church · parenting · pop culture

not posted yesterday: America, stop acting like a whiny teenager

We have a teenager in the house. The best part about having a teen, hands down, is watching him grow up and mature. It has been an honor to see his transformation into a responsible, caring, intelligent, sweet, loving young man who takes care of others (like his baby sisters) and is a helpful, delightful person to hang out with. It doesn’t happen overnight. Fo sho. But it does happen with thoughtful dialogue, respectful disagreements, humbling challenges, and a renewed sense of self and purpose in this world. 

He is 16. He would like, at times, to think of himself at 26. He knows everything. He has opinions about everything and his opinions are darn-near facts. He has seen stuff and read stuff. He knows everything because he has seen stuff and read stuff on Reddit or YouTube. He just got his license to drive, and he knows every law and rule because he tells about all the ones you’re breaking when you drive him anywhere.

We love our teen. We love him so very much. I’m reminded daily that most of us went through this phase too. Some of us were generally disgruntled at adults for, well, I don’t really know what, and feeling put out by the way life was going so far. We had grievances. We wanted things to be different. We wanted to be my own boss. We just weren’t going to take it. No. We’re not going to take it any more!

Then we grew up. Then we started realizing that starving was an actual thing because we spent all our money and now $1 packages of Ramen noodles were a feast. Now we came to terms with scraping quarters out of our cars and bookbags and every nook and cranny of the tiny apartment we could afford just so we could do one load of laundry and partially dry it. Life became a bit harder in our early 20s when the student loans hit and we had to have our dad co-sign on our car because we didn’t have any credit, or the good kind, yet. And then we got married. Had kids. Bought houses. Life turned us into the adults we were disgruntled at, and soon enough we were staring at the teenagers we used to be, thinking, I was not like this. Right?

It’s American. We have to remember we are young. Comparatively speaking, our country is still a youngin’ and we sometimes act every bit of it. Sometimes we are so spoiled it is laughable. The times we freak out about every little thing. The times we make crises out of non-crises material. The times we care more about gas prices than the prices of human beings sold into sex trades every day. The times we complain about potholes in the road, on our way to our 2000 square foot homes with working heaters/air conditioners, more than low income housing availability and families who have to live in their cars under bridges to stay together. The times we’re upset our service is slow at the restaurant we’ve been to more than the fact that all the food left over and thrown out in our country could feed entire populations of homeless in any given state and across the world for months. Google “Food waste in america” if you want a broken heart.

But just like we love our teen son, we love our teen country. America is beautiful and free. We have access to such beauty. We drive around the country like it’s no big deal. We hop on a plane. We take trains. We moan and whine when something goes wrong, but we get to do these things. And just like we’re teaching our kids that entitlement is a privilege, we want America to learn lessons too. We want America to grow up. We want America to take responsibility for what it’s done, what it took to get where we are. We want America to name and acknowledge its sins. We want her to repent, to turn from those things that we once claimed as necessary and economically driven and to denounce them as wicked and destructive and long lasting. We want America to be better, to do better and more. Just like we want our teen to say it isn’t right and now I’m going to do something about it. Like teenagers who have never left their soil, we want America to acknowledge our blind eyes to true suffering and pain. We want America to stop complaining and bickering, making wealthier those who need it the least, and turning our truly needy away from our bountiful tables.

We want America to recognize its affect on our land and our world. We want her to take her place as a servant, which is to say a real leader, and to bind the wounds that we have caused (by omission and commission) and restore the damage, humbly acknowledging that no one will ever be great if he does not first become small.

Our family happened to be at Natural Bridge Park on the 4th this year. We learned that at one point Thomas Jefferson owned the whole area, by written law of the King. He decided, though, that it should always be open to the public and appreciated by all. That’s really what America should be. It is the difference between a man who says, “This is beautiful. I want to own it” and the man who says, “This is beautiful. I want to share it.” I’m in no way saying Jefferson was perfect, of course, but that was the sentiment that really struck me about the man who penned, among other things, the Declaration of Independence. Why be free? Why independence? Like pushing a teenager out the door and saying get a job, can we assume that he will just become a self-sufficient person? What has he learned so far? What kind of person will he become?

The best part about having a teen, hands down, is watching him grow up and mature. It has been an honor to see his transformation into a responsible, caring, intelligent, sweet, loving young man who takes care of others (like his baby sisters) and is a helpful, delightful person to hang out with. It doesn’t happen overnight. Fo sho. But it does happen with thoughtful dialogue, respectful disagreements, humbling challenges, and a renewed sense of self and purpose in this world.  I wish to see this transformation in our country’s attitudes in the midst of this troubling and discouraging time. It is like watching tragedy unfold and the painful heartache of a people who all deal with the post-trauma in such very different ways. We must learn to listen to each other, and to those who have gone before us, making sure to not make their mistakes and to learn from their successes. We must drop our defensiveness and bitterness. We must hold fast to grace and goodness, yes, even at the risk of losing power – the kind that corrupts – because holding to grace is always a greater power.

I pray a whole lot more for our kids than for our country, as it should be, but I do pray that God will be merciful, as He tends to be, and that His grace will continue to fall on us, and thee. I pray for a heart of repentance (which is the only way to God’s grace, by the way) and a will for service and dignity for all will lead us out of our teenage years to an adulthood made of true beauty and strength and honor.

That’s really what America should be. It is the difference between a man who says, “This is beautiful. I want to own it” and the man who says, “This is beautiful. I want to share it.” 

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