The Purpose of Adolescence (It’s Not What You Think)

I’ve recently been reading Andrew Root series, “A Theological Journey Through Youth Ministry.” Root has such an intriguing was of conceptualizing and explaining ideas that you are drawn into his reading. I already included an excerpt from the first book in his series, Taking Theology to Youth Ministry, but not allow me to offer an excerpt from book two, Taking the Cross to Youth Ministry.

In this segment, Root in contrasting generally pervasive ideas about adolescence that shape how we understand youth ministry. Most people understand adolescence as a period of growth and development towards adulthood, but Root sees it differently.

“Instead of seeing this unfolding period as a time of development toward growth advancement and preparation, I think it is better to see adolescence as a time where what it true throughout the life span is newly reflected upon. Specifically, adolescents are those newly conscious of their struggle between possibility and nothingness. Adolescents are aware that there is so much possibility for their existence, for their future, but this possibility is always near nothingness, always struggling with nonbeing. Love and hate, joy and sorrow, excitement and depression are so close because in adolescence our existential ontological sate is at the surface. It is exposed, for in adolescence we are now able to reflect fully upon our very selves…So often for adolescents everything feels like life or death. A break up after a two-week romance, a bad grace, a nasty look from someone–all signal that while your life is spread out before you, your very being walks the thin line between possibility and nothingness.

“For everyone one of us, hope and despair are so close, life and death so near….We are all in a struggle between possibility and nothingness, a struggle that those in adolescence often experience with heightened awareness” (51-52).

Root goes into further detail with his fictional highschooler Kari, a straight-A student who was caught cheating.

“Kari can feel the threat of what a bad grade might mean. It is accompanied by feeling of oblivion.She is living the struggle between possibility between possibility and nothingness…It doesn’t matter that she knowns better, that her religion has given her knowledge of right and wrong. She is up against something deep than right and wrong; she is confronting the chasm between possibility and nothingness. Her given perspective of right and wrong is easily discarded in the heavy downpour of the threat of nothingness” (52-53).

But it is what Root says next that is particularly striking.

“Rather, the way to confront these cultural assertion is through the foolishness of the cross. It is to seek for God within the struggle of possibility and nothingness, to search for God at the ontological level…It is to acknowledge with them that they are stuck, and to seek God with them from that very place…We so often implicitly or explicitly communicate to young people that taking up your cross means being really committed, so they will do things that are costly and really try to make themselves into something. Rather, what Jesus means is that we must seek him where he can be found, on the cross, at the site of our own crosses, those places where we struggle between possibility and nothingness…[youth ministry] is about encountering God at the cross, where God takes on nothingness, and from nothingness brings forth new life, new possibility, an all-new reality. This is why Paul says we must die (confront nothingness) in order to live (have possibility)–because to live is to die in Christ, and thereby allow Christ to live in us” (54-56).

Root continues to blow my mind.

What do you think?


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