Fyodor Dostoevsky, author of Crime and Punishment and the Brothers Karamazov, once said that “[t]o love
someone means to see him as God intended him to be”. If you pause for a moment and consider the implications of a statement like that, you might be a little overwhelmed. A statement like this is hard to put into practice. This is the case because it is easier to see the outcome of someone’s life instead of the person they were intended to be, and reconciling the two is difficult indeed. If you’ve ever read a book and then watched the movie, you’ve probably experienced a little bit of what Dostoevsky is getting at. Chances are, the movie was a flop compared to the book. The reason is simple: the reality of the movie is never as good as your imagination. The book is the way the author intended you to experience it; the movie is the rather unfortunate outcome of someone else’s design (who, by the way, is usually not the author). And yet we all know that it is much easier to watch the movie than to read the book.
It has been the teen ministry that has taught me much about love, especially in regards to Dostoevsky’s perspective. We all know that our high school years are fraught with imperfections (peer pressure, gossip, popularity contests, fashion worries, insecurity, and, of course, acne). We also know that no matter what stage of life we’re in, it’s very easy to lose sight of the big picture and focus on the minutia. It’s difficult to see that our life has more to it than the time we spend at school, or work, or whatever might dominate our schedule. And especially as a teen, it’s hard to grasp the fact that we are pursuing our faith as a life-long career that naturally has its ups and downs. It is much easier to see our failure today for just that – a failure – than to look at it as an opportunity for growth. It stands to reason then that for the majority of our high school career, we face an enormous amount of negativity, and that negativity becomes all we see. Naturally, it has an effect on the person God intended us to be.
I’m convinced that the way we ought to see one another is as God intended us to be. When a teen who is navigating through the oft-painful teenage years expresses their regret for struggling in their purity, I am much more impressed by their declaration of regret than frustrated at their shortcoming. That’s because the (seemingly) small external step of openness mirrors an immense step internally that is committed to being faithful and fighting the deceptions of sin at school. When someone who is trying to be faithful admits to stumbling off the path, it isn’t the job of the ones who are walking straight to scorn them; they ought instead to pick them up and carry them until the weakness is gone (Galatians 6). The stumbling man knows they’re stumbling; it does no good to rub it in. I would much rather just stick out my hand and offer my help than hammer in the fact that they need it.
I am reminded of a particular moment in my childhood. I was fortunate to have a loving mother who was, for better or worse, my number one fan. As a kid I decided, as many of us do, to play soccer. Without a doubt, I was the worst soccer player on the team. I never scored a goal, hardly touched the ball, and had a very embarrassing tendency to trip over my own feet. My coach, who in retrospect was not a very good coach, benched those of us who he deemed inadequate. We were probably five years old. One particular game comes to mind: we were playing the Walnut Creek Hotwheels, it was very hot, and we were losing by six goals. Most of the parents weren’t watching closely, as the game was lost beyond all hope, and so the coach decided to let us misfits run around on the field. At one point, probably for maybe the second or third time that season, I touched the ball. And I more than touched it, I actually kicked it. I kicked it wide of the goal, and it went out of bounds, and I managed to trip and fall on the ground.
But from the stands I heard my mother, hollering encouragement at me, clapping her hands, grinning wide, and basically working up a sweat saying how proud she was of her little boy. She was the only one cheering in the whole audience.
That sticks with me because I wasn’t at that moment being compared to anyone. She was cheering for me just because I was me. As I’ve spent more and more time with the teenagers of this church, the more I’ve realized that I want to imitate my mother in regards to them. I might opt for a more subtle version of cheering than my mother did, but I’m determined to applaud the “small” victories that each person achieves, because the “small” victories are in reality anything but small in their life. We need to cheer these “small” victories, as my mother did for me. Because that’s love. And love is grace. Grace means approval. And we know that we can show nothing but approval for the way that God intended each of us to be, because he intended each of us to be perfect.
“To love someone means to see him as God intended him to be.” Certainly, God’s intentions for us are difficult to live up to. But God is the perfect optimist, and after some time spent in the teen ministry, I’ve realized that I need to follow suit. Thank you to the teens for this invaluable lesson!