THE PLIGHT OF THE YOUNG, SPIRITUAL ADULT
Although we don't go "way back", Duane' and I have a connection that seems to transcend the length of our friendship. He's someone I can count on to challenge and encourage my ideas which I really appreciate. You'll learn as I did, that he's also a great writer so I hope you show him some love and encourage he start a blog, too!
Finding myself spiritually is something that I’ve wrestled with a lot recently. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m still actively trying to piece together my spiritual identity day by day. As Adriana says, I am very much “still a work in progress”. I tried not to be long-winded, but I felt as though this was something I needed to write for quite a while. Call it divine timing, but I’m extremely grateful to Adriana for providing a platform to express these thoughts that I’ve otherwise only shared with a few souls. Warning: long read ahead!
I’ll preface this rant by saying that I’m certainly no stranger to the church. I am, however relatively new to spirituality. There is a big difference between the two. My journey has been twofold -- both finding my own spirituality, and owning it too. My personal relationship with God only truly manifested from necessity, after I realized that I needed to find Him for myself. However, I am now working to nurture it through desire. As the son of a Pastor (spare me the preacher’s kid jokes, I’ve heard them all), and a lifelong member of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) denomination, it’s a little ironic that this development didn’t begin earlier in my life. Children of churchgoing parents can sympathize that it’s extremely easy to look and act the part when you have someone to hide behind, and deflect attention away from yourself.
I’ll put it like this. In the economic discipline, there’s this thing called the free-rider problem; it’s sort of a market inefficiency. The inefficiency is this; free riders take advantage of public goods (plentiful things that you can’t exclude anyone from consuming) without paying for them. Essentially, free riders let others do the work while selfishly reaping the benefits themselves. God’s grace is like a public good. It is abundant, non-rivalrous, and no one is excluded from it. In my case, I was a free rider, and I admittedly used my parents’ relationship with God, one in which they had diligently developed over many years, to get myself by. I depended upon their prayers, and interpretation of God’s word to carry me; I thought as long as they were saved, I would be saved by association. However, this is where God’s grace differs from economics. I thought that I was reaping the benefits. Interestingly enough, in the AME church, there’s a part of the worship experience called the “Invitation to Christian Discipleship”. This part of the service usually follows the sermon, and opens the altar to anyone who desires to give their life to Christ. For as long as I can remember, ministers always prefaced this invitation by first asking if you knew God for yourself. Keyword: yourself! (This never made as much sense to me as it does now)
When my father received his own church in early 2016, I realized that I could no longer ride his robe tails. It was almost like I was left to fend for myself, and the strong, pious foundation they had built over the years had disappeared beneath me. It soon became clear that I needed to regain my bearings and formulate my own spiritual identity without my parents. While I’m not quite there yet, doing so has been one of the most challenging, yet rewarding experiences of my life.
My parents’ departure was a major turning point in my spiritual life. While developing my own spiritual identity was a challenge in and of itself, it was not the only challenge. Once I recognized who I wanted to be spiritually, and what kind of relationship I wanted with God, it became apparent that this identity needed to coexist with my other various identities. As people, we have so many different identities to balance (no M. Night Shyamalan). We identify by ethnicity, age, sex, political affiliation, and the list goes on.
Now to the reason I wrote this post. I realized that part of the spiritual identity I was developing required quite a bit of reconciliation with my identity as a young adult. As with most young people who give their lives to Christ, it can be a daunting task to follow a righteous path and abstain from things we know are not pleasing in His sight so early on in our lives. We are often still at the point in our lives where we want to be selfish and enjoy our youth. This commitment makes it so easy to reevaluate why we are doing the things we do, complete with constant ponderance of what we’re missing out on.
I vividly remember the first time I was asked to speak at a religious event. It wasn’t quite a sermon, as I’m not a preacher, but it was something akin to that. It was the opening night of a worship conference in Baltimore in 2016, and the attendance was no less than 150 people. After I nervously delivered my message, I remember being approached by an individual (who I now consider my brother in Christ). After asking my age, he commended me upon the job well done. He then did something that sticks with me to this day. He looked me in my eyes and said, “Keep doing what you’re doing, but don’t forget to have fun.” Those last five words stayed on my mind for at least the next week or so. Don’t forget to have fun. What did he mean by this? The more and more I thought about it, I think I finally understood what he meant.
