involve living, God-breathed human souls–deserve our attention and empathy.
I know constant conflict can be tiresome–life can be unrelenting. I know 2020 has done us all in and we need precious moments of respite, but if we are looking for an easy life, we picked the wrong religion. Hard conversations are always going to be a part of our lives–we should get used to it.
Rather than choosing the path of least resistance or running away from the hard parts of life, let’s be a generation that embraces the messy, awkward, difficult-to-face questions and conversations. Let’s be the people our friends know will listen to them and not shrug them off. Let’s be ready for the confusion Satan wants to toss in front of us to trip us up.
Let’s begin leaning into hard conversations.
Let these verses be an encouragement to you again:
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
Navigating Disagreements Series
Last week, I started a series about young people navigating disagreements. This was the second installment. Next week, I plan to write about more practical ways we can navigate an actual disagreement (or “hard conversation,” as I called them in this article).
I keep thinking of things I want to talk about, so the list of articles keeps growing! (Otherwise, I’d tell you straight-out how many there will be.) But I would also love to hear from you guys. What are some questions that have come to your mind about navigating disagreements with your friends or family? Let me know in the comments!
(To read part 3, click here.)