As a parent of young teens, I am constantly mindful of my responsibility in helping these young people move successfully from childhood to adulthood. So the Sunday, Oct. 25, “Dear Abby” column especially caught my eye.
In her response to “Outsider in Alabama” titled “Decision to Join Religion Must Come From the Heart,” Abby replied to a 16-year-old girl’s question about religion. The writer said that all her friends, including the boy she likes, are “firm believers of Christianity and attend Bible study or help out with other things at their church.” Her parents and brothers don’t believe in God, and her brothers make fun of her when she says she would like to be a Christian. The writer goes on to say that she wants “to be a Christian
because it would be nice to feel like I belong.”
Abby’s response offers a great opportunity to explain the difference between religion and a relationship with Jesus, the foundation of the Christian faith (1 Corinthians 3:11). If I had an opportunity to talk to “Outsider in Alabama,” here’s how my advice would differ from Abby’s:
Abby: “I think you should continue being true to the person you really are.”
The Bible teaches that each of us sins, or seeks our own way instead of God’s way. Not one of us is righteous in our own thoughts and actions. Not a single one of us (Romans 3:10-18). Romans 3:23 emphasizes the point: "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." The person I really am, and that you really are, is like a defiant child stomping our foot in front of God, insisting on my way instead of His way. “Outsider,” is that the person you really want to be?
Abby: “Let me point out that if you’re feeling isolated now, consider what a fraud you will feel like if you join a religion and must pray to a deity you don’t believe in in order to ‘fit in.’”
“Outsider,” Christianity is not about “joining a religion.” Christianity is about a relationship—a relationship with someone who loves us more than our parents, more than our siblings, more than our friends. That someone is Jesus. He is a “friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). When you trust in Him, you neither feel like a fraud nor pray to a deity you don’t believe in. When you put your faith in Jesus, in his death and resurrection, you “fit in” because you have a new identity as a child who now belongs to the family of God. Followers of Jesus pray to Him not because we have to but because we want to. We want to talk to Him, to bring our concerns to Him, and to know Him better every day.
Abby: “If the boy you like cares about you, he will like you even if you aren’t religious.”
I actually agree with Abby on this one, up to a point. If that boy you like is a Christian, he should like you. In fact, he should love you – enough to tell you about the love of Jesus, invite you to youth group, bring you to church. So should those friends you mention in your letter. But the boy you like shouldn’t date you. He should never risk opening his heart in a romantic way to someone who does not share his faith. The Scripture warns us against such relationships because they pull the believer away from Jesus. There can be no spiritual unity in a relationship between a believer and a non-believer, and there will inevitably be conflict if both continue to hold fast to their very different beliefs. Some might argue that you are too young to be so serious about issues of faith, but I have many friends who met their spouses in high school and I know many young mothers who became parents before they graduated. It’s never too early to consider the seriousness of romantic love.
“Outsider,” most of us know how you feel. Even as adults, we struggle with our sense of belonging. Followers of Jesus are not immune from the struggle to fit in. However, if you really take time to learn about Jesus and to seek a relationship with Him, I think you’ll find that no one was ever more an outsider than He was. He was different than any other person who was born on this earth. He sought the outsiders and loved them. In one of his most famous sermons, known as the “Sermon on the Mount,” he addressed those who struggled and assured them that if they put their trust in Him, He would take care of them. Even his own people wanted to kill Him and eventually they did. But death could not stop him, and the resurrection of Jesus allows us to be united with Him forever by simply believing Him.
“Outsider,” take time to get to know Jesus. Once you have, you can still say no to Him. People do every day. But don’t ignore that voice inside that is urging you to learn more about Christianity. Ask your Christian friends what it means to be part of God’s family. Read the book of John. Watch some YouTube music videos by Mercy Me or Casting Crowns. Go to church. Contact me. But don’t ignore the questions you have about God. When you look for answers to those questions, you just might find a relationship that gives you the security you are searching for.
I am a regular contributor to The Alabama Baptist newspaper, and I also write and edit for several religious, business and educational outlets through my business, McWhorter Media and Marketing.
One of the greatest privileges of being a writer is the opportunity to share the stories of others with a larger audience. I love to do that!
Sharing my own stories is much more challenging, though no less important to making sense of the challenges of Faith and Family in everyday life.
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