Teen years as wilderness

And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.       Mark 1:11-13

I’m mulling over a quote about Lent from Frederick Buechner: “After being baptized by John in the river Jordan, Jesus went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself the question what it meant to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves.”

I find this quote very compelling. And as I’ve been pondering this, I’ve also begun to wonder at the teen years as an extended time in the wilderness.

Frederick Buechner LentAfter all, it seems that the teen years are largely about coming to terms with who you are, and what does it mean to be you. And that’s not easy to figure out. (Not that I think we ever fully figure this out; hence the need for a yearly Lenten self-examination.) The more I think of it, the more I think the teen years are a kind of wilderness. In the middle of it all, it’s a place with no familiar landmarks and no clear way out. Going back it not a real option, but going forward has no clear destination, but lots of tempting options. 

I’ve always imagined Jesus’ time in the wilderness as a time when he was set apart and alone. In this reading from Mark, though, Jesus is never alone, with a voice from heaven followed by some strange compulsion by the Spirit. And there in the wilderness, there’s Satan, the accuser, as well as wild beasts and angels all converging and milling about. All of that also sounds like being a teenager to me. The roller coaster emotions, from the highs of coming into your own power, to the lows of feeling completely ostracized. The accusations and temptations never stop. The beasts may range in size and shape and impact.  And if you’re fortunate, an array of angels patiently wait on you through all the sturm und drang.

I wonder (in Godly Play fashion) how much support Jesus needed. I wonder if Jesus was ever a brat, if he was ever was snappish and snarky with the angels, if he ever said, “Leave me alone! You don’t understand!” I wonder if the angels got tired of waiting on him and had enough and asked someone else to take over for a while. I wonder how many angels it required to wait on this one person. I wonder if any of the angels, as part of waiting on him, ever told Jesus off. I wonder if Jesus ever said thank you.

I don’t intend to excuse any old self-centered behavior on the grounds of “They’re in the wilderness!” But I do think that the metaphor may help us in our ministry to youth -- and to others. There’s a lot going on in the wilderness that may have nothing to do with us. We may end up being unnamed angels in the longer story of the ministry of God’s beloved. May we rest in the knowledge that God knows of our ministry. And by God’s grace, may we be visited by angels who wait upon us during our own times of wilderness.

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Teenagers in the wilderness

I work at a 5-A high school where 60% of our students are economically disadvantaged, and they do seriously seem to be wandering, lost, in a wilderness. But they are what keeps me coming back to an underpaid, often thankless job: every once in a while, I know I'm in the right place at the right time for a kid in need. Does that qualify as ministry? I have no idea, but it keeps me from walking away when their parents scream at me. Thanks for this reminder.