Conversations“The more you try to recreate yourself to fit people’s demands, the more broken you will be.”
I asked a high school senior how often she spoke in class. “Hardly ever” was the answer. I wasn’t expecting that. This talkative, inquisitive, social butterfly has more opinions than a dog has fleas. What was it about her high school that throttled her from speaking out in classroom discussions? “Easy,” she said. “Everybody has opinions, but no one is willing to speak up anymore because kids are mean, and if you say something they disagree with, or don’t like, they will shame and smear you. It’s easier to stay quiet.” This wasn’t just her opinion. It was something that she had learned personally from sharing her faith in an open discussion.
In youth culture, it is getting harder to express what you think or believe. It seems easier to be quiet. But when this happens, we are not learning how to be social, how to converse honestly or how to make an impact on others. We are taking the road of least resistance at a high cost to ourselves.
We try to be what others want us to be in exchange for their approval and affirmation. Every human wants to be liked and respected. If “being someone else” is the price tag for getting this, why not? Being someone else creates internal conflict. We become fractured people, part us and part somebody else—but God intended that we live as whole people, comfortable in our own skin. When we try to be what others want us to be, we become whatever the crowd wants us to be and say what others want to hear. The current statistics on youth mental health are telling us that posing as somebody else is not good for the soul. Being someone different than the person who lives in your own skin is a fracturing experience.
The best option is to learn how to be yourself and be guided by the God who made you, affirms you and loves you. Here are a few suggestions.
1. Be Sure Of Your Identity.
You are a creature of God made in God’s image and likeness. You do not have to recreate yourself to fit someone’s expectations. God made you. God’s affirmation of your value and worth will give you security and confidence. The more you try to recreate yourself to fit other people’s demands, the more broken you will be. When you see yourself as a person rooted in a relationship with Jesus, you will have a firm center and you can be the same person wherever you go, whoever you are with.
2. Recognize The Tactics That People Use To Silence You.
Shame is a popular weapon. This is when someone attacks your value as a person rather than the opinion that you shared. Half-truth is another tactic. They twist your words into a sword that they use to attack you. Labeling is the attempt to identify you in an unkind way, i.e., “loud-mouth,” “little Jesus” or any label that hurts you enough to keep you quiet. They will also try to turn you into their enemy. If they can make you the villain, they can justify attacking you. All of these are painful experiences. And every one of these tactics was used on Jesus. But His security in the Father enabled Him to love those that hated Him and bless those who persecuted Him. Jesus overcame the silencing efforts and spoke words that made a difference.
3. Become A Champion Of Those Who Are Being Shamed or Labeled.
This will create a new group of people who are tired of bullies. Your defense of others will strengthen them and you.
4. Keep A Soft Edge And A Hard Core.
At the front door of your relationships, be welcoming, kind and respectful to all. This soft edge at the front door will enable you to get to know other people. But as people move more deeply into your house, to the place where you live and think and believe, be rock solid hard. Know who you are, what you believe and where the moral lines are drawn.
5. Never Stoop To The Tactics of Shaming, Half-Truth, Labeling And Enemy-Making.
These are not Christian weapons. Our weapons are things like truth, wisdom, kindness, forgiveness and grace. God does not leave us defenseless but empowers us to respond to the silencing tactics of a bully culture.
Our world needs young leaders who are secure in their identity in Christ, who are at home in their own skin, who welcome others into their space, who have firm convictions and who know how to respond to the bullying tactics of our culture. Could it be that you are that person, or on the way to becoming that kind of person? If so, I can guarantee you that God will be with you in the hard places.
For Further Reflection
- Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). What does Jesus say that gives you courage to be His follower in today’s world?
- Read Ephesians 6:10-20. What are the weapons that God gives us to fight with? Which weapons are offensive, and which are defensive?
- Read 2 Corinthians 10:1-5. Paul is writing about his challenges as a follower of Jesus in a hostile world. What does he say that helps you find hope that you can be an influence for God?
- A Charitable Discourse: Talking About the Things That Divide Usby Dan Boone. This book will help you have the hard conversations about religion, sexuality, science, politics and other difficult topics.
Dan is the president of Trevecca Nazarene University. He has served as a pastor, professor, writer and friend of youth. He and his wide Denise live in Nashville where they enjoy life along with their 16 family members. Dr. Boone is a longtime friend of the Salvation Army.