…set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.
– 1 Timothy 4:12b (CSB)
You thought you were going to escape, didn’t you?
No, the elders are not supposed to despise you. We are supposed to come alongside you, build you up, encourage you, empower you. We are not always good at this. In fact, we often fail at this. We are short-tempered, easily frustrated and stuck in our ways. Because, you see, we have not arrived. We have not figured it all out. We’re still in process with Jesus, still needing Him to shape us into the people He wants us to be.
You knew that was coming, right?
Our failures are not an excuse for you.
You, dear one who is often confused in the middle of the growing and the learning and the raging hormones but really does want to follow Jesus, are called to a higher standard. You don’t get to do whatever you want and then get mad when someone with a little more experience, a bit more wisdom, corrects you. That’s just not an option. It’s not the good or right option, anyway. In all the chaotic mess that is your thoughts and emotions, you have to make the choice to learn how to slow down and listen.
It’s hard. It doesn’t seem fair. But in a year or five, you’ll back and realize, “Wow, okay. That person loved me. And maybe they did know what they were talking about.”
I was the teenager who had big fights with her parents. I broke curfew. Spoke disrespectfully. Got so tired of hearing about how I needed to be responsible. Threatened to not go to college because…I really don’t know why, it just seemed like a good idea at the time. And that’s the key phrase: Seemed like a good idea at the time.
I was the teenager who tasted alcohol long before she should have. (Never was that into it, though my dad once asked why I skipped beer and went straight to vodka. I honestly don’t know). Who had dysfunctional relationships. Who looked okay on the outside, but everything inside her was screaming, desperate to be real but not sure how to do that. Full of the correct answers when asked, but really a hypocrite.
I was the teenager who let fear rule her life. The plain fact is that I could have gone to school just about anywhere I wanted to. Harvard was an option. If I had continued in journalism, I could have pursued a Marshall Scholarship and gone to England to study at Cambridge or Oxford. Now, at this point, I’m relieved that I made different choices and am not hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, but that practicality isn’t why I made the different choices. I was insecure and scared. I chose not to believe that I was capable.
There were people in my life who pushed me to step up and step out. I chose to ignore them. I let an opportunity to attend Samuel School, an Evangelical Friends retreat offered to students who have been identified as future leaders by church elders, pass me by. I didn’t pursue a summer internship with a local newspaper, even though my adviser and mentor assured me that I was shoe-in. Every time someone noticed me, pinpointed something in me or about me that God had planted there, I turned tail and ran away.
Sweet one, listen to me.
Don’t follow my example in these things.
Yes, we fail, hard and often. But there are adults in your life who really do care. We really do want to see you flourish. We really do believe that you have been placed in this context for a reason. We get on your case about certain things, like your addiction to your smartphone (yeah, we’re addicted, too), because we know, via our own stupid decisions and the radical, amazing grace of God, that there is more and better for you. Not one of you has to settle for the paltry, stale crumbs the world offers.
And there’s more.
Do you know that you are an elder, too? There’s always someone younger than you, looking at you, watching all the things you do. They want to be like you. They think you’re beyond cool. They love you so much. While you are one-hundred percent not responsible for choices that they end up making, you are meant to set a good example. A holy example.
You can do that. By staying connected to God through the words on the page (yes, the page, because those notifications are so distracting, even if you are sincerely trying to use your Bible app) and through prayer, especially those, “Help me, Jesus!” prayers. By finding a mentor, someone who has permission to call you on your crap and point you toward the good and the right. By sticking with church, even though it’s a real pain sometimes.
I believe in the God who made you, so carefully and tenderly. I believe that you can walk through life with your head up, neither looking down to or upon anyone. I believe that there are things that only you can do, special work designed and planned for you long before the stars began to flame. I believe that you have great value.
I believe in you.