Michael’s heel was bouncing as if he was about to break into a sprint, but he didn’t know which way to run.
“My friend texted me during your talk saying he had a new bowl he wanted to smoke with me as soon as I got home.”
He went on.
“We like to party. We get drunk and use girls. Our heroes are older rockers like Nikki Sixx (from heavy metal band, Motley Crue). I know I should change but I can’t leave these guys. They’re like brothers to me.”
As I watched the epic wrestling match happening between the mind and heart in front of me, the story of the rich young man from the Gospel of Mark came to mind. Jesus had invited a young man to leave everything and follow him, but the young man loved his wealth. For him it came down to Jesus or money, and he picked money.
I asked Michael if he’d heard the story before. He had. In fact, he said, he’d been thinking about it all day. “That’s God, you know?
“Yeah,” he said.
I shared with Michael how Jesus looked at the rich young man with love (Mark 10:21). “He’s looking at you with that same love right now, inviting you to follow him.”
I continued the uncomfortable challenge.
“That rich young man was attached to a lot of things. He chose those things over Jesus. Scripture says, ‘He walked away, sad.’ You’re being asked to make the choice right now between your friends and Jesus. I know it’s not easy. But don’t walk away sad.”
He broke down and started to cry. He sat down and continued to cry for the next 10 minutes.
What an amazing thing to get a front row seat as Jesus stands before a teenager’s heart with love saying, “Follow me.” Right in front of me, a — heart was grappling with the invitation of invitations, as countless others have since 33 A.D.
Sixteen-hundred years earlier a young man faced a similar struggle. He saw the truth but he liked his sin — a lot. At one low but very honest point in his journey, he prayed, “Lord, help me be pure, but not yet.” Later he prayed, “Let it be now!” And eventually the famous prayer, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
Though he was a renowned philosopher, his turning point wasn’t some new realization. It was a straightforward challenge. He heard the voice of a child singing, “Take and read.”
He opened the Bible to Romans 13:14, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” God was telling him to stop his endless philosophizing and make a choice for God over his sins.
He made the right choice and became St. Augustine, one of the most influential saints in church history.
Thanks to relativism, many young people don’t ever engage in the internal struggle of St. Augustine or Michael (saint in the making). According to one study, 93 percent of teens do not even believe in absolute truth. Thus, their approach toward faith doesn’t require them to conform to some spiritual or ethical reality outside of themselves.
There’s a growing notion that we can have both: Jesus and my favorite sin. I saw it to an extreme degree when I did youth ministry in the East L.A.-area, where gangsters sat in my confirmation class and where plastic rosaries dangled from the rearview mirrors of almost every car involved in a drive-by shooting. A less extreme, but no less tangible example can be seen when we consider that there is almost no difference in premarital sexual activity rates among Christian young adults who know what their faith teaches on the subject, and non-Christians.
Like the idols of old (gods of fertility, agriculture, war or wealth) which served our wants and needs, the Jesus of a relativist generation is simply here to make us feel good. Most of the religiously engaged teens who were polled in the National Study of Youth and Religion cited “it makes me feel good” as the reason for their devotion. Of course, faith can make us feel great. But at times, as is the case with marriage, which also requires that we conform our lives to fit another, the journey of faith can be a painful experience!
Love often is.
I’m so proud of Michael for engaging the battle that happens when one recognizes that God transcends our little world and invites us into his — for hearing the invitation of Love. He was all smiles when I saw him with his group the next day. I think he made the right decision. I’m praying that he keeps it.
Speaker and author Christopher Stefanick is director of youth outreach for YDisciple. Visit him at http://www.RealLifeCatholic.com. Stefanick’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register, the official newspaper of the Denver Archdiocese.