The Beautiful, Anxious Heart of a Teenage Girl – And How You Can Help

Evolving beauty and painful anxiety are two of the most basic characteristics of a teen girl’s heart. These years can feel like the blossoming of a flower, but also like the opening of a wound. I have the distinct memory of suddenly realizing I was a person at the age of 12. Developmentally, it’s an indispensable part of becoming the men and women God created us to be. But like everything else, the process isn’t perfect. In particular today, I want to address the anxiety that many teen and preteen girls feel and suggest a few ways you can help.

New emotions

Powered by adolescent hormones, teen emotions are new and intense. Girls at this stage also begin to be aware of the expectations of others and of their own conflicting thoughts. God intends girls to sort through possibilities, searching for their own passions, personality traits, and gifts. But the world is trying to sell them many standards of perfection, and no one can meet them all. It’s hard to hold the excitement of exploration in one hand and the fear of failure in the other.

Peer pressure

Friends and teen culture become vitally important during these years, too. Girls who have felt secure in a family environment are now drawn into wider spheres, including online friendships and social media. Teens and preteens may try out different modes of dress, switch friend groups or test out new activities, searching both for themselves and for connections to the world around them. Possible fulfillment and possible rejection lie around every corner.

How can you help?

Those who love a teenage girl may be tempted to ask, “How can I protect her?” But I’d like to suggest she is doing what God created her to do. A better question might be, “How can I help her?” Can I help her explore life in healthy ways? Could I help her become everything God dreamed for her? How can I help her with these new emotions – and especially how can I help with the anxiety we are both feeling right now?

Here are several important suggestions for helping a teen girl (and maybe yourself) through the anxiety of these years.

1. Talk about it.

Anxiety is normal, but when all your feelings are new, they can seem overwhelming. As a mentor, one way to help is to talk about your own experience of anxiety. Describe what anxiety feels like to you, tell stories about your growing-up years. And ask good questions. When and how does your teenager experience her fears (e.g., before a test, in social situations, online, or in bed at night)? Just talking about it, and knowing she can talk about it, will help.

2. Help her take some control.

When your thoughts first start running wild, it’s easy to believe you have no control over them. But it’s not true. Everyone can get better at controlling their anxiety with practice. If you have a technique you use, share it. But there are plenty of good suggestions around – prayer, meditation, and healthy distractions are three you could try with your teen. I will include a few resources to help you below this post.

3. Physical activity

Most of us could profit from a little more physical activity. But those struggling with anxiety get a special benefit. Research has shown that exercise actually changes your brain chemistry in ways that decrease anxiety, both long- and short-term. So, adopting some form of exercise, and then doing it regularly, can make a big difference. Perhaps the teen in your life would like to learn to play tennis or golf or basketball. Perhaps they could join the cross-country team, a dance team, or just join you on a bike ride. Helping the anxious teen you love find some exercise they will practice is one of the best things you can do for them.

4. Prayer journaling.

God tells all of us to cast our cares on Him because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Giving God our worries is a lifelong skill and spiritual practice. And it can be especially meaningful to teen girls who are struggling with anxiety. One way to do that is to keep a prayer journal, hearing from God’s word and responding to it. The things we read and write about ‘stick’ better than those we merely read. If you are looking for a journaling guide for your preteen or teen girl, you can look at mine here. Teens can make their own, too, using just a spiral notebook and some fun markers. It’s even possible to journal on your phone or tablet, but I’ve found the physical act of writing out my prayers both slows me down and connects me to my own words.

As you and your teenager work through the challenges of adolescence, I hope you also find the precious gold being forged through her experiences. The beauty of her heart will last into eternity. Her anxiety will not. May you find meaningful ways of helping her navigate this beautiful, anxious time of life, and may both of you be richly blessed.


Resources:

Prayer journal

Sample prayers. https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/prayer/prayers-for-anxiety-when-youre-heart-is-overwhelmed.html

Finding healthy distractions. https://ibpf.org/articles/18-ways-to-distract-from-anxiety/

Christian Meditation.

Exercise. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=90&ContentID=P01602

Justice and Mercy: What are they?

This is the first post in a three-part series on Justice, Mercy, and the Gospel.

The word, “justice” is getting some strong reactions these days, but do we actually know what it means? How it is related to mercy and where does it fit as we live out the Gospel of Christ? Most of us would agree justice is one of God’s characteristics and a significant part of the Gospel message. We would probably also be able to recognize an injustice done to us. But when it comes to practicing justice in the world, it can be confusing. How necessary is justice to our Christian walk? What does it look like to “do justice” in everyday life? And doesn’t mercy replace justice in the New Testament? Sometimes we use the words “mercy” and “justice” interchangeably, and sometimes they seem to be opposites. What does Scripture have to say about these important concepts and the ways they relate to the Gospel?

Justice defined

First, let’s take a look at justice. There are two words generally translated as “justice” in Scripture. The first means a correct, legal decision, and the second is the personal quality of righteousness. So, to do justice and to be just. As a highly qualified, sitting judge once told me, justice is “the right response,” whether for punishment or restitution, guilt or innocence. Justice is a quality of wisdom, the product of discernment and a righteous mind. Justice is an outcome that is, humanly speaking, deserved. For a few examples, see Exodus 23:2, Deuteronomy 24:17, or Luke 18:3.

