It is a strange thing being a High school teacher. No one tells you how often you are going to run into the memory of your 16 year old self. No one tells you that you maybe won’t like her. No one tells you that you will figure out what a huge pain in the ass you were. That is the thing about being on fire. Sometimes other people get burned.
They sit in my room on fire. They are wearing youthgroup t-shirts and missing whole weeks of school to go on mission trips to Mexico. They talk about their summer week in Uganda or Haiti. They cringe when I use the term “Jesus Myth” to explain how the hero journey relates to Jesus. They don’t like it. They don’t cringe when they say something mean to the kid without any friends, or when they say something terrible to someone on Facebook. But they cringe when I refer to Jesus as a literary hero in the same vein as Batman. They are on fire, and they want to burn down my whole lesson.
I could be mad at them. I could be, if I wasn’t them once. I cannot imagine the holy wrath I would have poured out onto a teacher who dare call my Jesus a myth. I cannot imagine the indignant tone I would have used to explain all the proof for a historical Jesus. I am sure I would have given that teacher The Case For Christ for Christmas. I am sure I would have thought I was doing the right thing. I have no idea about my reasons; they were certainly justified in my mind at the time.
I use the student restroom and see “Jesus Loves You” in permanent market on the toilet paper dispenser. Once upon a time I would have praised the Lord for the boldness of that act, done privately and secretly in a bathroom stall. I would have vandalized school property for the Glory of the Lord. Now, I pray for other bold acts to happen at my school. I have spent too many days waiting for one of those Jesus girls to invite the weird kid to be in their group. They never do. I suppose I could be mad at the Jesus girls who don’t invite the weird kid to the project group or the lunch table. But I was that Jesus girl. I never thought about the weird kid either. I was too busy being on fire for Jesus.
Being a teenager is hard. I want us to remeber that as we talk about the crazy evangelical nineties, the strange we did for and because of our fire for the Lord. Being a teenager is hard.
I did some stupid things. I made enemies of a biology teacher who had the nerve to try to teach me the state mandated evolution curriculum. I was unduly offended when my teacher very occasionally dropped a swear. I hated any sex education that wasn’t abstinence only education. I wasn’t quiet about those things. I wanted to be for things, I wanted to be against things, I wanted to be loved, I needed to feel special. I wanted to be worthy.
I wish someone would have told me what I am just learning now. I am special and loved; even when I don’t feel like it, I am worthy. I am for God, and God is love and I don’t have to be against anything. For love is enough. I wish someone would have told me that I won’t regret the abstaining from in Jesus name. But I won’t have to define myself in the things I do and do not do or believe, that I will simply be beloved.
I see the girls who could have been me, in my own room, rolling their eyes when I accidentally drop a swear. I want to tell them so many things, about life, and love, and God. But right now, they need to be on fire. It makes them feel safe. They need to be for things, against things.
I just pray that no one gets burned.
This is part of Addie Zierman’s synchroblog for When We Were On Fire which I got to read early and cannot reccomend highly enough. You can buy it today here. Keep your eyes open on my blog, I am giving a copy away to celebrate my birthday at the end of the month.
Yes. This: ” I wanted to be for things, I wanted to be against things, I wanted to be loved, I needed to feel special. I wanted to be worthy.”
And then this: ” I am for God, and God is love and I don’t have to be against anything. For love is enough.”
I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time knowing the right answers. I wish I wasn’t just wrestling with all this now.
I love how gracious you are here. Extending peace to your past self and to those who remind you of those times. Because we all need to feel the purpose of our breath. And as we watch the many fires burn, we hope together that it all boils down to love.
“I want to tell them so many things, about life, and love, and God. But right now, they need to be on fire. It makes them feel safe. ”
I love this! I just keep thinking how lucky your students are to have you–you remember what that time was like, and so you know what they’ll really hear from you and what they just need to live through. From what I remember of working with teenagers, and being one myself, that awareness can make all the difference in the kind of relationship a person has with teens. Love your teacher stories! 🙂
And when you do befriend the weird kid, when you’re an honors student senior and she’s on the opposite of the accelerated track, just happens to take the spare seat at your lunch table, a freshman with big glasses and no social skills, and you’re trying SO hard to honor Jesus with her, and after lunching together all year, you go to her birthday party, in a smoke-smelling trailer, with her freshman friends who think it’s great fun to watch her guinea pigs try to mate, and it’s all too much for you, there’s no one to help make sense of it. None of the rest of your on-fire friends think it’s cool and all the adults who stood back idolizing your “passion for God” have nothing useful to say because they just like this Jesus thing because it keeps you off drugs and in their tribe. Being a teenager is the worst. And the best, too. Thanks for remembering.
Or how about when you bring a kid who needs a cigarette break to your youth group gathering? That does not go over well.
I love what you have written here. What a good reminder to me as I, in a similar place as you, try and have grace for the high schoolers around me, who are still much as I was. (cringe.)
This is so gracious. Thanks for the reminder that growing up is hard, no matter what subculture you’re in. I guess this is one area where it’s easy to be harsher towards yourself and “your own” because it feels like they/we should know better? But your reminder to extend grace is really helpful.
I’m so glad I didn’t have to teach you biology!
Spot on, kiddo. Though these same issues were not mine. I’m blessed to have never ever questioned the whole evolution thing. Just wasn’t an issue at the time I was in school – so glad for that. But there were other things, i know. And watching out for the weird girl? Not too good at it at all. Still working on that one, actually. And as we all know, I am old.
What a gracious perspective on this. So glad your words are in the world.
I love you. Simply put. This was beautiful. My weird high school self needed to hear this.
Thank you for this perspective Abby, because you’re right- being a teenager is hard. Trying to figure out where they belong and who they are. Those on fire days gave us something to hang onto, something to define ourselves by. Love this post.
Proud to call you cousin! Always moved by what you write…
Oh wow…this sounds so familiar. And you just nailed it with “I wanted to be for things, I wanted to be against things.” *sigh* How did we all manage to whether that time and still come out awesome? 😉 YOU ARE AWESOME.
Yes! Thank you for this. I have been reading some of these synchro-blog posts and kept feeling sad that there was so little grace for our teenage-selves. Thank you for reminding us how hard teenage life is!
This is such a good perspective on things. Thanks for sharing how you get to see the teenage years from the other side.
This was spot on. If it were on paper I would have underlined practically the whole thing. That was so me — against all the things, thinking it made me somehow more special to God. Love how you write it now from a bit outside of it, but still on the edge, watching. Beautiful Abby. Thank you so much for linking up.
It’s so easy to forget what it was like. Glad that you have so much patience with them. I hope they give you the chance to teach them something.
When I saw that you participated in Addie’s synchroblog I thought I should invite you to participate in a monthly synchroblog that I am a part of.
It’s made up of a home-grown group of bloggers who like to write on topics of post-modern faith & life. This group is open to anyone who is interested in participating. We value respectful conversation and dialogue while honoring our differences. We share links & try to learn from each other.
Some of the people that originally participated in the synchroblog no longer blog and I am trying to reach out to people like you who are currently passionate about blogging in order to keep our monthly synchroblog relevant and vital.
If you are interested in joining us you can join the facebook group and receive monthly invitations to the synchroblog. Here is that link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/114506961937378/
And you can find our website (which you can subscribe to if you want to receive an email when we post the monthly theme announcement/invitation) here: http://synchroblog.wordpress.com/
(You can see all of the themes that we have covered in the past on our website in order to get an idea of what we do)