We think one of the best Jesus-centered answers when it relates to this question of what difference can I make or how will my life matter?
Why am I here? That purpose question is, is the idea of story and being caught up in God's story. So my story doesn't live, you know, in a vacuum. My story isn't just about even our family story. It's not just about we're going to build a family legacy or you need to do this or that because you're part of this family or any of that. My story matters because we're caught up in the story of God and what God has done, what God's doing now, what God will do. You know, this is his story and we get to be part of it. We get to have our like chapter in the book, but the book isn't about us fundamentally.
It's about God. Where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Ann Wilson. And I'm Dave Wilson.
And you can find us at familylifetoday.com or on our Family Life app. This is Family Life Today. I think I know the answer to this question, but do you remember the first time you wondered why you are here? Your purpose?
Yes. Isn't that funny? I want our listeners to hear this because when you told me this 47 years ago in our first year of marriage, I was sort of shocked. I was in the second grade and I was in bed and mind you, I'm going to get teary talking about this, because of sexual abuse in my past, I would ask deep questions like, why is this happening? I would ask, what's wrong with me? Who am I? But the big question that I would ask is, why am I here? And I would ask that continually. Why am I on this earth?
Is there a purpose to it? Because I had a great family, but that abuse was outside the family. And I just felt like something must be wrong with me. And we didn't have much God in our family. We didn't talk about it much, but I thought if there's a God, is there a purpose to my life?
Those are big questions for a little eight year old girl. Yeah, I mean, that's why I was shocked. I don't remember thinking that until I was in college. Well, it's funny because I was with my parents when they were like 84. I'm on this trip with them. And I said to my dad, Dad, he's 84. Do you remember the first time you asked the question, why am I here? He goes, I've never actually thought that till this very moment. I'm like, what?
You're 84? He goes, I never thought of that. Which is so interesting. Oh, yeah. And, you know, her dad, Dick, became sort of my dad because I didn't have a dad. He's my kind of guy. I'm like, I relate to that.
It's like you're 84 years old. He had never and he meant it. Oh, he really never thought about it. So when I remember Ann telling me second grade, I'm like, wow, this woman is deep. Well, there was a lot of pain. Yeah.
And it's interesting that that was behind it. Why are we asking this question today? We're asking this question because we're talking about the three big questions teenagers ask. And we have Brad Griffin back in the studio with us today, who's a parent, but also has studied teens and knows what these questions are. So, Brad, welcome back to Family Life Today.
It's so great to be here. I mean, we've had a great conversation with you about the book that you wrote with Kara Powell called The Three Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Making the Most of Your Conversations and Connections. And obviously, this is important for all of us, but especially for us as parents. I'm going to say, too, for our listeners, if you have teenagers, get this book. Maybe pre-teenagers, get this book. You're going to be fascinated.
We couldn't put it down. It's so helpful, encouraging to guide us in helping us. Tell our listeners a little bit about what you do. I know you're at the Fuller Youth Institute. What is that?
How does it work? What do you do there? Our mission is equipping parents and leaders to really surround young people with support. We talk about helping young people change the world.
And the way that that happens is that they have adults in their lives who are with them, who are really with them and on their team. And we do that through research. And I just love I'm a research nerd.
And so I love listening. Research is just a fancy way of saying listen to people and tell stories about it. And so that's that's what we do. And we really want to equip people to do what they want to do, which is be better parents, you know, be better leaders.
We serve a lot of youth ministry leaders because we focus in on on the adolescent years. Well, I thought it was interesting, even in your book in Chapter one, you say the following questions were by far the most common questions that emerge from the interview surveys. I want to just hit some of these because every parent I would be leaning in like, oh, what are our teens? And by the way, these were not the three biggies.
These were like they're in these. But you got to sort of filter through these to get to, OK, they're really asking these three. They're asking, how do I manage anxiety and stress better technology? We don't have questions.
We kind of got it, which was interesting. Three generation is diverse, but they have questions about navigating racial pain, questions handling gender identity, sexual orientation, questions about sexuality, questions about safety, questions about drugs, alcohol, vaping. And so these are the all these big questions. But then you and Kara kind of took it down to the big three, because underneath these surface questions, you're saying, no, they really come down to. Will you name those again? The big three.
Yeah. The big question of identity. Who am I? The big question of belonging. Where do I fit? And the big question of purpose.
What difference can I make? And today, let's talk about purpose a little bit. But real quick, I know in the book and we've talked about this when they ask, who am I? You say the better answer is you are enough in Jesus. Yes. Yeah.
That's where we sort of landed that we did. There's a better answer than, you know, I'm who my friends say I am. I am enough in Christ.
Yes. And then with belonging, there's that better answer that Jesus centered answer of of with I belong with God. I belong with God's people. The sense that we can provide the presence of God through other people and that that they know they're not alone.
You know, I mean, that's kind of the heart of belonging is that, you know, you're not alone. And with purpose to go that direction, it may actually be helpful first to talk about the ways that young people are talking about purpose themselves before we get to that Jesus centered answer. So what we heard and we spent over 100 hours in in-depth interviews just listening to teenagers talk and we pair that with survey data and we looked at other research that's out there on Gen Z and how this works.
And, you know, what we heard was a couple of kind of dominant answers. One of them was around following a script that I've been given a lot of scripts about how I'm supposed to, you know, why my life matters, why I'm here, what kind of purpose I have in the world. And those scripts are sometimes they have a lot of God language around them for kids who grow up in the church and in church families. So, for example, there's actually pressure around finding God's will. So, you know, we heard I remember this one teenager named Carrie saying, well, I want to know what God's will is for my life, but I'm afraid I'm going to get it wrong. And, you know, I'm afraid I'm going to go to college and study this thing and then it's going to be the wrong thing and then I'm going to have wasted, you know, this time and money. And it was almost this sense of there are such high expectations for me that to know God's will and to get it right. That if I get it wrong, I'm going to be disappointing the people around me and I'm going to be disappointing God. And the parents' intent is good, but the kids are feeling pressure from the parents.
Maybe they're dreaming big for their children. Right. I see you doing this. Is that what you're saying?
Yeah, absolutely. And sometimes the way we use God language, you know, we don't mean for it to come across as pressure, but it does. And sometimes it's honestly because we don't tell enough stories of failure and of stories of our own journey of discovery. We don't tell enough stories of, you know, not figuring it all out ourselves right away. The way we sort of narrate what that looks like to find God's will or God's plan for your life. Sometimes that sounds like there's not room for mistakes, that there's not room for discovery.
And that's not actually what what we mean to mean at all. Another narrative we heard was around helping. You know, I feel like my life matters if I'm helping someone. And helping is a really good thing. And there's all kinds of positive research correlations with helping.
And we could talk all day about how great that is. And there's sort of a shadow side to there was sort of this sense of I only matter if. Yeah, I can make somebody happy or I only matter if I do all these things that, you know, again, people expect me to do in some kids cases. It's there's a lot of expectations around helping in the home, taking care of siblings or with one young man we talked to.
His dad is chronically ill and part of this kid's daily work as a teenager is taking care of his dad. There's a lot of about that that's beautiful and that is really mature and just what it means to be family. And then there's a part of it, too, that it's hard for him to see past kind of being stuck in this family situation to what else his purpose might look like in life. Because right now he's just helping his family survive.
So you've got a whole span there. Well, I'm thinking of kids that maybe their parents have gone through a divorce and now they're in a blended family situation. So they're really asking, where do I fit in? And maybe the families are very different in how they're answering those questions, too. Did you get any of that in the survey of kids kind of trying to find that balance and identity in that situation? Yeah, divorce and family separation and blended families, they raise all kinds of questions around the three questions. This, who am I and who am I here and who am I there? You know, if you're juggling between two homes, where do I fit?
What does that look like? And on the purpose front, you know, it's interesting, too, because parents can have very different versions of who they think you should be. And different perspectives on your career path and on, you know, how to how to like lean into those things.
It's a lot to navigate. We definitely heard from kids in those situations who felt pulled. You know, sometimes what it does is you have to you hold a lot yourself as a kid, as a teenager, because you are making the decision about how to present, you know, in these and how to answer and how to navigate. And honestly, sometimes kids end up seeing part of their purpose of caring for their parents. This this is not only about divorce, but sometimes kids feel like their parents are emotionally dependent on them. Yeah. So I've got to make, you know, mom or dad happy.
