As a youth minister, I often hear young people talking about how annoyed they are with their parents rules. These rules are seen as oppressive to some, while others just dislike the constraints and are waiting until they are older to come out from under them. These rules usually are communal rules based on teaching responsibility or a value that the parents think is important for the family to live out.
An easy example is “We respect others.” This is a huge concept that is not easy to grasp, but I believe that all teens wrestle with it at times. There are teachers, peers and neighbors that young people just don’t “respect” because they feel they have been wronged for some reason. Say a teacher reprimands a young girl for talking too much in class. The young girl feels that she was not the only one talking, others should also have been reprimanded, and she was ultimately embarrassed to be called out. The young girl also seems unable to comprehend that one teacher, in a class of 20 – 30 students cannot individually reprimand each person in a group. A teacher looks for a leader among the talking tribe, or someone who is closest physically, or someone they know will listen, and calls that person out, hoping that one reprimand will bring the talking girls back to focus in order to continue teaching. That young girl from that point forward says that she “hates” that teacher, that teacher is “Horrible” “Mean” or “Nasty”.
The young girl’s father eventually hears the young girl on a tirade against the teacher, and quickly realizes that the daughter is not “respecting” the teacher. Certainly there must be another side to this, and so a conversation happens. Feeling pressed, the young girl, not understanding why the parent is supposedly taking the teacher’s side in the issue, lashes out and disrespects the father, furthering her family “sin” and is pressed for remorse and repentance and a genuine change is required by the father. Punishments, like taking away ipods or video games, becomes a way of enforcing family values, and if the young person is stubborn, eventually the young person starts decrying their loss of Freedom.
Isn’t this America? Aren’t we free to do what we want? My parents are dictators! Everyone is out to get me.
To the adult this is selfish, but this is not uncommon among young people who are yearning to grow out of the boundaries of their childhood, but still are not capable of having their fences completely removed. Trust is hard for parents who want to protect their children, and are not sure of how far their children should be able to go while making mistakes. Each situation is different and in my opinion, the parent has more or less leigh way in proportion to how much danger the youth is actually in. Parents have to maintain fences so that the impulsiveness of youth does not destroy the child, yet there can be a lengthening of the boundaries, and the conversation needs to change from directives to a two way discussion where the teen has some input (but not authority).
“Because I said so” will no longer work. The reasons must be discussed, weighed, and values need to be communicated, lived out and permeate the experience of the child. And those things which a parent does not budge on become the framework with which the child builds their adult life.
But what about Freedom? From the young person’s perspective, this is the ultimate aim. To be free of constraints and able to do whatever they would like to do. If only I could play Skyrim (a video game) for three days straight, drink nothing but energy drinks and eat nothing but candy and Pringles all day. Or Why can’t I tear up my clothes, wear all the makeup I want and date as many boys as I like?
Obviously all these questions revolve around the natural yet selfish need to satisfy Number One. Freedom to the young person is the ability to do whatever I want whenever I want to and go wherever I want to go as often as I want. The world really is still new to them, whereas an adult has already “been there and done that” and so the appeal is not so great to drive the car downtown, or to take a first date to the movie theater. These moments of great excitement within safe boundaries are wonderful. But that lack of experience, and overvaluing of the rewards versus risk make for a dangerous mix. For example, an adult would not likely jump off a bridge to impress their wife if the place does not look safe. A young man would be much more likely to take such a risk, if a girl he likes is present, even if she is scared of him doing it. Even to impress the buds. A parent who discovers this activity will likely shut it down. Lockdown would ensue. Long conversations and lectures would happen until the point is drilled. And still the young man could sit there and think about how awesome it would have been to get those “cool points.”
It is in response to this ethos of youth that I’ve been pondering a simple tool for helping teens realize true freedom. I discovered it recently while reading John Wesley’s early sermons and diary entries prior to visiting Savannah, GA. In the sense that we are all sinful creatures, all burdened by our passions and desires of the self, and unable to stand up on our own to “lift our eyes toward Heaven”, we need a path to throw off that burden, to be free from that guilt which comes from harming ourself and others for our own desires, and essentially to be Truly Free.