As young people who are called by His name, many of us don’t take this charge lightly. In my experience, it was always ambiguous as to what I should and shouldn’t do as a child of God. Recently, these considerations have taken a noticeable precedence in my life, as my role in the church grows. I believe that as young adults, it often weighs heavy on our hearts when we attempt to balance our spiritual calling with our secular desires. Everything isn’t black and white, so we are often left confused as to what choices we should make to remain in good standing with Him. Sometimes, the choices may be obvious, but we either consciously or unconsciously choose not to see them, or think about them.
to have funIn the absence of a definitive rule book on what constitutes as a violation, I sometimes find it hard to reconcile my two identities. To make things more complicated, our friends or worldly counterparts sometimes don’t necessarily understand our decisions, and may act as our worst critics because of the way we choose to live. Further, based on our dedication and commitment to Christ, we have undoubtedly made ourselves targets for the world. We are unwittingly held to higher and sometimes unrealistic standards, and crucified much more severely if we make mistakes. It is not uncommon that we are considered pretentious and “holier than thou”. But what most fail to realize is that we are just like them, imperfect beings who just happen to be striving to find Christ. We put so much pressure on ourselves to live as righteous beings all the time, and we forget (within reason of course).
I’ve deduced that we shouldn’t aspire to be perfect beings, as we’ll never achieve perfection. On several occasions I had to tell myself that it was okay that I was still figuring this whole spirituality thing out. I felt as though others had such high expectations of me (partly due to my religious lineage) that I couldn’t possibly live up to. But who or what was I really living for? For others and their perceptions of me? For my own contentment? For God’s satisfaction? Luke 16: 15 says, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For that which is highly esteemed before men is an abomination before God.”
At this point in my life, the saying, “God knows my heart” has almost become a mantra of sorts for me. We will inevitably make mistakes in our lives, and as inherent sinners, we will do things we know we should not do. By no means should we use the mantra “God knows my heart” to intentionally engage in wrongdoing. Proclaiming, “God knows my heart” should reveal our honest and good intentions, even when we do wrong. This mantra is a testament to the fact that we do not need to be perfect people. Judgment passed by others should not phase us, as long as we are doing our part to strengthen our relationship with God. I am a firm believer that life is a continuous grappling experience to become better versions of ourselves. It may not happen today, and it may not happen tomorrow, but our effort is the most important aspect of our journey, and won’t go unnoticed in God’s sight.
The second time I spoke was in October of 2017. I remember being so proud of my accomplishment and sharing this with one of my best friends, to which he gave an unanticipated response. He inquired whether the congregants whom I spoke to know about me engaging in “this, this, and that”. He intended his response as a joke, yet through his jest, I can remember my entire demeanor changing as I read it. We both knew the joking nature of the comment, but to an extent, he was right. And I am forever thankful to him for holding an unintentional mirror up to my face, and forcing me to confront things I could improve upon in my own life. This leads me to say that all criticism should not be construed as negativity. Sometimes we need to be told about ourselves, and that is an honest fact.
Another thing that has helped me formulate my spiritual identity is worshiping with like-minded individuals. We often take the young adult population in our churches for granted, but it is only until you have attended a church with a deficit of individuals younger than 50, that you appreciate the ability to relate to others. Observing how others further along in their spiritual walks conduct themselves has greatly aided me in figuring my own self out, and in reconciling my identities. The first time I was invited to the home of a fellow minister (who also happened to be a young adult) for a cookout, we took shots together in celebration of his marriage, and I began to realize that even individuals of stature in the church, people who I looked up to were human too. Even little things such as casual conversations about going out, or finding the best brunch spot in DC with my counterparts granted me perspective. Finding a point of reference for myself has been crucial in my journey.
I know my spirituality and the church are parts of my life that are going nowhere fast, and the presence of Christ in my life is only magnifying with each passing day. There was a point in my life where I was morbidly afraid to commit to the works of the Lord, and dedicate my time and talents to Him. The thought of a sinner such as I doing what thus saith the Lord legitimately scared me. I felt as though I was not even worthy to stand in the pulpit and pray over a congregation when I needed prayer myself. But when I think about the ultimate debt that was paid on the cross for my sins, giving my time and talents is the very least I can do. I would be lying if I said I don’t hesitate anymore when being asked to serve on a committee, or participate in a worship service. I cannot begin to tell you how many times people have prophesied over my life, and told me I would become a preacher (but that’s an entirely different post for another day, Adriana-willing). However, practicing acceptance and praying for conviction has helped me conquer any task the Lord has called me to do, especially since I feel this thing getting bigger. Each day I try to let God work in my life, and I become a little less selfish with the talents he bestowed in me. I know I am far from a perfect person, but I continually reassure myself that it’s okay that I’m not. Am I “all in” spiritually? Absolutely not, but I’m certainly getting better with letting go and taking the plunge for Christ. My only goal at this point is to mature my spiritual identity to the point where others see Christ through me.