Will I ever be good enough?
Will people like me and accept me for who I am?
Do people think I’m weird?
I wish I...
All these thoughts are very commonly found in our minds as teenagers.
Our appearance and ability that results in acceptance and approval from others means the world to us.
We want so many things, but not just anything. We want it to be ‘perfect’ and ‘fast’.
Social media, our ‘popular and genius’ friends and often our own thoughts are used as a benchmark for our idealism and self worth.
A few months ago, I conducted a survey asking about the challenges faced by teens in our generation to obtain some data about their struggles. Though receiving the expected result, I find it somewhat concerning to a certain degree and it saddened me. Around one hundred teenagers aged 12-16 responded to the survey, and many admitted to struggling with mental health, emotional health, the thoughts of self harm and even suicide. These are not just random people. My friends and classmates that I know personally are among these participants.
Grades, insecurity, loneliness and friendship problems were the main issues that came up. Things that I could resonate with. These standard profound issues are faced by all of us teens.
63.2% of all the respondents said that they are facing assessment stress. Around 47-48% said identity and insecurity are problems for them. Alarmingly, nearly 17% said they have had self-harm or suicidal thoughts. Much to my relief, only 2.1% said they had sexual problems and none had problems with substance abuse.
Have you ever wondered why you value acceptance and approval so much?
Being social creatures, humans have a tendency to seek a sense of belonging and external sources of approval for the things we do. This applies for everyone, but is especially evident in teens. Without realising, we grow an ‘obsession’ with social relationships and reputation.
Especially with the boom of social media, images of seemingly perfect, trendy and popular celebrities are just one click away. Over-glamorising certain lifestyle standards which gives us continuous pressure to be the same way as those that this world regards as perfect.
The people around us: ‘perfect’ friends at school and our own family members that we look up to, adding up to our exasperation.
Above all Satan speaks to our minds….constantly. Being the deceiver he is, he speaks through our own thoughts that are comparing, accusing, insulting and pressuring all the time.
We want to be ‘the perfect one’ in our society.
Fuelled by what we see or hear and pumped by our own fantasy of idealism, we feel the pressing need to whip ourselves into shape with the fear of missing out or falling behind in this achievement oriented world culture.
All these really make us anxious and very sensitive.
Even as a Christian teen, I am not immune to this. I know the truth yet it is very difficult for me to put it into practice. Many times, I have fallen into this obsession for seeking approval from others, valuing the praise I receive, or envying those ‘popular’ girls.
I have learned all these are lies that have been planted by Satan. They are his tricks to deceive me to believe that I am worthless if I can’t meet the world’s standards. The most important lesson is that I know and believe the hope can be found in Christ who values and loves me so dearly. Yet, it’s still not easy for me to face these struggles.
It leads me to wonder: If I find it hard to face even with knowing His truth, then how difficult would it be for those who haven't learned these truths yet?
The feeling of being in the pressure cooker and finding no hope when they fail to reach the bar is depressing.
Can I be any help to them while I myself am still in this struggle and trying to get up after falling countless times?
While browsing the internet, I found this website and read some interesting stories of some women of faith.
Gladys Aylward was born in England with a small figure and dark-colored hair. She spent her early life, just like us, ‘envying’ her tall and blonde hair friends. But she responded to God’s calling in one of the revival services she attended and was willing to be used by God. She was sent to be a missionary to China, where her appearance helped her to blend in with the local people. She opened an inn and orphanage while spreading the gospel and brought many souls to know God. Her life story was published as ‘The Small Woman’ and was made into a movie where the actress who played her role is a ‘much taller’ Gladys for entertainment purposes.
A similar story comes from Amy Carmichael, an Irish girl born from a Christian family, who was not pleased with the colour of her brown eyes. She then prayed to God to change her eye colour to blue, like all her other family members. But her eyes remained brown. Though disappointed in her unanswered prayer, Amy kept committed to God. She later realised God’s wisdom for denying her request when her brown eye colour made her fit for a mission field job in India where she spent 56 years ministering women and rescuing young girls from becoming temple prostitutes.
These two women who felt lacking in their appearance, yet responded and committed to God’s calling, have been greatly used by God to become His servant to bring more people to know Him.
A different story came from Fanny Crosby - a famous hymn composer (also a preacher, lecturer and home mission worker) who became blind due to mistreatment of eye infections she suffered when she was a baby. When she became discouraged, she prayed and asked God to use her despite her limitation. During her teenage years, it became evident that she had a great poetic talent, which she developed further to write thousands of hymns and poems until her old age.
Rather than having self pity and blaming God, she gave thanks for her ‘disability’ which enabled her to focus on writing hymns. Songs such as ‘Near The Cross’ and ‘All The Way My Saviour Leads Me’ are some of my favourite hymns written by Crosby.
Gratitude, Contentment and Prayer
I learned a lot from these three women and resolved that through our willingness to obey God, we too can win this battle and be used to help others.
Our struggles cannot be used as an excuse to disobey God and it is not an obstacle to quit from our calling. Instead we need to adjust our mindset, learning to always intentionally be grateful and content with who we are and what we have as a gift from our Father to fulfil our calling in this world.
We are created for a purpose, not as a mistake.
Our ‘newfound’ objective in this earth is not for ourselves but for the expansion of God’s kingdom within us and through us. We need to embrace this role with a clear sense of purpose and outreach to many lost souls, especially our fellow teens.
I certainly know it is easier said than done.
But, hey, keeping up with the world’s standards is also not an easy task. Why don’t we choose the right battle that we know will give us absolute assurance for eternal life in Christ?
So pray. A lot.
When you are alone and those wrong thoughts start coming, pray.
When you are out with friends and suddenly you feel ‘envious’, pray.
When you feel like giving in to sin, pray.
And when we pray, remember to include our friends who are facing the same struggle as us so they too can be saved, and if God is willing, that we will be ready to be used as an extension of His grace to our friends.
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)