Three Reasons I’m Glad I Read The Jesus I Wish I Knew in High School As a Parent

I just finished reading the book, The Jesus I Wish I Knew in High School. Admittedly, I picked up this book because I wrote a chapter and was curious to see what others had written. But honestly, I didn’t expect to be so blessed and challenged by this short book, both personally and as a parent.

There were three main takeaways that struck me as I read this book.

#1 – I have a story, and I play a part in other people’s story.

I found so much within this book deeply relatable: people’s experiences, their thoughts, their actions. At times it was cringy to remember high school — what it was like and what I was like. But it forced me to consider the story God has been writing for my life.

Also at times, I stood convicted as I realized the way my actions and words in high school (and beyond) likely hurt others. It’s humbling and uncomfortable to remember that while we are the main characters in our own stories, we do play a part in the stories of others. And sometimes, we can play the antagonist or the villain.

Did I make others feel left out? Did my words cause people to be self-conscious? Did my hypocrisy sour people’s opinions of Christianity? Am I still doing this now? I know the answer must be ‘yes’ to each of these questions, for which I am saddened and sorry. But even in this, I was reminded again and again by each author that there is grace, forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation in Jesus.

My story is not over yet. I will continue to play a part in the lives of other people — particularly for my children. What part do I want to play? What part does Jesus want me to play?

#2 – Jesus is alive and at work in America.

Through my job with Elam, a ministry that works with the Persian-speaking church in Iran and beyond, I am constantly hearing stories of God’s work in the lives of Iranians and Afghans. But I can’t remember ever reading so many short stories in one place that so clearly display how God has been at work in the lives of so many ordinary Americans. (While some of the chapter authors are relatively well-known within certain circles — most of us are pretty unremarkable, normal people with typical American lives.)

It made me realize that while the Church in America is really good at telling other people’s stories from other parts of the world or other moments in time, we’re not very good at telling our own stories in the moments in which we find ourselves, particularly if we are “ordinary.”

Maybe it’s because it’s hard to see what’s right around us. Maybe it’s because it can be painful to come to grips with the embarrassing, shameful, or downright evil parts of our stories. Maybe it’s because we fail to understand the miracle that God’s work in our mundane day-to-day lives actually is. But whatever the case, this book makes clear that Jesus is alive and at work in America.

I didn’t realize how much my soul needed to hear these sorts of stories. I hope this book spurs more “ordinary” people to consider and find ways to tell their stories.

#3 – A faith journey is a lifelong endeavor, and it is unique to each of us.

This book shows not only that everyone has a story to tell, but also that each story is unique. It shows that while there is only one Gospel, there are as many ways to Jesus as there are people. Same Jesus, different journeys into a deeper relationship with him.

Liz Edrington (the author of chapter 23) and I are friends. We have a lot in common. But her chapter was about coming to discover Jesus as king, after having known him as an intimate friend. My chapter was about knowing Jesus as king but having to learn that he also wanted intimacy and friendship. This is what I saw in chapter after chapter — God could be at work in very different ways, amongst very different circumstances, and on very different timelines. There is no formula for how God chooses to work, but God is always at work.

I am a parent of a daughter who will soon enter high school and is already starting to make her faith her own. This book provided an important reminder for me: she is not me, and so her story of being drawn closer to Jesus (or at times moving away from him) will not be the same as mine. Her struggles and sin, as well as victories and path to finding redemption in Jesus are between her and Jesus to work out. I hope to be an important part of her faith story — but it’s not my story to write.

As a parent — but it’s also relevant for the youth leader, schoolteacher, or anyone else who works with youth — I am reminded that my daughter’s faith journey will take a lifetime. It will involve ups and downs. There will be pain and hurt. There will be joy and wonder. And Jesus’ love will be with her through it all — whether she always knows or senses it or not.

If God can be patiently faithful, compassionate, and gracious throughout my daughter’s lifetime, then I should seek to be those things too as I play my part in her story. When things get hard — which this book shows they will at some point in her life — then I shouldn’t lose hope. I should always seek to make my love for her known. I should always keep pointing her to Jesus. And I can use my story, my journey of faith, to help point her to the Jesus I have come to know. I hope others will do the same.

So, in the end, whether you are a student, a parent, or someone who works with youth, I encourage you to find a copy of The Jesus I Wish I Knew in High School and read it. And while I’m a contributor to the book, I was deeply challenged and blessed by this book; I trust you will be too.


Mark Howard was a youth pastor for five years before joining Elam Ministries, an organization that seeks to strengthen and expand the church in Iran and surrounding areas. Through Elam, he's had the opportunity to work with Iranian youth as well as talk with American churches about God's work in Iran. Mark has his M.A. in Theological Studies from Wheaton College Graduate School and serves on Rooted's steering committee.

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