It seems to me that people spend a whole lot of time trying to motivate teens.
“Make a difference!” “Go against the crowd!” “Change the world!” These are the rallying cries of many movements, many attempts to inspire a generation that is in great peril.
But for me, and others like me, that’s not what I need to hear. I need to be reminded of something different altogether. What’s hard for me is not the same as what’s hard for others. For me, having a purpose and being motivated to make a difference isn’t the problem.
I’ve always been a go-getter, type-A-personality kind of guy. I want to make a difference in the world; a big difference. I’ve always worked hard in school, sought to live by upright Christian morals, and tried to be an encouragement to the people around me. And by some standards, one could say I’ve done a good job. But for a long time I still felt empty.
I look around me and see teenagers who lack purpose and meaning. I see people whose lives are without true joy and love, people who desperately need the power and purpose that comes from knowing and walking with Christ. My heart is touched by this need, and I have an overwhelming desire to change things, to make a huge difference. But up to this point in my life, I’ve found that the more I try to change the world, the less able I feel; the more I seek to fill others, the emptier I find myself.
What’s Wrong With Me?
It seemed so backwards to me. Loving others was supposed to give me joy and life; why was it making me feel so empty, so cold? Ironically, one of the symptoms of my problem was the way I sought for a solution; I looked in the wrong places for help. Contrary to the stories of those who seek fulfillment in pleasure or laziness, I sought fulfillment in increasing my load. I filled my schedule with volunteering at children’s programs, helping to lead the youth worship team, and otherwise striving to make a bigger difference in my church and my community. I completely overloaded myself in hopes of finding the joy that was supposed to come with loving others.
Over time I realized that nothing I did could fill me. None of my good deeds changed anything. I felt hollow. Every call to change our world for Christ seemed to me like salt in a wound I could not identify. I was trying to change the world; so why was I failing to change myself? My sense of purpose was so strong, my determination unwavering. It wasn’t until I stepped back to really observe my own life that I identified the problem, with God’s gracious help.
I had fallen prey to a trap I had never known existed. Even in my own attempts at a God-honoring life, I managed to create for myself a life that cut me off from God.
I spent so much time focusing on God’s love for others that I forgot to bask in His love for me.
What Do I Do About This?
It sounds strange, I know. How could seeking to spread God’s love have negative effects? But now I see what I had done with my life, and I see the same thing infecting the lives of those like me, fellow teens and others who seek to change the world for God.
So caught up was I in my purpose, I made myself a robot. So focused was I on being a soldier of God, I didn’t make time to be a child of God. I cut myself off from truly resting in Christ and threw myself into my works. It was a sneaky, insidious form of a works-based lifestyle. Rather than seeking my salvation in my own good deeds, I tried to find satisfaction in fulfilling my purpose. I lost sight of my own personal relationship with God.
Today, I still have a barely manageable schedule. I still spend a ton of time trying to change the world, one step at a time, for Christ. But in diagnosing this problem in me, God has helped to remember that I can only display His love to others by letting Him pour that love into me. He never ceases to lavish His love on us. We simply need to keep our focus on His love for us as His children. Jude 1:21 says, “Keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” The more we learn to fulfill this calling—the calling to keep ourselves in the flow of God’s undying love—the more He will be able to use us to pour this love into others.