Let’s be honest. Anxiety among teens was a hot topic before the pandemic. Teenagers today seem to be more anxious than those of any previous generation. Adding isolation and uncertainty about the future just throws dynamite into an already raging fire.
Now we all know that, for some students, the pandemic has been a welcome change. Students might be enjoying the extra time at home. There are lower expectations from school, and the chance to binge-watch favorite TV shows. But for other teenagers, whether graduating seniors or students who are prone to be stressed out, the current situation could be bordering on paralyzing.
As student ministers, we need to remember that the Gospel offers the only true help for fear about the future. Let’s take a look at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:
And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (Matt. 6:27)
Often, when we feel our circumstances are out of control, we try to find something that we can control. Whether it’s our schedule, our eating, or our activity, we are often comforted by our ability to find control. Our grasping at control is what fuels our anxiety.
That is completely the opposite of what Jesus says here! Rather than highlighting our control, Jesus highlights our helplessness. Worrying about what college will look like this fall won’t do anything. Worrying will not change our circumstances. While we may offer ourselves the illusion of control, it is really just that, an illusion. And the more we grasp for it, the more our anxiety will spiral.
But there is hope for teens in this message. Yes, you are helpless in this situation (and every situation). But acknowledging your helplessness puts you in a position to look to Jesus as your help.
The Powerful Benevolence of God, and our Place in the Kingdom
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Matt. 6:26)
Coming to grips with our own helplessness actually puts us in a better position to hope in someone who can control things. Jesus tells us that God is that person. In his providence, God takes care of even the smallest creatures in his creation. If He has the time, power, and desire to care even for the birds, we can trust Him to care for those made in his very own image.
Not only is the Father powerful, but He is good. If He were powerful but not good, we might have cause to fear that He might be able to care for us, but not want to. If He were displeased with us, we might expect Him to use his power for our harm. But Jesus’ death was the ultimate display of God’s goodness. We can trust that this omnipotent God is also a benevolent one. And that should calm our fears.
Jesus’ image of the birds of the air is driven home even further by the Gospel of Jesus. In Him, we are not only God’s creation, beings made in His image, but through the power of Christ’s death and resurrection we actually become a part of God’s family. Children of a good and provisional Father have no need to worry. They simply trust that He will provide, and don’t concern themselves with how.
Teens who avail themselves of this good Father will have peace, knowing that He is good and He is in control.
Our Purpose in the Kingdom
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matt. 6:33)
At the end of his discourse on anxiety, Jesus points us outward, to something more important than our temporal needs — he points us to our purpose. Our purpose is to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness. In other words, we should take the energy we expend in worry, and put that effort into what we were actually made for: following Jesus.
You see, the heart of faith is trust. We trust our Father to provide, and we live by faith, to follow, love and obey; we let Him take care of the details of our future. We can live for Him today, and let Him be concerned about tomorrow.
Teens who — rather than fretting over the future — give themselves to the work of the kingdom today, will have peace. They will know that God will take care of the rest.
When Fear Comes Anyway
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Phil. 4:6)
Meditating on the goodness of God can be of help for an anxious teen. But if your experience is like my own, fear might still crop up unexpectedly. Though our heads know the facts about who God is, the fear won’t always stay at bay. Another help would be that we take our anxieties to Him in prayer. We are to cast our “cares on Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
That same powerful, loving God wants to hear from His children about their fears and anxieties. He doesn’t shame us for having worries, but listens. The Psalms are full of anxieties voiced to a loving Father. We would do well to do the same.
May you be free from anxiety. May the peace of our good and loving God, the peace that surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.
For more Rooted Resources on anxiety, check out “Only the Gospel Will Save Teenagers From Their Anxiety,” “The Presence of God in Our Anxiety,” or various episodes of our “Ask Alice” podcast.