I was surprised to realize that she had inched her desk closer to mine. Students don’t usually move toward the teacher’s desk. They usually move in the opposite direction, putting as much distance as possible between their desk and the teacher’s. (at least in high school, anyway) Which is why this move on her part was so unusual and why it caught my attention. Her classmates were engaged talking with each other or on their phones, many with ear pods in, oblivious to anything going on around them.
I could tell much was on her mind and that was not surprising in the least. The teenage years have notoriously been tumultuous in every era of history. Why should it be any different for today’s teenagers? These are traditionally the years of self exploration and self discovery. Teens are searching to find their place in society, to find where they fit in. Historically, the first and foremost desire of every teen is to fit in, to be accepted, to be “popular.” Actually, this could be true for any age group, but the desire for acceptance does seem more intense during the teen years.
So today’s teens are no different from the teens of generations past. Well, throw in a pandemic, fear, social chaos, forced isolation, the suspension of school along with its sports, clubs, activities and opportunities, no after school jobs as most places closed, churches, community centers and libraries closed (which are sources of support and social services) and no family gatherings – and it’s really not surprising that students’ burdens and behaviors are more challenging than ever before.
While I was debating whether I should engage her in conversation, she broke the silence and began talking to me. She needed a safe place to vent and I was happy to oblige. I listened, glad I didn’t have to say anything, fearful if I did, I would say the wrong words or use the wrong pronouns – there are so many rules these days and not being on any social media myself, I am always behind on what is current and what is already “so yesterday.”
She certainly did have the weight of the world on her shoulders. I assumed it would be the weighty decisions of deciding on college or no? and if so, which one? and what to pick as a major? or the weight of navigating the ever changing labyrinth of friends and boyfriends – in teenage world, today’s best friend is tomorrow’s arch enemy and today’s soulmate for life is tomorrow’s disdained discard in favor of a new forever love. The constant is constantly changing one’s mind about everything, clothes, music, friends, loves, careers, passions, – it is one continuous search for identity.
She was clearly miserable, experiencing heartache, rejection and uncertainty about finding her place in the future in this world. At this point she speculated that perhaps if she were a “he”, life would make more sense, she (now he) would be happier, life would be less painful and she (he) would finally fit in and her (his) problems would be behind her, (him). My heart went out to her as I continued to listen.
Then it hit me – no other generation has ever had this option before, when struggling, as we all do, to find our identity and our place in the world. Never before has changing our gender been a part of the process of growing up, of growing into an adult. Most of us changed our minds often during the childhood and teen years about food, fashion, friends, music, pastimes, people and what we wanted to be when we grew up. We didn’t have the added burden of righting some cosmic wrong and rectifying the mistake that the culture was telling us we might be if we are currently unhappy as we are.
No wonder she was conflicted and confused. Life is hard, life is painful – at any age and for both genders. There is simply no escape from this reality. She continued talking. I continued listening with growing empathy for this young girl in search of her identity. She indicated she was gender fluid or maybe nonbinary? It occurs to me this is one way to deal with this new burden of having to choose between being male or being female. Don’t choose. Keep all your options open. (that used to be called “playing the field”) This explains why students dress one way one day and a totally different way another day.
Not choosing, also postpones the need to decide on body altering surgery. It buys more time while children continue their search to find out who they are and where they fit in. I don’t think I’d fully realized how much social pressure there is currently on children and teens to make a life-long choice at such a young age. Must be overwhelming to have the responsibility of being your own creator, instead of leaving that to the God of the universe and finding your identity, purpose and place in the One who is your Creator – and not only your Creator, but the Creator of everyone and everything.
Giving that responsibility back to Creator God, would take quite a load off of anyone’s shoulders. Then they would know that they already have a place, a purpose and an identity as a completely loved, perfectly created child of God. This is what I wished that the student at my desk could know – she doesn’t have to recreate herself – she has already been created – perfectly created in the image of God – a God who knows her, loves her and values her just as she is. King David acknowledged this truth when he said,
“For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:13-16) Further confirmation is found in Ephesians 2:10 –
“For we are (Iam/you are) God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us (me/you) to do.”
Some translations say we are God’s “masterpieces” – if only we realized how “wonderfully and fearfully made” each of us is, perhaps we would be more accepting of ourselves and of each other. I feel sure that when I can accept myself, faults, weaknesses and all, then I am more willing to accept others with their shortcomings. Acceptance paves the way for more acceptance. Because my Creator, Heavenly Father, completely accepts me, I can show that same inclusive acceptance to other people.
The bell rang, cutting our conversation short. Still, I felt the weight of her burden sticking with me, unshakable and unnecessary at the same time. Unnecessary because God never meant for us to bear the burden of creating or designing ourselves. He took care of that for us.
“Know that the Lord Himself is God; it is He that has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” (Psalm 100:3)
God made us! And He did it perfectly. We don’t have to remake ourselves. We belong! We belong to the Creator of the universe – we are His! How wonderful to belong to Someone! In His “flock” I find my place. I also find my purpose as His “workmanship/masterpiece/handiwork” because I am clearly told I was created for a purpose, a purpose which God prepared beforehand in anticipation of my existence!
I realize that the students I see every day, just like the rest of us, are sheep without a shepherd, lost and searching, until they find the Good Shepherd, Jesus. When I did, I found my place, my purpose and my identity. They too, will find all that they seek when they find Jesus, who said –
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. . . . I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:11 &10)
my place, my purpose, my identity, a fulfilled life – I found them all in the One who created me in the first place, and you will, too, dear readers – as I pray this confused generation will as well – find their identity in the One who created them and loves them without reservation and beyond measure – because we are created in His image (which is our eternal identity) – because we are the work of His hands –
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness,’ . . . So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)
“The Lord is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made.” (Psalm 145:9)
sincerely, Grace Day