Jesus's message today should be a powerful blow to teenagers, myself included. We teens, whether it is because we are growing into adulthood, or because we have a sense of overconfidence, have the habit of trying to do everything on our own. Whether it be going to court for speeding tickets, relationship problems, or school work, we like to think we can handle everything and anything on our own. Perhaps it is to prove our own self-worth, perhaps it is to prove to those around us, especially adults, that we too, can handle responsibility, that we aren't the small kids they still think we are.
I am by far no exception. Often times, during the day, when asked if I can do something for someone, I turn to that person, say their name, and say, “I got this” while hitting my chest with my hand, almost as in a primeval display of dominance. Too often though, I think, we get in over our heads, often to disastrous consequences. Last year, I decided to take 8 classes, instead of the regular 7, forsaking my lunch period to do so. In September, I was in perfect health, with normal habits and patterns. By May, however, I had lost 10 pounds, weighing in at only 124, developed insomnia, had pains in my chest, and became incredibly moody. The rigorous academic work, the multiple after school activities, and all the stress that came along with those things had a huge impact on my mental and physical health. I could have switched my schedule, let my grades drop a bit, take part in less extracurriculars, and lived a less stressful life. I chose not to. Why? Because I thought I could handle it. I was wrong.
This is often the case in most matters teenagers face. Whether it be depression, parental troubles, addictions, or various other troubles, we choose to face them alone. Perhaps it is because, on the inside, we fear being punished, we fear being outcasts, as being labeled as freaks and weaklings. If we do gather the courage to tell someone, it is usually one of our friends, ones our age, who we hope won't judge us. Yet, while we may speak on the issue, it is usually done in a joking and sarcastic matter, still showing a strong face. Our friends either think that we are joking, or believe us and do nothing about it, perhaps unwilling to become “snitches” and betray us. Either way, nothing is done, and the situation worsens.
This too, applies to matters of faith. Teenagers this day often look at God as some old man in the sky, that we go to when we feel sad. However, all of our accomplishments, our talents, everything positive in our life, is either luck or our own doing:
“I am a good student because I study hard.”
“I am popular because I am just the most talented and charismatic guy here.”
“I am a good athlete because I pump iron every single day.”
However, when we are in trouble, when we cannot look at the positive, we turn to God, looking for a cure-all. God does not give answers so easily, He is not, as Abba Duns calls us, “Control-F” accessible. This is the reason why so many teenagers, I think, have turned away from the Church, and religion in general...we see God as a last resort....he is, after all, as countless cathecism classes for small children teach, “God is love....God is goodness...God helps us when we call out to him...nothing is outside his control”. So when we don't see results, when our faith is still at an infantile state rather than a deepened one, we get angry, we declare that God is dead, that those that believe are fools, and we turn our back on faith. When one looks at all the evil in the world, this break becomes even more distinct, and harder to mend. I think, that the real danger on turning our back to God is this: our last resort is gone...and we feel utterly alone. This is where depression kicks in, where we spiral down in our hopelessness, when we become suicidal and look at death as the only escape.
“I cannot do anything on my own ”. Bitter medicine for the youth culture, but medicine, that if taken, can only do us good. We must realize, at one point, that we are only human, that we can only do so much, that no matter what we have seen and experienced, no matter how intelligent or eloquent we are, we still, in essence, are still kids, and there is no shame in that. I realized that last April, when the adults in my life made me go on the Junior Retreat to rest after a year of constant wear and tear on my health. The only reason that happened, however, was because I had mentioned that I was not feeling well, that I was tired and that I didn't know how to just give everything up. Perhaps, if I had not mentioned that, I would have ended up in a hospital with some kind of breakdown. I can only guess.
This Lenten season, we must realize that we are human, and that is all we can be. If we are young, we must realize that those older then us went through similar problems, and that asking for help is not admitting defeat, it is a showing that we are strong enough to see beyond our own lives. If we cannot see and hear God directly, perhaps we can see Him through the outreached hands of help that those around us offer. There are always plenty of these hands, if one only wants to see them.
If we are adults, we must be aware, I think, of the difficulty, the paradox, the fear, of growing up, and be lenient with those that are going through the process. High school teenagers aren't always the most rational people, and by far we aren't the most conscious of the consequences of our actions. At times, it looks like we are almost animals, acting on instinct and habit, things that just come naturally, rather than thinking what we are doing...and that can cause anger and contempt in adults, especially parents.
I think, that if the rampant depression and suicide rates are to go down, and hopefully mostly disappear, there needs to be cooperation and love from both sides. Teens must realize that reaching out is okay, and adults must realize that teens need a balance of both space to grow and attentiveness. Perhaps, both sides need to learn that neither can solve the problems of the Control-F Generation by themselves.
- Maciej Rejniak, '11