By Beryl Amos
(Mrs. Beryl Amos)
This seems to be an age where most things, sooner or later, are presented in the form of a problem. We are very problem conscious! Because the few minutes at our disposal do not give us time to delve too deeply, it may look as if we are over-simplifying the situation when I suggest that we put aside the problem aspect, and think rather of each moment of living as an experience. We are confronting the subject "The Teenager and God," but I don't think that we can discuss the teenager as a separate unit, because we can't divorce the teenager from the child or the parents. Note that I say parents, and not just parent!
The Right Focus.
Through the medium of the press and the radio a great number of people have received a distorted view of this group as a whole, and to hear them speak, one would think that there is no hope for the future. Now just listen to this--"The world is passing through troubled times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents, or old people. They are impatient of all restrain. They talk as if they alone knew anything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for girls, they are forward, immodest, and unwomanly in speech, behaviour, and dress." A good summary of the day, isn't it? But this, mark you, came from an address by Peter the Hermit in 1274! So things haven't changed much, have they?
We see that whilst it is true that some teenagers are all these things, many more are good, and desirable, and capable of taking over the reins when we give up control. So, whilst we are in control a tremendous responsibility is ours.
I think that we need to get one thing clear. It is perfectly natural for a teenager (as it is for any other age), to worship God, but it must be admitted that the way we like to do things is not always appealing to them. They generally like meetings with life and spirit, and singing that has a swing, and a lot of noise. Often it is not the poetry or the message that appeals, but rather the melody and the rhythm. Or, on the other hand, there is that group that gets over sentimental and are, as we say, "So heavenly minded that they are no earthly use." Perhaps because there is so little expression of love, and so much tension in the homes of these particular young people, that they find expression in this often cloying way of worship.
Well, instead of getting impatient with these youngsters, try remembering. Say "What was I like?" I can remember the time when I longed to get into the back seat during the church service. I managed it once, and had a lovely giggle, and I remember more of that sermon than many another when I sat with my mother. The preacher was very fond of two expressions--"Oh yes" and "Oh no." I can still remember them.
Let's not despair of our modern youth then, but rather to try to find out how we can lead them to want the best that life can give them.
Young people do respond! I would like to tell you of two instances in Sydney where this has happened to a remarkable degree. You have all heard of Alan Walker, of the Methodist Church. He was appointed to a district that simply teemed with people--many living in flats and rooms. Yet church life appeared almost dead. They had a lovely building, with approximately fifty people attending. After six months of reviewing the situation, Mr. Walker, with a band of influential Christian friends, and with God's guidance, was able to convert a dream into reality, and the Waverley Christian Community Centre was born. The response was marvellous. I think that it was only five years later that they had contact with three thousand young people every week, and the work was still growing. On one Lord's Day morning the right hand of Christian fellowship was extended to one hundred and twenty-six new members, most of them young people. From this same church twelve young men entered the ministry in one year.
Then there is Gordon Powell, of St. Stephens Presbyterian Church. He has a midweek lunch hour service, each Wednesday, at which thirteen hundred people attend. This, by the way, is the largest midweek service in the world. Most of those attending are young. They come from nearby offices and business houses, and many nurses from a neighbouring hospital are there, too. It doesn't matter to which church they belong, they are all welcome, and it really is a case of being "all one in Christ Jesus." All denominational barriers are down, and a thrilling time with the Lord is had, and most of these young people are unwilling to miss a service if they can possibly help it.
The Redeemed Family.
It would appear that those who have studied the teenager question in its entirety are unanimous in the fact that the breakdown with them comes mainly in the home--which of course tosses it right back in our laps.
Well, what can we do about it? If we want our own young people to know and love God, then, we need to face up to our own position. Are we happy doing things for Christ and His church, or do we grizzle about how many appeals are made, and how much we are asked to give? Are we displeased when our husbands leave us alone at night to attend meetings at the church building, or to help in working bees? Do we find fault with others in the church? Are we irritable at home? Do we look forward to all the services that are held, or do we only go if it is convenient? I think that all of us are guilty of at least one of these, shall we say "indiscretions." But I don't think that we deliberately mean to let the Master down.
Our children see us with barriers down. The way we act is the way Christians act, as they see it. It is not sufficient to tell them what they must do, but to try to do it together.
The Child Welfare Department of New South Wales has put out a booklet entitled "Children Need Care", in which the following eight points are stressed--that a child needs love, security, protection, acceptance at all times, a spirit of independence, guidance, discipline, and faith.
The Real Faith.
The question was put to me "What do you do when a teenager refuses to go to Church?" I can only say "I don't know, because I haven't had to face that yet. I hope I won't have to." I feel that if we are really consistent, in all phases of our own spiritual relationship, with God, then it is less likely that our young people will rebel against Him.
