Redeeming the Pain of Adolescence

A country song titled “Don’t Laugh at Me” by Mark Wills brought back some memories about the pain of adolescent passage.

Don’t laugh at me
Don’t call me names
Don’t get your pleasure from my pain
In God’s eyes we’re all the same.

Janis Ian sang about how hard growing up can be in her song At Seventeen.

I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school girls with clear skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired

My junior high years were hard. I was bullied by one student. I never had the courage to share that with an adult and this is the first time I have written about it. I remember shame because boys are supposed to fight back and I didn’t. I can still remember my stomach hurting as I got ready for school.

Now I realize that what I once considered some of the worst moments of my life have been redeemed by God as moments I am grateful I experienced. In many of those spiritual valleys you could not have begun to convince me that God was molding me or that those experiences could ever have value.

How did God redeem those moments of teenage pain into something good? I developed a heart of compassion for those who are wounded. How did that happen? God gave me the privilege of being wounded early in my life. That last sentence seems crazy as I read back over it. That is not a sentence I would have written twenty or maybe even ten years ago. But now I can see that my struggles to fit in as an often outcast adolescent molded my heart to empathize and care about those who are hurt and ostracized by their peers.

Had I been the coolest guy or the best athlete I likely would not have developed a sensitive spirit toward others. Many times I did not enjoy that period of my life. I would have given about anything to be the starting quarterback or the guy the cheerleaders fought over. I was almost desperate to be part of the cool group. With the benefit of hindsight I can promise you that I am grateful for every refining difficulty and problem. G.K.Chesterton wryly noted, “Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump; you may be freeing him from being a camel.” Had I been freed the burden of my “hump” (that tough teenage passage), I would not be who I am today.

Janis Ian wrote that there were only dreams for ugly duckling girls like her. Most of us have felt that pain of rejection or not feeling like we are enough. Remember the story of the ugly duckling? The egg of a swan had found its way into the nest of the ducks. Because the new hatchling was different the awkward bird was ridiculed and mocked. But there was something the others didn’t know about this homely creature. He had the DNA of beauty and grace and later he would mature into that truth. You all know the ending. The ugly duckling matured into what was always true about him. He became a stately swan admired by all of those who had once derided him.

I wish I had learned in my teens that I had a new identity beyond the awkward man-child identity of adolescence. Because of my trust in Jesus as Savior my spiritual DNA had already been changed as Paul told the Church at Corinth.

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ.  (I Corinthians 5, NLT)

I was a new spiritual creation with a changed identity because of Christ. Because of God’s unmerited grace I now had the ability to mature into what God said was true about me. I was a saint and I was righteous because of Christ. Janis Ian noted that it isn’t all it seems at seventeen and she is right about that. It just took me awhile to figure that out.