Young and Pressured | Dealing with the Religious Drive of Difference Making

For explanation of this series, see this post. For more background on this idea, see my Rebelution article.

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I don’t want to waste my life.

Sitting on the wooden steps in my Illinois home, I faced the front door and seemed to face the door to the rest of my life. I held the fair-trade, polka-dotted, crème paged red journal as my Piglet pen recorded my words: “Tomorrow, you’re going to be eleven. You’ve probably lived about an eighth of your life, Deborah. What do you have to show for it?”

I didn’t want to waste my life. I wanted to change the world.

At age twelve, I proceeded to read bestselling, Christian “make the most of your teen years” Do Hard Things in reformation of my un-productive ways. I needed to know how to make the most of the teen years before I even reached them.

As I grew, wasting my life stopped even being an option and living sold-out, “big” for Jesus became an obligation. I over-analyzed everything in a desperate attempt to just find God’s will.

Because if I really believed in Jesus, wouldn't that affect more of the way I lived? If I truly grasped I'd been given access to the Holy Spirit Himself and every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, shouldn't I be doing more (John 14:26; Ephesians 1:3)?

Thus, my chronic illusion developed: I need to single handedly change the world (and do this for Jesus).

But I never felt like I found God’s will but only self-frustration, fear of any action (because it could be the wrong one), and a life of dissatisfaction at my inability to figure out how to fix my failures.

I started asking last summer. Was I the only one who’d developed this unhealthy, out of proportion pressure to find God’s specific will for my life and change the world?

Apparently not. Responding to my thoughts about this on the Do Hard Thing’s “Rebelution” blog, my peers spoke out.

“Yes, I am also obsessed at not wanting to waste my life… In fact that is my biggest fear. Living on this earth and not impacting it in some way. I feel all this pressure to make a difference and to be productive in my teen years … [it can] make us feel like we are on stress ride” (Bekah14).

“I’m 17, and I feel like I’ve wasted so much time that could have been used productively” (Andrew).

“In the first years as a teen I had really great ideas, and I still feel a bit guilty sometimes that I didn’t do something big, or that I’m not doing something big” (MusicalRagmuffin).

“Just under a month ago, I turned 18… I’m just realizing that my teenage years are almost over and I feel like I’ve wasted them. And I don’t want to feel the same way when I get to the end of my 20’s, 30’s and so on … I do strongly feel the pressure to not waste my life” (Sarah A).

“Distorted (and enormous pressure) pretty much sums it up for me!” (Haven Asnip).

Apparently this problem really is bigger than just me. Church-raised and indoctrinated young people are feeling it: a distorted pressure to change the world.

If we could only find God’s will and then act completely sold out for Him. If only we would be more productive in our obedience and impact all our spheres of influence. If only we wouldn’t waste our lives.

Sometimes we need to hear the good messages to surrender more, do more for Jesus and be sold out. However, apparently some of us are taking it too far, and it hasn’t taken us very far in actually living productive lives.

Maybe letting our desire to “change the world” morph into an obligation to do so is the very way we keep ourselves from doing just that. 

© 2016 Deborah Hope Shining
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  1. Deborah, I really appreciate your thoughts on this-- you do a great job of addressing this well intended idea that all too often turns obligatory and unattainable. One of my favorite quotes is by Steve Jobs who says, "The only ones crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do." And as much as I love that quote, my mother was told me, to summarize, "We often aren't given the capability to change the entire world, it's pretty large. But we are able to profoundly impact the world around us each and every day. And that's really what changing the world is." I may be biased, but I think my mom's onto something.

  2. I also read Do Hard Things, and their sequel, Start Here. They wrote that sequel because teens were saying "You're not wrong, but I don't know how to do the things you're suggesting." Their response: more success stories. I, for one, don't learn all that well from examples of people who have accomplished more than me. So I get your frustration.
    The Harris' whole shtick is "rebel against low expectations," which is a good idea. But the teens you mention here seem to be flip-flopping to exceedingly high expectations, except they're imposing them on themselves. Culture doesn't necessarily expect more from them, and God doesn't either, not really.
    Their other shtick is doing Big Hard Things that are too big to do alone. Part of taking a break from the pressure is understanding that we're supposed to do it together. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.

  3. This is a topic and a desire that many Christian young people struggle with. I hate to say it but I think this struggle remains for people even as they grow older. Through all of this though I have to believe that people who are willing to stand on what they believe will always make a difference (even when we fail to see how). I look forward to reading future posts.

  4. I think there are a lot of people that suffer from actual anxiety because they think they are wasting their lives. There is a balance between being aware of how you're living and being obsessive over. We need to trust God that He is leading us to where we need to be, but we also have to make sure we are doing everything that He wants us to.

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I definitely don't want this to be a monologue. What are your thoughts? Questions? Ideas?