How a Heavenward Perspective Transforms Our Teens

One day driving carpool to one of-so-many sports practices, I listened as my son chatted with his best friend in the back seat. My son declared that as an adult he would be dividing his time between New York and Denver because he would be playing shortstop for the Yankees and point guard for the Nuggets. His friend was concerned that his plan to play for the San Diego Chargers and the Memphis Grizzlies would prove hectic because professional football and basketball seasons overlap. 

I loved the days when my boys thought all their dreams were not only possible, but probable. When puberty did not deliver the requisite size and skill the boys needed, they moved on to less glamorous dreams. 

For many kids, maybe even for most kids, the denial of childish hopes is the least of their growing pains. Growing up means accepting that life is hard and painful. Trusted people let you down. Insurmountable odds might be truly insurmountable. Limits are everywhere: money, ability, mobility, and opportunity are neither infinite nor distributed fairly. Really bad and sad things happen to everyone eventually, and often to our kids.

Teenagers feel bombarded with threats to their future, such as climate change, inequality, and political strife. Social media tells them that everyone else is happier, better looking, and more successful than they are. Today’s emerging adults may feel they are growing up when there is “only evil under the sun,” that all their efforts only lead to “vanity and striving after the wind” (see Eccl.. 4).

Our Children Need Eschatology

But there is a greater truth we can offer our young people: because Jesus Christ has risen triumphantly from the grave, we never need confront the pain of living in a fallen world without hope. While our kids are young, we can teach them an eschatology that imbues this present life with rich meaning and the life to come with eager anticipation.

Eschatology is one of those fancy theological words that means something helpful: it refers to things having to do with heaven and the end times. And eschatology is the subject of Cameron Cole’s new book, Heavenward: How Eternity Can Change Your Life

Cole found himself hungry to understand what the Bible says about heaven when his three-year-old son Cam did not awaken one morning. Suddenly Cole could not get enough of reading about the place where his son now lived, and he found a worthy guide in the apostle Paul. 

Meditating on Paul’s eschatology not only offered Cole comfort in the deep ache of losing Cam,  turning “heavenward” gave him much more joy and purpose in this present life. He writes, “God used the fact that my child lived in glory to awaken me to the present heavenly realities of my salvation” (p. 5).

The Present Benefits of Their Future Reality

When their bodies are healthy and the future looks promising, young people tend to avoid thinking about their own mortality. Heaven feels too far away for our children to show much interest in it. But none of us grows very old before we are forced to confront death. Preparing your teenagers with a vibrant eschatology before they suffer loss will give your family a foundational vocabulary when someone they know or love dies.

Some parents may protest that developing a “heavenward” perspective is morbid. Certainly no one wants their child preoccupied with death. But Cole’s study of heaven led him to embrace life, validating CS Lewis’ famous assertion that “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next…” (p. 143). 

Cole writes, “… as heavenly mindedness has increased in my life, so has my focus and motivation for serving God and advancing his kingdom. In the moments when eternity feels most real, my concern for God’s mission and glory feels most high” (p.144).

Turning their attention toward heaven can do the same thing for our kids. I don’t know if “YOLO” persists as a motto with Gen Z, but the idea that we must make this “one wild and precious life” big and beautiful is pervasive, and it’s especially peddled to teenagers. Just listen to any valedictorian speech this spring – the kids fall for YOLO completely. It’s no wonder they are tempted to despair when they fail to realize childhood dreams, confront their sins and limitations, or meet with resistance in their drive to achieve. If this life is truly all there is, we are all in for serious disappointment. 

Offering Teenagers a View Toward Heaven

Cameron Cole’s Heavenward will be useful to you as you lead your children to think about heaven. Consider reading the book with your teenager as a platform for discussion as you learn together. Though the theological concepts are lofty, Cole’s writing is easily digestible. After a long career as a youth minister, Cole is particularly gifted at finding analogies that teenagers will be able to relate to and understand. One chapter alone compares the anticipation of Christmas, the athlete’s awareness of the game clock, the experience of rewatching a movie, and the thrill of rehearsing a play with castmates to the development of a heavenly mindset.

For those in Christ, meditating on our future heavenly reality gives dignity and meaning to our humdrum everyday lives. Much as teenagers will be strengthened by studying our future heaven with Jesus, they will come to see our present heaven with Christ is far more thrilling than shooting hoops for the NBA. 

We hope you’ll join us in Dallas October 24-26, 2024 for Rooted’s annual conference, where we’ll share more gospel-centered resources for parents.

Anna is a single mom of three young adult sons. She is the Senior Director of Content at Rooted, co-host of the Rooted Parent podcast, a member of Church of the Cross in Birmingham, AL, and the author of God's Grace for Every Family: Biblical Encouragement for Single Parent Families and the Churches That Seek to Love Them Well (Zondervan, 2024). She also wrote Fresh Faith: Topical Devotions and Scripture-Based Prayers for College Students. In her free time, Anna enjoys gardening, great books, running, hiking, hammocks, and ice cream. She wants to live by a mountain stream in Idaho someday.

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