I Kings 3:16-28 famously demonstrates Biblical justice. King Solomon devises an ingenious test to determine the parentage of a disputed child. Because of his wisdom, he is able to determine guilt from innocence and truth from deception. In the end, he gives each applicant what she deserves. Solomon’s wisdom is a divine gift to help him enact the justice of God on earth.

A modern example of justice comes from Bryan Stevenson of The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). In His book, Just Mercy, Stevenson tells the story of Walter McMillian who was sentenced to die for a murder he did not commit. After decades in prison, EJI conclusively proved his innocence, and he was released. He sued the law enforcement agencies responsible and received an undisclosed amount of restitution, becoming the catalyst for Alabama’s current compensation statute. Although no one could return the years he spent behind bars, the injustice done to McMillan was corrected as far as humanly possible. This is the backward-looking justice referred to in passages of Scripture like Leviticus 6:2-5 or Isaiah 1:17: “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”

Mercy defined

What, then, is mercy? In the Bible, there are multiple words that can be translated as “mercy,” with alternate meanings of compassion, kindness, atonement, love, or grace. Although it is sometimes, mistakenly in my view, referred to as a subset of justice, mercy is, by definition, undeserved. It is always something more generous than what has been earned (props to Skye Jethani‘s writings for this idea). In the negative, mercy reduces or eliminates a deserved punishment. In the positive, mercy means unmerited, over-flowing blessings. Note, too, that mercy arises primarily from the heart rather than the head. For a few examples, see Exodus 33:19, Matthew 18:33, and Ephesians 2:4.

Psalm 51 is David’s plea for mercy after he has committed adultery and murder. Spiritually and humanly speaking, he cannot appeal to justice, having no right to ask anything of God or man. So, he asks for mercy and forgiveness for his heinous crimes. This kind of mercy is not a subset of justice; it is a different animal entirely.

Here’s a small but real example from culture today. Tipping big and anonymously has become a viral trend recently (gotta love a positive, viral trend!). Some tippers are going above and beyond, leaving tips in thousands of dollars for a café lunch for one. This is a great, human example of forward-looking, undeserved and over-flowing favor which falls squarely into the category of mercy.

Biblical justice and mercy

In summary, we can say biblical justice is deserved and biblical mercy is undeserved. In addition, justice is primarily a quality of the mind, while mercy springs from a heart of pity and compassion. Both justice and mercy have a backward-looking application to things that have already occurred. Justice corrects a wrong, supplying the dignity and fairness which was missing in a specific situation. Mercy applies compassion, producing joy and abundance where abundance was never deserved or anticipated. And both have a forward-looking face. Justice brings about a right and equitable result for the future, while mercy produces over-flowing blessings.

In short, justice makes a person whole. Mercy makes a person new.

Join me again next time when we examine these concepts as they meet at the cross.


Related material:

Trust Is a Credit Card

I originally posted this essay in 2012. I’m rerunning it while I work on some freelance writing. Stay tuned for more on that!

My mother had her identity stolen recently, and she doesn’t even own a computer. Now every teller, every store clerk, every credit card company and even some casual acquaintances are suspect. Someone violated her trust, and she will not easily give it again.

Trust is earned – or is it?

“You have to earn my trust!” It’s the message Americans everywhere are sending telepathically through their television sets as our political conflicts air onscreen. Who hasn’t heard it said to them as a new driver or used that phrase to scold their own child? We want our loved ones and politicians to establish a track record that will help us believe. There’s wisdom and value in that perspective, but there’s also a problem. What is the price of trust? How much is enough to earn it?

Trust makes us vulnerable

When someone says, “Trust me,” they ask for our confidence in a way that makes us vulnerable to pain, treachery, and being made a fool. There is no trust without the possibility of loss. By “earning” our trust, we mean that someone must give us good odds before we take that bet. Like a savvy card shark at an all-night poker game, we want a sure thing. But the risk is never zero.

Trust is a credit card

Imperfect people can never be wholly trustworthy. When you earn something, you receive payment for the work you have already done, but trust is given in exchange for work you have yet to do. Trust can be enticed and invited. It can be justified or betrayed, but only in hindsight. Trust is a credit card, not a debit card; you can’t fund it upfront. We give our trust to an imperfect person with the built-in capacity to fail us. If we are going to wait until it’s been wholly earned, we will never trust anyone.

Trust considers the past

On the flip side, we are not required to trust everyone. In fact, we are warned against it in Scripture (see Psalm 118:8 or 1 Cor. 15:33, for example). If it turns out a retail company was careless with my mother’s financial information, I hope she cuts up their charge card. Trust is a resource we are expected to administer with wisdom, and that makes it more valuable. When deciding to give your trust, consider the past. But consider, too, the unearned favor that has made a difference for you. Trusting another person is always, in some measure, kindness.

Trust is grace

The next time you feel you must earn someone else’s trust, remember that it’s impossible. You are obligated to love them well regardless, but their trust will always contain an element of risk. Their trust is a form of grace. The next time you are tempted to tell someone trust must be earned, tell them, instead, trust is a gift given in imitation of Christ who risked Himself for the sake of relationship with us.


Related Resources:

Here’s an interesting sermon on the difference between faith and trust: https://www.ronedmondson.com/2012/07/faith-and-trust-a-sermon-message.html

A blog on trust disappointed: https://www.crosswalk.com/11575641/

I would love it if you would add your thoughts by leaving a comment below.