Adolescents are probably the most complex people to study or understand. And it isn’t surprising seeing that they have many issues to deal with. The major issue that characterizes the lives of adolescents according to psychology (Erik Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development) is Identity Crisis and Role Confusion where they are left in a state of uncertainty about who they are, what they should do, or what is expected of them.
I have noticed that this period of identity crisis and role confusion also comes in our spiritual growth during spiritual adolescence. Spiritual adolescence here is not a derogatory word, it is simply a description of how far an individual has come in their walk with God.
As against someone immature, a spiritual adolescent has grown past the baby and childhood stages since they received Christ. Spiritual adolescence is the period after spiritual childhood before spiritual adulthood.
While it is natural for people to begin to question their stand as they progress in a course, one of the major triggers of identity crisis and role confusion for the spiritual adolescent is the presence of different shades of believers.
Let me start on the note of saying the Bible didn't clearly emphasize that there's a group of people called adolescents. We only find two broad categories: childhood and maturity.
The concept of adolescence is simply me making a distinction among children that although they are all children, some have made more progress than others.
The scripture that supports this distinction the closest is Hebrews 5:11-14. It tells of some people who have been in the faith for some time but still haven't reached maturity.
The Message translation says they need to be taken back to square one again. Meaning they had passed square one earlier but haven't reached maturity still. And it gives a signal of having square 2,3,4 and so on until adulthood is reached.
Because they weren't adults, their senses hadn't been trained to perfectly distinguish right from wrong which is the "role confusion" part of the adolescence I talked about.
Another scripture that points out this pre-maturity confusion and uncertainty is Ephesians 4:14 where it says children are tossed about by every wave of doctrine (wondering who to follow).
Again, there's no mention of adolescence here since this concept of adolescents (and anyone not yet matured) are broadly categorised as children.
Adolescence Options and the Source of Confusion
Although it isn’t ideal, it still holds that after the common denominator of belief (Jesus Is Lord) that binds believers together, there are several variations of beliefs and priorities that can leave one confused.
1. Social Vibe Christian
Firstly, there are those I like to call the Social Vibe Christians— those who champion removing the outward cultural divide (of language and look) separating the world and the church. They present Jesus as “not coming to tamper with your social vibe” to attract excited unbelievers.
2. Fire Vibe Christian
There are also the Fire Vibe Christians— those who are all about the supernatural dimension of God. They champion only the deep things and sacrifice everything else (relationship, money, and so on). They present Jesus as “coming to turn you into a meta-human” to attract starving unbelievers.
3. Intellectual Vibe Christian
Then there’s the Intellectual Vibe Christians— those who are very intellectual and champion the logical nature of God. They explain every scriptural rendering in a logical way that can be applied in non-Christian settings to attract smart unbelievers.
But this post is not about the shades of believers and judging who is right or wrong. I only have to point them out to give a background to the confusion of the spiritual adolescent.
There's also a seeming identity crisis and role confusion that happens before this one but at that point, the child of God is confused about following Jesus or following the systems of the world. This is equivalent to the Erik Erikson stage of Trust and Mistrust; the individual is still closer to childhood at this point.
He sees people who have a happy life outside Christ and wonders if following Jesus is really worth it. In spiritual adolescence the question is not whether to follow Christ but how to follow Christ.
Adolescence Questions and Confusion
Primarily, what the spiritual adolescent seeks are answers. Satisfying answers to the questions bugging his mind. These questions are
1. What Should I Become?
This is the primary question that is seeking an answer. It is obvious that whatever their life becomes is a result of their answer to this question, so there’s so much fear. What should I forfeit? What matters most? What exactly is God’s best?
2. Who Should I Follow?
The second question in the mind of the spiritual adolescent is who to follow. Obviously, there are multiple choices and everyone seems to be confident and is getting results from what they’re doing. There’s also the Be Like Us banner on every camp’s head.
The presence of these multiple shining objects is what makes finding an answer to question 1 difficult. If there were fewer choices or no choices at all, then we wouldn’t ever be worried about what to become.
So who seems more likely? Who’s results mean the most to me? Surprisingly, it is not even about who’s process is easier. Most times the spiritual adolescent is ready to commit to difficult processes. After all, he has chosen Jesus— a tough choice. But they are worried: compared to their process, whose result is more attractive?
3. Where And How Will I Be Accepted
The next question for the spiritual adolescence as a build-up or in finding answers to who to follow is finding where they’ll be accepted and how. “It is not enough for a camp to have the result that I want, they must also have room for an undecided person like me.”
(For example, personally, I found it difficult to enter into social vibe circles, not because I didn’t like it, but because of the feeling of not being accepted. I felt I couldn’t be social enough but at least I could be “spiritual” and “intellectual” appreciably.)
The identity crisis and role confusion of the spiritual adolescent are more about Christians than Christ. So the adolescent is not worried about what to become in Christ since something is obvious to him already as a result of his walk with God since childhood.
He is worried about what to become among Christians since they are the physical representation of Christ and they, through their diversity in beliefs, are making what is obvious to him doubtful.
How To Win The War of Spiritual Adolescence And Enter Maturity
Although we try to find a balance among the shades, in getting past the identity crisis of spiritual adolescence, at a point and for some time we all just have to decide to pick what we believe God is showing us to be the “meat” and neglect some ideologies.
Let’s face it, you can’t be all! If you could be all there wouldn’t have been disparity. But there’s disparity because some ideologies are conflicting. So rather than trying to be all, you can have a mixture of 30% social vibes, 40% spiritual vibes, and 30% intellectual vibes. Wherever you sense God tilting you.
I used this ratio because it sounds more comforting to me. I think I am more confident in the ideologies of the spiritual vibe as regards relating with God, then the intellectual vibe as regards getting this generation to follow, then I believe the social vibe is also important, especially for witnessing although I am not naturally inclined to it.
Maturity, Hebrews 5:14 told us, is having discernment— instinctively knowing where to partition. In reaching this point you will have gone through the four stages of psychological identity formation propounded by James Marcia.
- Identity diffusion: not being concerned about what to become
- Identity foreclosure: the first inclination you move towards; primarily influenced by the environment, your parents, friends, etc.
- Identity moratorium: the exploration stage where you begin to see other people and the confusion starts. You begin to test different waters to see which fits best. This is where the three questions of what, who, and where/how to follow come.
- Identity achievement: the place of maturity where you are finally decided on what you want to live for or become which influences who you follow.
What the spiritual adolescent lacks is not direction but assurance. He has gotten direction since childhood. So he is looking for who seems sure of what they are becoming that matches the direction he has.
Navigating Spiritual Identity Moratorium
To transition from having many choices and settling with one choice, you will have to be intentional about your Spiritual Identity Moratorium. There are three stages to this process.
You have to consciously consider the options that are before you and seek to understand them. If you don’t, you will simply settle with what you have around you (identity foreclosure) and you won’t reach a solid identity achievement status.
It is better you clear your doubts now about the options before you and ascertain which will not work for you so they wouldn’t begin to look enticing in the future and you’d still be having an identity crisis when you should be matured. This can only come through exploration.
2. Alone time
This is the powerhouse of your walk with God and where the weighty matters take place. The strength of your spiritual life is dependent on the strength of your secret place. So you must get indoors and be alone with God.
You have three primary assignments here: praying, studying, and thinking. Praying for God’s direction, and clarity, and asking for a blueprint for your life. We can’t say any of the three shades of believers are wrong, you should ask God which direction He wants you to tilt towards based on His purpose for your life.
Tilting doesn’t mean neglecting others. We talked about a 30/40/30 distribution earlier.
Studying the scriptures as an act of faith to your prayers for God to reveal. Thinking or meditating to open your heart and mind to receive God’s voice.
3. Progressive Journaling
To be successful in defining your spiritual identity, you must keep a journal. Record your discoveries, your contemplations, and decisions so you don’t keep going in circles.
There are many things you will find that you won’t remember but writing them down gives you a reference point for future decisions.
This being said, as you continue to walk with God, you will continue to have times where you validate your bearing. The identity achievement status you reach at this point shouldn’t be final. It is final based on your revelation of God at this point. The more you know God, the more you will continue to tilt.
Olusegun Iyejare is a career coach and certified counselor. He helps individuals discover and maximize their potential to live satisfying lives regardless of obvious limitations holding them back.