Last year someone asked me to write a letter to her son on his thirteenth birthday. Here's the letter minus his name to protect personal identity.
As you enter your thirteenth year, you are beginning the journey out of boyhood into manhood. These are some of the most important and formative years of your life. Decisions made over the next eight to ten years will shape you for years to come. Experiences you have now will linger in your memory in ways that many childhood experiences will not.
Scripture says that we are to remember our Creator in the days of our youth (Ecclesiastes 12:1). This is easier said than done. Knowing God is life’s most important priority, but so often (for both teens and adults!) it gets shoved to the sidelines. Don’t make that mistake. Saint Augustine once prayed, “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” This is true. There is a satisfying rest found in Christ that no other person, pleasure, place, or thing can give you.
But, how do you find it?
First, you have to know who you are. You are a creature, not the Creator. This means that you live with limitations. You can’t just do anything, because there are some powers and capacities that you don’t have. As much as we like superheroes, that’s not who we are! You are not self-existent or self-sustained. The longevity of your life will be largely determined by factors outside of your control. You will not live forever. Some day you will die. But as a creature, you are also responsible and accountable. God has made you to live for him. And you will someday give an account of your life to him.
Second, you have to recognize your need. We’re all born with cravings and desires for something more than this earth offers. C. S. Lewis said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” The problem is that this “inconsolable longing” (to use Lewis’s phrase) so often attaches itself to other things. Sometimes these are good things, like sports, friendships, or careers. Sometimes they are bad things, like drugs or destructive relationships. But in either case, the root is the same. We expect something else to do for us what only God can do. This is the essence of evil. The prophet Jeremiah, speaking on God’s behalf, said it well, “My people have committed two great evils – they have forsaken me the Fountain of Living Waters, and hewn for themselves cisterns which can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13). Evil (or sin) is, in essence, looking to anything to be for us what only God can be. This is what Scripture calls idolatry.
Sin puts us in a bad relationship with God. It makes us his enemies. That’s why, in order to find your rest in God, you need to know a third thing: God’s provision for you in Christ. I’m probably not saying anything you don’t know, but this is the best news in the world. This is the gospel: though you and I are far more sinful than we could ever fully realize, we’re also more loved than we’d ever dare to dream. God loves us so much that he sent his Son on a rescue mission. Jesus came to live the life you should have lived and die the death you should have died. God treated Jesus like he had lived a sinful life, so he could treat you as if you had lived a perfect life. If sin puts us in a bad relationship with God, Jesus – the Son – puts us in a right relationship with God. By trusting in him alone, we are saved.
Maybe you know all of this already. If you do, praise God. If this is new, I hope you’ll dig deeper. Read Scripture. Ask questions. Talk to other Christians. Read the great classics of the Christian faith – books by Augustine, Lewis, and others – and discover these truths for yourself.
That leads to the fourth and last thing I’ll share about how to find your rest in God. Pursue it! Go after it! The Bible describes the Christian life as a race to be run and a fight to be fought. In other words, it takes effort! It’s not easy to be a Christian. But it is worth it. So, how do you pursue God? Well, pursue him with your mind. Learn as much as you can about him and his word. This means, of course, reading the Bible. But more than that, it means studying Scripture. Again, it takes work. But as someone once said, “Raking is easy, but all you get is leaves. Digging is hard, but you might find diamonds.” But pursuing God also involves your heart. It means learning to love what God loves and hate what he hates. You won’t do this naturally. Our affections and desires have to be trained to enjoy heavenly food. But, through worship and prayer, those new instincts can be developed. Finally, pursuing God involves your relationships. Perhaps the most important thing I could say to you at this stage in your life is this: look for godly and mature men to disciple you and mentor you. Find people who are further down the road in their spiritual journey than you and learn from them as much as you can.
Sadly, I don’t know you that well and almost never get to see you or your family. I wish that were different. Since we’re almost strangers, I can imagine that a letter like this might seem weird. After all, who am I to tell you what to do? Well, no one really. Just someone who has lived a little bit longer and cares for you, even if from a distance. I remember my teen years well – the exhilaration and the frustration! I’m sure you’ll get lots of good advice from lots of people. You’ll probably get some not-so-helpful-advice from a few! But I think the most important thing anyone could ever say to you is this: pursue your soul’s satisfaction in Christ.