Because I am very serious about my Christian faith I tend to get referrals from churches and families seeking a therapist who is also a Christian. I would estimate though that at least half of the teenagers I work with are either of a different faith, or do not practice a religion at all. This is fine in the context of a counseling relationship because compassion, care, understanding and guidance are aspects of counseling that transcend any religious or cultural differences between me and my clients.
Today though I am writing to my clients, both present and future, who are Christian teenagers. I want you to know you are not alone in walking a path that feels incredibly difficult at times. You are called to have the highest level of integrity, and that often means you do not end up in first place. While you have plenty of friends who find ways to cheat on tests or homework assignments, you are asked not to behave this way. Sometimes you probably give in to this temptation as I did several times in high school. Afterwards you might get the grade you were hoping for, but there is no satisfaction in it. You are left with a sense of guilt that can only be remedied by admitting your fault. This is even harder to do- face up when you know you’ve done wrong.
You also are following the moral and emotional guidance of Christ. These days some of your beliefs are culturally unpopular. You might find yourself dealing with some mild form of verbal persecution among your peers. While it is extremely unlikely you have faced physical abuse for your beliefs, if you are strong in them, you have very likely been called a name or two. This happened to me in high school as well. I was called mild things like naive, to completely inappropriate and incorrect names such as bigot, and one time I was even called a neo-Nazi. In no way did I ever have even the slightest inclinations towards white supremacy. This came from the mouth of someone who was angered when I said Christians believe there is one way to Heaven. I did go home and cry though because it felt terrible to be so completely maligned when I was trying to live my life in a very loving way towards others.
Another challenge you will most certainly face is moral dilemmas when you hang out with your non-Christian friends. A great number of them probably party, drink, lie to their parents sometimes, and are sexually active. It is really easy for you to attend youth group and go to church on Sundays, but still partake in these other things. In high school I had one foot in my faith and church, and one foot in the party scene. I justified it by saying I wasn’t the worst one there. I very rarely drank, and instead usually chose to be the designated driver. The problem was that I was lying to my parents about where I was going, and was tempted by other things as well. I was moral shades of gray. I know A LOT of Christian teenagers who do the same thing. It is tough for you to keep your non-Christian friends if you never do the things they like to do. But, this is exactly why it’s so important to understand that you walk a challenging road.
I think the most important thing you can do right now is keep a daily connection with God. Read your bible regularly, pray and stay involved in a small group. If you do these three things the desires of your heart will more likely align with Christ. That makes it a lot easier to follow Him than if you are trying to use your own will-power to be a “good kid,” but you don’t actually know a lot about who Jesus is. Then it becomes a religion of right and wrong instead of a relationship of love.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT