Every normal human being wants to feel valued and accepted, but this desire is usually magnified or heightened during our young teenage years as we are in the process of discovering who we really are and our true value or identity. As you begin to experience a world that extends way beyond the limited boundaries of your immediate family and friends who usually accept us unconditionally, we suddenly begin to realize that the world is not as kind or accepting, but can in fact be very antagonistic to our true calling and destiny.
Suddenly we are faced with questions about who we really are, and we are besieged with numerous choices each vying for our time and the opportunity to mold and fashion us according to its own image. We are confronted with the pressure to conform to the prevailing status-quo by being one of the many, or else suffer the consequences of being misunderstood, rejected, or labeled a misfit.
Make no doubt about it; this pressure can be enormous and most young people usually find themselves victims to the societal or cultural norms. Our desire is to fit in and be accepted, not stand out like a sore thumb and be rejected or made fun of. And with the extremely high divorce rate, number of broken families and dysfunctional homes, it is easy to see why many young people choose to just give up the fight for their own unique identity – that which God designed – and surrender to the mounting pressure so that they can gain acceptance by their friends.
Factor in issues such as abuse – whether physical, sexual or emotional – and the fact that the prevailing culture demands that both parents work in order to keep up with our “comfortable” lifestyles, thus leaving parents either too tired or too busy to minister to the needs of their children, we’re left with a situation where it is almost impossible for children to succeed or mount any considerable defense against the onslaughts of society.
As an adult and father of three children, I am here to tell you that I have been down that road before and I know (both from instruction as well as from experience) how difficult it can be. Many times we are hurting and we think that no one understands, but God does. He knows your pain and frustration. He has seen how you have suffered silently with seemingly nothing that can numb the pain. He knows the pain of rejection because He was despised and rejected of men (Is. 53:3). He has suffered everything you have gone through and more (Is. 53:4). But regardless of the disadvantages you may have faced or the number of excuses you feel you may legitimately have, God has provided a way for you to succeed if you will cast your care and your sorrow upon Him and trust Him to empower you to make the right choices (1 Cor. 10:13; 1 Pet. 5:7).
Regardless of the numerous pressures we face, we are the ones who ultimately make the choice as to whether to succumb or not. And if we are the ones who ultimately make those choices, then we are the ones who are ultimately responsible. We can no longer afford to play the blame game that is perpetuated by secular psychologists and psychiatrists. If you have found yourself wandering down that road of self-pity and blame, then it’s time to get off of it because you’re not going to help anyone by being on there, least of all yourself. The minute you begin to take responsibility over your own choices and actions, you reposition yourself from being a victim to becoming a diligent participator in your own success. Blaming other people for your failure is not going to help you. Sure, there are those who may have contributed to your present position, but you are the one who put the key into the ignition switch and turned it. Nobody else but you is sitting in the driver’s seat of your life.
If you are going to overcome the pressure to compromise as well as make the right choices, it is imperative that you be grounded and anchored in the knowledge of God’s Word.
How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word. With my whole heart I have sought You. Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart that I might not sin against You (Ps. 119:9-11).
The only sure defense you have of withstanding the lies and temptations of the enemy is to know the Word of God. Reading the Word of God is not a religious exercise; it is the foundation of your life. You will never truly know who you are until you know God’s Word. People will always have an opinion about you and what you can do, but God wrote the book on you and only what He has spoken will stand. God’s Word gives you the confidence so that even if everybody you know (or don’t know) is heading West and God’s Word says to go East, you can stand on His Word even though you may look like a fool to everyone else. His Word will enable you to make the correct choices instead of blindly following the crowd and doing what everyone else is doing.
So taking responsibility for our own lives requires a recognition that God has already given us the tools we need to succeed. Therefore it doesn’t matter anymore what my parents did (or didn’t do), what my teachers did or what anyone else did. I may not be able to change my past, but God has given me the ability to shape my own future. Life may have given me an opportunity to fail, but I don’t have to take that opportunity. In fact, I can choose to reject it.
I once read somewhere that our lives are the sum-total of the choices we made. This means that the bad choices we make today have the potential to come back and haunt us tomorrow. Good or bad, the choices we make will determine the outcome of our lives. As young people we have the tendency to make choices based on immediate or short-term rewards, but the true mark of wisdom and maturity is the ability to think long-term, because that is what is most important.
For example, every young person is going to be tempted to have sex outside of the biblical context of marriage because of the immediate gratification that it provides. But making the choice to compromise your sexual purity for a moment of instant or temporal pleasure is a huge mistake when considering the long-term consequences of these actions, such as guilt, shame, unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), ungodly soul ties and a host of other consequences that can dramatically affect the outcome of not only your own life but generations still within you. That sounds like a very steep price to pay for a few moments of pleasure.
When you choose to spend most of your time after school or on the weekends watching television or playing video games, you are giving preference to meaningless temporal fulfillment instead of to long-term goals of high academic achievement that can only be realized by a more disciplined regimen of study. It doesn’t matter what the choice is, you will either have to pay now or pay later. In other words, you can either choose to deny yourself now and enjoy the benefits later, or enjoy the benefits now and suffer later. Whatever you leave for later will gather interest, so if you choose to deny yourself some things now for a future reward, it is much better than enjoying the benefits now and experiencing greater suffering later on.
Dare to be different
Society can sometimes tend to despise those who are unique or different. Any significant deviation from current fashions or trends can be looked at scornfully by some. I distinctly remember how they would make fun of people in high school if they were wearing anything but brand-name shoes. One of my classmates took his entire month’s lunch allowance and spent it on a pair of suede pumas (which were in style at the time) just so he could fit in. He was willing to go hungry for an entire month just so he would not be laughed at in school.
No one wants to be left out in the cold all by their lonesome self. No one wants to be the butt of anyone’s jokes. We strive for acceptance and to fit in even when doing so clearly compromises our values. It takes boldness and a confidence in who you are to cut against the grain and rise above the status-quo. You must be willing to stand up and stand out from the rest of the crowd. Being different is not for sissies or for wimps – it takes guts! And every young person at some time in their life is going to be confronted with the choice of backing down and compromising, or standing tall and being unmovable in what they believe.
You will never fulfill your greatest potential until you are delivered from the opinions of people and step out from behind the multitude’s shadow. The path to self discovery lies beyond the reach of human insecurity. Dare to be different; the choice is yours!
(Cartoon images Copyright Gospel Communications International, Inc - www.reverendfun.com)
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