There is only one teenager left in our home. The other four Welford offspring have ceased to be teenagers and are now scattered around the UK, some of them with offspring of their own. It goes without saying that life was very different when I was a teenager, but I think my parents probably had about as much understanding of teenagers in their day as my wife and I have in ours. One would think that having been teenagers many moons ago we might retain some memories of those days, but sadly not. The process of ceasing to be a teenager apparently erases all understanding of being a teenager from one’s mind.
So what is wrong with our teenager? I don’t want to complain about the iPhone addiction or the desire to spend one’s life playing rugby rather than focusing on the academic requirements of coursework and exams. I’m not even going to complain about the mumbled language of grunts, or the strange attachment to his mattress. I admit that I almost understand why time on the X-Box is preferable to conversations with parents, but what I don’t understand is what happened to that happy little fellow I remember toddling around the house.
Let me introduce you to John. John is seventeen and a student at Sixth Form College. John loves rugby and most other sports. When John was little he never ever seemed to stop smiling, despite having a big sister to torment him. For a child that didn’t say much he managed to communicate happiness in a way that I wish older people could. I called John my medicine man because it was impossible not to be happy when the little chap was around. John was the cure to feeling low.
Comparisons could be made with following Jesus. When we first come to faith nothing will take the smile off our face. A light has been switched on and we are immersed in the blessing and excitement of learning to know Jesus more. But we are just toddlers and just as we have to learn new skills and grow in life, so we have to move on from the comfort of being a toddler in Jesus.
For some reason we have to go through the teenage years of faith. Times when we might still be clinging to Jesus but nobody around us would know. Swamped by the pressures of life, often preferring to be an irritant instead of being contagiously happy. And what comes next? University, professional advancement, or is it sufficient to be without ambition and just live life in the slow lane?
I think the main challenge for me is to ensure that I never stop learning, and that I never stop growing in my faith. In five years time I do not want to recognise myself from 2017. That of course is the difficulty we all face when first surrender our lives to God. How far do we want to travel with Him? Is it really acceptable to live out our Christian lives as toddlers in the faith? Knowing that God has so much more for us why would we choose not to pursue maturity? It is almost as great a mystery as the mind of a teenager.
Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. (Ephesians 4:11-14a NLT)