Well, here here's what I'm thinking. You know, I was in a blended family and I don't know about you two. So I want to know if your teenage years were like mine. I'm just sitting here thinking I was so selfish. All I cared about when I was a teen was making me happy. I didn't think about making a difference. I really didn't.
I mean, I'm thinking is the teenage today is are they less selfish than than we were? Because I really didn't think I mean, and thinking about her purpose in life in second grade, I didn't care. I was like, I want to play football. I want to date this girl.
I want to get a scholarship. I want to make money. I don't think I guess I'm just showing my my immaturity and my lack of I didn't think about any of that. I was just like, what's today? Who's going to love me today?
How am I going to be successful today at my high school or whatever? Is the team today different? And again, I'm not saying everybody's like me, but they do wrestle. Yeah. I mean, we raised them. Yeah. It's a different world.
And there are stressors and anxieties that they carry that I think unique to their generation that makes them ask these. Who am I? Where do I fit? Am I right? Is that what's happening? Yeah. A couple of responses. So adolescence. Go ahead. You can say I'm very, you know, elementary and immature. That's what you want to say.
First thought is, wow, Dave, you just told me everything I need to know about you. I'm going to set your personality aside for a minute and your own self-absorption. All right. I'm mature. I don't think about me anymore.
We can we can explore your purpose in a little bit. So first, adolescence very much is a phase that is self-centered and developmentally the focus turns inward. You know, every teenager in a lot of ways feels like they're on a stage.
Yeah. And so, you know, of course, they're going to be performance focused, you know, or feel like everybody's staring at me. That's a really common experience in adolescence. So we also have a research colleague who says, you know, when I was 15, I just wanted to play video games all day.
Like, I didn't care about these things that you are talking about. And there certainly are kids who experience a wide range of motivation. You know, but I also think we as a society. We put so much into entertainment and distraction and numbing, and we actually provide a lot of ways for teenagers to numb themselves from looking right at the big questions. And so, you know, for that kid who just wants to play video games all day or that kid who isn't really thinking about why am I here?
What's my meaning in life? Like the big existential side of that. Some of that is because we've given them so many ways to be distracted from what matters.
Yeah. And in some ways it is an escape. Even when I think about my experience, that was an escape for me.
Broken family, alcoholic parents, adultery, blended family. I didn't know where I fit. I felt lost. I felt left. And I found my identity being an athlete. I found my identity being popular.
I mean, it was just an escape. I was searching. And I think as parents, we need to watch our kids and see those symptoms. Are they looking for something that we know they're asking this question by the way they're behaving? Let me ask you, the questions, the interview process that you went through with all of these teens, were they church kids? They were all nominated by ministry leaders. So they were connected with churches. Some of them were more active than others, but yes.
So some of that narrative was there. And you're probably getting the best of the best. If I'm a youth pastor, I'm not going to send you some. In some way.
We said don't give us the best of the best. But the reason I'm asking is because all the things you're talking about, what kids feel, I think I put that on our kids. Hey, you need to be serving because that's what we do. We give our lives away for Jesus. You want to know who you are? This is, oh, Jesus has made you for a purpose. And I'm hearing all the things that I've said to them over the years. And I'm thinking, man, I think I put a ton of pressure on them.
And now our adult sons, some of them have come back and said, when you said all those great things about me, I felt like you were heaping pressure on my back to become that person. And deep down, I felt like I was a fraud because I had to live up to all these expectations. I need to serve. I need to love Jesus.
I need to be the youth group. Not realizing like my heart was good, like you're going to find life there. And I wish that I would have kind of just sunk down into their world. I feel like I did that. I asked them a lot of questions, but I didn't realize I was putting a lot of pressure on them. Do you think parents are relating?
Do you relate to that because your heart's so good? You're listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Brad Griffin on Family Life Today. We'll hear his answer in just a minute. But first, we'd love to send you a copy of Brad's book, Three Big Questions That Change Every Teenager. It's our gift to you when you partner with us and make a gift of any amount this week to support the work of Family Life Today.
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Again, the number is 800, F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. All right, now back to Brad and the pressure parents can inadvertently put on their children. A lot of us too, we don't want our kids to be entitled.
We hear these narratives about young people and we're thinking, oh, not my kids. My kids are going to know hard work. My kids are going to know responsibility. They're going to know what it means to serve. Those are good things. Absolutely.
