Imago Dei is the theological term to describe we are created in the image of God.. The ancients knew about the power of identity, the power of one knowing who they were, the power of the self.
Without having a science called psychology they were still able to identify themselves as “I am.” This is the beginning of an interior self. It’s widely known we develop the main structure of our personality in our earliest stages of childhood. “I am” is prelude to learning, “you are.”
The journey through adolescence, is awkward at times and perilous. In emotional terms, it is like learning to walk again and the feeling of equilibrium is seldom experienced with confidence or assurance.
Adolescence is also a time of disruption in the parent-child bond developed in childhood as the adolescent must learn to separate from the parents in order to follow their own path. Parents must allow enough flexibility to accept and recognize this is ultimately a healthy process, a necessary step to be taken in order for the child to become a self-guided, healthy adult. [Realize, most of this is not openly discussed, only acted out between parent and child.]
Erik Erikson wrote of this age as being driven by the conflict between autonomy on the one hand, and shame/doubt on the other. Erikson was focused on the concept of autonomy in contrast to heteronomy. Autonomy in Erikson’s view is about “functioning independently without control of others,” meaning one is self-governing, relying on oneself or one’s abilities. Of course, this stands in contradiction to heteronomy, or how one is controlled by others.
Erikson was no stranger to the challenge for both parents and child in this awkward tango of relationship with autonomy and heteronomy. The challenge for the parent is to guide their child to find the sweet spot between self-control without sacrificing their self-esteem. The result to be hoped for is a lasting sense of autonomy having the tools to move forward through life with a sense of direction and assurance.
In parenting, the issue is identifiable: too much or too little? Too much suppression creates a sense of impotence and loss of self-control. The goal is to find a good balance that includes firmness and support and yet enough wiggle room for the adolescent to know what it is like to hold the reins of their life. Children need the right balance in order to move with confidence through adolescence and on to the self-sufficiency of adulthood.
Our story of David this morning is considered one of the Bible’s classics. It’s a story in which a young boy is the hero over a villain so threatening even the adults are cowards. David was just a shepherd boy when he arrived where his older brothers were camped waiting for the battle they would fight with the Philistines. Instead of fighting, both armies stood waiting to see what would happen next as Goliath, “the destroyer,” waged a psychological war of fear.
Frederick Buechner adds a touch of mythological humor to the terror: “Goliath stood 10’ tall in his stocking feet, wore a size 20 collar, a 9½” hat, and a 52” belt. When he put his full armor on, he looked like a Sherman tank … (and when) the stone from David’s slingshot caught him between the eyes, he hit the dirt, rattling windows in their frames as far away as Ashkelon.”
In David’s eyes, he couldn’t believe there wasn’t someone among Saul’s troops who wouldn’t immediately take on his blustery challenge. David was different from his kinsmen because he didn’t live in his fear. He had faced mighty challenges out in the fields and he knew he had a mighty ally watching over him in battle. So, David picked out 5 smooth stones he would carry with him onto the field of battle. Rather than shrinking in the face of his fear, he lived in his faith in God and his confidence in his own skills.
How big is your fear? Do you find yourself standing on the field of battle frozen in a silence that consumes you or are you down at the brook selecting five smooth stones confident God will help you meet the challenge?
Sometimes we project our own fears on our youth and don’t recognize how capable they are. Perhaps in our efforts to shield them from failure, we don’t give them room to try on their own. It’s a tough time for kids and their parents, isn’t it?
Both boys and girls may suffer as though they are trapped in a stage of development that occasionally resembles a neurosis, although it is more kindly considered a passage. In a suggestive poetic metaphor, Stevie Smith metaphorically illustrates one’s unspoken pain by imagining that one swimming in the surf “(is) not waving, they are drowning.”
Both boys and girls are subject to a split in their inner selves, the split between the true self and the false self. It’s a path fraught with dangers, expansive on one front and imploding on other fronts.
Adolescence is a season of storms every boy and girl must go through. There aren’t any shortcuts and there aren’t any real solutions to protect them from these storms other than for those significant persons who have access to them ensure love is offered in generosity, acceptance is offered in place of shame, and to hold in plenteous reserve ample stores of patience for the length and breadth of this season.
Teens are hatchlings forced to peck their way out of their shells and those that don’t find the energy to peck may perish in those same shells. We are challenged to give them wide berth, but we should not abandon them in their season of need. While there are great moments of growth and exploration, this journey can be savage and despairing.
The challenge for this stage is to find our way forward toward a calling, toward a purpose in life. Poet and essayist Wendell Berry offers an amazingly simple insight in our search for meaning, “Find something that needs doing and do it.” We grow toward fulfillment, each in our own way, and often we discover our direction (the life we are meant to live) as we follow the accidental invitations to life. This is a map that’s not foreordained but one that is discovered as one lives life. Through these happenstance occurrences, we may find ourselves drawn to a new direction.
After 30 years in prison, Nelson Mandela spoke eloquently of his fears. Not only had he defeated apartheid, the giant in his life, he had been elected the president of South Africa. In his inaugural address in 1994, he said these words: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us.”
There is nothing smooth or easy about navigating these waters. The body is bursting into a new being. The mind is thinking ever-more-complex thoughts with an exacting clarity about all it seeks to know. Children are moving into a new way of being in their attitudes, and emotions. Our youth are philosophers and are examining the world of adults through the lens of ethics and logic. They are ever more skilled and if we’re not paying attention, we will grossly underestimate their amazing capacities. They are moving toward becoming voters and hold in their hands the power of change. Their withering examination will not be silenced.
Adolescence is a slow, grinding, transitional process that occurs over months or years. We are persons in the making, on our way to somewhere, but where?
Like David, in our adolescent years we are capable and powerful. We live on the cusp of amazing accomplishments but most of us at that age have no clue of what we’re capable of doing. The Bible recognizes there is a challenge for adolescents who are journeying from childhood to adulthood: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; (but) when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.”
© Rev. Dr. Keith D. Herron 2023
 Frederick Buechner, originally published in Peculiar Treasures and Beyond Words
 Stevie Smith, Collected Poems of Stevie Smith New York, NY: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1972, 301
 I Corinthians 13:11
Small Group Discussion Guide April 30, 2023
Seasons – Adolescence: “I Am Able”
I Samuel 17:1-11
Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah. They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Sokoh and Azekah. Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them. A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him. Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.
A Sample from the Sermon:
The journey from childhood to young adulthood is awkward at times, occasionally perilous, and filled with fractured memories of battles waged, battles won, and battles lost. In emotional terms, it is like learning to walk again and the feeling of equilibrium is seldom experienced with confidence or assurance.
Adolescence is also a time of disruption in the parent-child bond developed in childhood as the adolescent must learn to separate from the parents in order to follow his or her own path. Parents must allow enough flexibility to accept and to recognize this is ultimately a healthy process, a necessary step to be taken in order for the child to become a self-guided, healthy adult. Realize, most of this is not openly discussed, only acted out between parent and child.
- What helped you expand your life beyond the family home when you began to spend less time there and more time away?
- Most teens are anxious, perhaps evenly highly anxious. Did you have a special fear as an adolescent?
- When did you first realize you were no longer a child? What signs of maturity did you demonstrate to signify this? Likewise, what signs of maturity show you were ready for young adulthood?
When did you first realize you were no longer a child? What signs of maturity did you demonstrate to signify this? Likewise, what signs of maturity show you were ready for young adulthood?