The only path to freedom is to rid ourselves of the desires of the self. Our rebellions all come from our nature, fallen since the time of Adam, to put ourselves before everything else. A baby knows how to cry for its wants, a child knows how to make a scene in a toy store, a teen knows how to argue to pursue unhealthy relationships and adults know how to burn out friends, jobs and marriages. It comes natural, and it takes a certain discipline to keep one’s “self” from taking over one’s whole universe. We forget that the people of the universe outnumber our “one” vote, and that the needs of those people might be worth considering, even before our own. The young person who has never been overseas, and who has never seen poverty, sits in their mansion, eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich thinking of how his or her parent’s have abused him/her for not cooking steak for dinner. It is a matter of perspective, and our perspective is skewed towards self satisfying and sinful behavior.
If one were to live life and make every decision according to the principles of Love, that person would suddenly find that they have been set free. As Wesley spoke about in his early writings. True freedom comes from putting others first. Primarily, putting God, our creator, as primary among all things. Once we recognize that we are not a god, and all we do is not divine, we can begin to let God’s will to work in our lives. As we empty ourselves, and begin to ask God what we ought to do rather than what we want to do, we find ourselves in a refreshing stream, moving us forward, rather than using all our strength to push against the waves of God’s Holy Spirit. Wesley several times quotes Jesus’ primary command, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength.” We learned this in Sunday School, but barely have put it into practice, because by putting God in a primary position, and recognizing that we are not the center of the universe, we threaten the most streamlined version of the universe that we could imagine. No person would naturally want to see themselves as a secondary creature, but that is the truth. God has placed us on a planet, it has the resources we need to live good lives, we are surrounded by people who we are to care about, and we have to decide how we will work within this system. God has given mankind responsibility to govern this world as either good rulers, or as we often do, as tyrants. If we live in sin, we dictate our own desires and plunder the earth. When we push off the burdens of sin thanks to the guilt destroying power of Jesus Christ (and his great love for all people!), and the washing and cleansing we receive, our heads are enabled to look up towards heaven, realize our position in the universe (as a creature and not the creator), and we can finally be unleashed to do the greatest amount of good possible. Not in the Mark Twain way, of doing good only to satisfy one’s own need to be recognized, but because we were originally made good, and we are being restored into living in the image of God – which is the perfect image of Love itself.
Yes – When one lives in love, one lives in perfect freedom. If a person considers their neighbor as if that neighbor was oneself, and we realize that others deserve consideration, great things become possible. When I was in college, I remember realizing that if everyone tended to the needs of three or more others, all our needs would be met. Putting aside logistics of who would help who, if a need was seen, it could be met. This is a good pattern for a marriage. Often people go into a marriage thinking that the other person is going to satisfy that God sized hole in their being. That person is merely a drug, used and consumed, until there is nothing left (because only God can fill that place – only he can eternally fill the human with love), and then the marriage falls apart. The more selfish a society, the more hardship the institution of marriage will have. Why? Because marriage requires that the man and the woman put God first, and find nourishment and sustenance from the Creator. Then, the married person must put the other before one’s self. If each person does this, even if one fails and repents and tries to make things right, they are still far beyond what two selfish people could ever accomplish. God first, spouse second, and then everything else. If both give of themselves all in all, the marriage has a greater ability to succeed, to be full of love, and to have two members who feel complete freedom – to love the other.
Being free, means being in love. When individuals and societies fail to love, wars become reality, walls are built, words become venomous and full of poison. Storage containers become filled with atomic weapons and militaries march to meet enemies who are no longer seen as human. In our regular lives, we sit in separate rooms, we live within our gadgets and leave home to find fulfillment in other people in things (all of which cannot satisfy the heart, and the body will wither away as it is abused seeking happiness and satisfaction).
To find happiness, to be fully free, to hope for a better future, we will have to live our whole being in a state of love. First for God, and because God made us all and loves us all, we will begin to see the people of the world as they were created – as children of God worthy of being brought into the family. To love is to be completely free.