And there's a few pieces to that. I think we can relieve the pressure by, so now I'm going to get to this Jesus-centered answer for purpose. We think one of the best Jesus-centered answers when it relates to this question of what difference can I make or how will my life matter?
Why am I here? That purpose question is, is the idea of story and being caught up in God's story. So my story doesn't live in a vacuum. My story isn't just about even our family story. It's not just about we're going to build a family legacy or you need to do this or that because you're part of this family or any of that. Our story matters because we're caught up in the story of God and what God has done, what God's doing now, what God will do. You know, this is his story and we get to be part of it. We get to have our like chapter in the book, but the book isn't about us fundamentally. It's about God and in some ways that can relieve pressure, you know, back to the God's will or God's plan for your life situation.
I think we can talk to our kids about that in a way that isn't so pressure laden. It's not like you need to know God's will so that you don't make a wrong decision about college or whatever or whether to take this job or that job or, you know, it's God is with you. Like God's put you in a story and it's going to be a beautiful and complicated story. There's going to be painful parts of the story. There's going to be amazing, joyful parts of the story as your parent. If I could, I would make sure that you never ever experienced loss or pain or anything uncomfortable because I don't want you to go through it. And that's not how life works.
That's not how you grow. And this story, we don't know what it's going to turn out to be, but it's God's and God's with you in it. And you will never be alone.
You'll never be alone. That's one of the back to bedtime prayers. That's one of the prayers I pray over my teenage kids every night is that they would each know that they're not alone, that God is with them. And I think that's about identity, belonging and purpose. Knowing that the presence of God goes with us when we sleep, when we wake, when we stumble through our day, when we fall down and embarrassingly, you know, in middle school in front of everybody and rip our pants and scrape our knee. And we feel so embarrassed and humiliated. And, you know, I want my kids to know in that moment that they're not alone, that God's with them.
And that can happen when they're toddlers, when they're babies, of saying, like we have a grandson that's two. And I remember just talking to him saying, isn't it amazing that God hears you? He sees you all the time.
There's never a time he doesn't see you or hear you. And even our six-year-olds and seven-year-old grandkids asking this question, I wonder what he has for you. You're not painting the picture that this is what it is, but you're kind of creating the question, I wonder what it will look like. And then I remember even telling our kids, I see this in you, you know, the gifts and their strengths, their passion, like, isn't it cool? And I think, too, as they get older, of even asking them questions about that, as you were saying, Brad, like, what are you passionate about right now? And even just posing the question, I wonder how God will use that or if he'll use it in some way.
It could just be posing the question. I think it's good for us as parents to remember that God's got our kids. Because even as we discussed over the last couple of days, these three questions, identity, belonging, purpose, I think we can get so fearful as parents, you know, that, you know, the anxiety and the stress that our teenagers are feeling that we forget there is a God that's got them. And, you know, we're older now and have grandkids and have adult sons, and we can look back and go, you know, all the stress we felt. And we get it. It's normal. It's part of being a mom or dad. You look back now, don't you, and you go, God was there.
Oh, yeah. God had a purpose for them. They found that. And again, we're not saying they're perfect. We're not saying every kid turns out that way. But at the end of the day, you can lay your head on a pillow at night and rest and go, you know what, as stressed as I am as a parent and even watching my kids be stressed as teenagers, there's a God that sees them, knows them, loves them, sees us, loves us, is with us, and will take them to the right answer to these three big questions that are still the questions we're answering ourselves. But we can trust God at the end of the day.
And our mistakes and their mistakes are not going to stop God. Right. From being present and being active in their lives. That's David Ann Wilson with Brad Griffin on Family Life Today. Brad has written a book with Kara Powell called Three Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Making the Most of Your Conversations and Connections. You can get it at familylifetoday.com or by calling 800-358-6329.
That's 800 F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. If you know anyone who needs to hear conversations like the one you heard today with Brad, we'd love it if you tell them about this station. You can share today's specific conversation from wherever you get your podcasts.
And while you're there, it really helps us out if you'd rate and review us. You know, a lot of blended families are comparing themselves with families that seem harmonious. This can be problematic for several reasons, but tomorrow David and Wilson are going to be talking with our very own Ron Deal about the complexity and beauty of being in a blended family. That's coming up tomorrow. We hope you'll join us. On behalf of David and Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a production of Family Life, a crew ministry, helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
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