‘Woman, Here is Your Son; Here is Your Mother’: Teaching Jesus’ Words From the Cross to Teenagers

According to child development psychologist Erik Erikson, the primary task of adolescence is identity formation: the discovery of who they are and who they hope to become. For the teenager, the challenge of identity formation has become even more difficult with the myriad of voices competing for their attention and allegiance. With so many voices in their life, teenagers struggle to know what their true identity is and where they belong.

I want my teenage son to know that, should he come to faith in Jesus, his true identity lies in being a child of God. Despite all the different identities the world might give them, Jesus invites teenagers into his family and gives them a new identity in him. He welcomes them and offers them a true place to belong.

A New Family

What can also make identity formation difficult for teenagers is popular, yet un-biblical theology. Despite what this theology might say, we are not automatically “all God’s children” since not all of us have put our faith in Christ. However, Jesus expands the definition of what it means to be “family” and welcomes those who are longing for a true home. 

Reflective of Jesus’ statement, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (Luke 8:21), Jesus takes our notions of “family” and turns them upside down, just as he does in these last words from the cross.

When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Jonn 19:26-27

John and Mary love’s for Jesus created a new family. God has given them a new identity, one that is rooted Christ’s love for them and in their love for Christ. Initially, it is God’s love for us—even while we were sinners (Rom. 5:8)—that opens the possibility of us becoming his children. We love God because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). We then respond to God’s love for us in faith. This faith welcomes us into a new family. 

Adopted and Loved 

We can begin to understand God’s love for us if we have a better understanding of adoption. In a sense, John and Mary became a new family because they God adopted them into his family. Even in his hour of death, Jesus looks at Mary and John and provides for them. John gains a new “mother” and Mary gains a new “son.” Even in the midst of his suffering, Jesus still displays compassion and mercy. Whether we see Jesus displaying compassion to Mary and John or to the criminal who confesses Christ as Savior (Luke 23:40-43), Jesus provides a new, eternal family to those who turn to him in faith. 

A Place to Heal

When I adopted my three sons, each of them had the opportunity to stand before a judge and legally decide if they wanted me to be their dad. They could have said, “No,” but instead, each child said, “Yes.” They accepted the invitation to become part of my family. As we grow in our love for Jesus, our obedience to him and our love for our neighbor demonstrates that God has adopted us (Eph. 1:5; Rom. 8:14; 1 John 3:1). In Christ, teenagers no longer have to form their own identities; Christ gives them a new one in him. 

To join God’s family is to accept an invitation to healing. In the family of God, teenagers can begin to heal from the trauma of the world and to develop healthy identities in an environment where they are loved, belong, and have purpose.

When I adopted my sons, I knew that they came from broken relationships with plenty of pain and trauma. It was only when I learned more about their stories and walked through life with my sons that I began to fully understand what it means to be adopted into the family of God. 

Like most of us, I had the head knowledge that God loves me, but if I am honest, I did not believe this love with my heart. I realized that I could tell and show my sons that I loved them every single day, but if they lived in their brokenness—allowing the trauma of their past keep them from living in the healing of their present and future—they might not truly believe that I loved them.

When we welcome young people into environments that invest in them, build trust, and send messages of belonging in the family of God, not only do they find their purpose, they find a new and secure identity as well.

Welcoming Teenagers Home

Even in the ugliness of the crucifixion, the mocking, the pain and suffering, Jesus offers teenagers an invitation to a new family, just as he did with John and Mary. Jesus transcended the suffering of humanity by bringing John and Mary together because he knew they would need each other in the wake of his crucifixion. Mary and John’s identities are now are firmly secured in their new family. 

We can encourage our teenagers that their past does not define them. What defines them is the love of God and the love they can experience by living together as the family of God.

Dr. Rich Griffith is the Professor of Youth Ministry at Toccoa Falls College. His Doctorate is in Youth, Family and Culture from Fuller Theological Seminary. He has been involved in various family ministry capacities for over 30 years. He is a presenter at a variety of family and youth ministry conferences. He is the father of three adopted sons, Aaron (22), Dylan and Jamie (13).

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