So, whether our children are small, or adolescent, I feel that these words of J. Edgar Hoover, who is Director of the F.B.I. in the United States, are well worth thinking about--"Shall I make my child go to Sunday School and Church? Yes! And with no further discussion about the matter. Startled? Why?
"How do you answer Junior when he comes to breakfast on Sunday morning and announces to you that he is not going to Sunday School any more? You know! Junior goes.
"How do you answer when Junior comes in very much besmudged and says, 'I'm not going to take a bath.'? Junior bathes, doesn't he?
"Why all this timidity then, in the realm of his spiritual guidance and growth? Going to let him wait and decide what church he'll go to when he's old enough? Quit your kidding! You didn't wait until you were old enough? You don't wait until he's old enough to decide whether he wants to go to school or not--to start his education. You don't wait until he's old enough to decide whether he wishes to be clean or dirty, do you? Do you wait until he's old enough to decide if he wants to take his medicine when he is sick? Do you?
"What shall we say when Junior announces that he doesn't like to go to Sunday School and Church? That's an easy one to answer. Just be consistent. Tell him, 'Junior, in our house, we all go to Sunday School and Church and that includes you.' Your firmness and example will furnish a bridge over which youthful rebellion may travel into rich and satisfying experience in personal living.
"The parents of America can strike a telling blow against the forces which contribute to our juvenile delinquency, if our mothers and fathers take their children to Sunday School and Church regularly." And that can apply to Australia as well as to America.
(Mrs. Beverley White)
As we try to bring all the threads of our discussion together, I would like to emphasise a thought that has already been brought out--that we are not just parents, but Christian parents. And this should make all the difference. Let us take three of the ideas we have learned from Christ, and apply them to our teenage problem.
First, there is the sense of stewardship, that life is a gift from God to be wisely used. This is so often applied only to money, but is applicable to our time, our talents, and also our children. For they are gifts from God. Every mother feels this when the miracle of birth takes place, but often forgets it when the helpless infant turns into a grubby little boy or an awkward teenager. If we can constantly remember this fact, surely we will not become overwhelming, over-loving, over-demanding parents, who must keep their children tied to their apron-strings all their lives, unable to develop any life or personality of their own. Nor will we go to the other extreme and become so indifferent that we cease to care what they are doing. But with God to help us, and because we realise they are His children, we will give them freedom to develop, and yet an assurance that we are standing behind them, however far in the background we may be.
A second thing we have learned from Christ is that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We say this at church, and we know in our hearts that it is true, but will we admit to our children? Never! While they are small we may get away with this front of perfection that we put on--"Mother knows best"--but when they become half-child, half-adult, we cannot keep up this pretence. We do make mistakes, we don't always know best, we are not perfect, and we must admit it, or run the risk of having our children despise us for our insincerity, and our failure to put into practice those things we say we believe.
Thirdly, we have learned from Christ the greatest thing in the world, perfect love. And perfect love is what we need most in our families. We must seek God's guidance as we examine the sort of love we have for our teenager, and we must ask Him to purge our love of all selfishness.
When we urge on the clever child (or the unclever child) do we do it because we love him, or to satisfy our own pride? When we disapprove of their pleasures, are we doing it through love, or are we jealous because their bright lives make ours seem so dull? When we stop our children from going into any sort of danger, are we loving them, or are we afraid for our own sense of fear? Only love will help us to overcome the selfishness that so besets us.
The time of adolescence is a difficult time for the boy and girl, because they are turning into adults. And it is a difficult time for the parents, because the picture they have in their minds of their children often turns out to be wrong. The gentle little boy has found a shocking vocabulary, the charming little girl has become an empty-headed minx. Mothers long to interfere, to get back the child they knew, but they face an unknown person, a new personality in the making.
Only perfect love and perfect understanding will get us over this hurdle, until at last they do become adults, and we hand over the running of the world to them, our sons and daughters. They will move forward into new conventions, new experiences, and new life, and behind them will be all the values, and the faith and help and love that we have given them.
I close with this quotation, which is a healthy reminder for all parents--"You may give them your love, but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies, but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you, for life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday."
Mrs. Beverley White is a member of the church at North Essendon.
Mrs. Netta Newham is a member of the church at Surrey Hills.
Mrs. May Reed is a member of the church at Ivanhoe.
Mrs. Beryl Amos is a member of the church at Blackburn.
"These talks were given at the Annual Rally of the C.W.F. (Evening Groups), which was held at Lygon Street Church of Christ, during October 1958, and were greatly appreciated. We are glad to reproduce them here."