Chap Clark has written a must-read book for all youth workers and those who want to understand the current world of today’s teenagers. Listen to these honest words of a (typical) high school student in Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers:
“I’ve always been prone to episodes of extreme loneliness and longing for a place where I could feel safe enough to let down my defenses. Because I was extremely outgoing and energetic little girl/adolescent, no one would ever guess how alone I really felt. I was the girl who was always surrounding herself with people from all “groups,” as teenagers love to place people in, but something has always felt like it was missing. Every so often this “hole” pops up in the pit of my stomach, and it can stay anywhere from a couple hours to a couple days. I have never been able to pinpoint exactly where the emptiness begins, as hard as I may try. I have many friends and acquaintances, and my home life is more than I could ask for. I just wish sometimes I could find somewhere to belong” (p. 48).
We wear masks to hide what’s really going on inside ourselves. Some of us know exactly what we are trying to cover up; others cannot quite explain what we are trying to hide — but we know we are not ready to let people peer inside. Feelings of fear, inadequacy, insecurity, and an overwhelming sense of inability to meet all the expectations of parents, teachers, coaches and youth pastors send teens into hiding.
Why do we hide? Why is it so hard to trust others with our true selves? Why do we spend so much time and energy creating the outward appearance of a carefree, happy, self-confident teenager when our inner landscape is a chaotic wilderness of fear, doubt, disappointment and despair? Why, despite being surrounded night and day by friends and family, do we feel such a nagging sense of loneliness in our souls?
Well, not surprisingly, it all goes back to the very beginning. After creating the first man in his image, GOD said, “It’s not good for the Man to be alone; I’ll make him a helper, a companion” (Gen 2:18). God made woman to complete his creation, and they were designed to share a relationship of complete love, trust, openness and intimacy. They were to know each other inside and out, without fear of rejection, abandonment, pain or shame. No wonder they called it Paradise!
Yet, with the Fall into Sin in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve first began the human retreat away from complete intimacy and into a world of hiding, covering and masking our true selves. No longer could two people stand naked, completely exposed (symbolizing complete trust and openness with another) and yet unashamed (Gen 2:25). Instead, they ran for cover, and began the age old game of psychological and emotional hide-and-seek.
“Then the eyes of both of them opened, and they knew they were naked;
so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (Gen 3:7).
This story is deeper than nude beaches and palm branches! The Bible is speaking to the deeper realities of the human condition. We are all created with a need for BELONGING. We are all hardwired with a longing to be fully known and yet not ashamed. We are all looking for people who we can trust with our raw, imperfect, true selves. We are tired of coverings. We are tired of wearing masks and fig leaves. We are tired of feeling ashamed.
We are all trying to get back to Eden. That nagging, existential question remains: Is there anyone I can bear my soul to without risking having it trampled on? As the high school student said above, “I just wish sometimes I could find somewhere to belong.”
With whom can we bear our very souls without scorn? With whom can we once again stand naked (sin and all) and be unashamed?
“And no creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account” (Heb 4:13).
…But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, because we have now been declared righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from God’s wrath” (Rom 5:8-9).
As we find our true selves rooted in a loving relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we find ourselves once again able to stand redeemed, unashamed, accepted and loved. We begin to find ourselves dancing on the doorstep of Eden, clothed forever in the righteousness of Christ, experiencing an intimacy like we’ve never known before with the Lover of our souls.
This is the place to start in our search for belonging and intimacy. Everything starts with a restored relationship with God through Christ Jesus. Once again, I am reminded that I have one of the greatest, most meaningful jobs in the world — teaching teens these liberating, transforming truths and leading a ministry team of caring adults who provide an environment where students can come together weekly and “just find somewhere to belong.”