Thursday, March 15, 2012

Life Advice From Teenage Hannah (Who Turned Out To Be Completely Wrong)

Most of us are very different people than we were as teenagers.

The thing is, we *thought* we knew a lot as teens. There were truths we'd latched onto and were proclaiming as absolute, and others we'd completely rejected... only to find out later that a lot of the ones we held onto weren't right and the ones that we'd rejected were.

I want to explore some of those. Ideally, I'd like to make this a series where I invite some of my close friends to share the high school life lessons that no longer seem so wise to them, but we all know how well I do with ongoing series, so it might just be a one-time-only blog post. (If it does become a series, that title has GOT to change. I wrote this post a month ago and honestly never posted it because I couldn't think of a good title, but then thought, "I want to post this, dang it!" So if anybody has ideas for a good one, go for it.)

A Bit of Background
I was raised in a pretty conservative Christian home. I was homeschooled, grew up in church, and was always the one who knew all the answers in Bible trivia games, even the obscure stuff like Mephibosheth (the crippled son of David's best friend Jonathan) or Ehud (the left-handed guy who stabbed a king who was relieving himself). In high school I could have spouted out churchy answers to any problem you could think of, along with the Bible verses to support them.

I'm still very similar to the person I was in high school, in a lot of ways. I am still a Christian. I still hold to a lot of the ideals and beliefs that I did then. But there are also a lot of things I was taught (or, more often, just picked up from implications) that I no longer believe. My faith is not nearly as black and white as I once thought it was, and there aren't as many clear-cut answers. And that is what is mostly represented here.

So. On to the list.

In High School: Group dating is the way to go.
I was a proponent of this in middle school and the first year or so of high school. For those who aren't familiar with it, the idea is that you and your significant other stay away from alone time together - rather, you hang out and get to know each other in groups of people.

Now: No take on whether group dating ever makes sense, but it really, REALLY doesn't for introverts.
Kind of a minor one to start out with. It kind of cracks me up remembering that I was such a fan of this idea. My stance started wavering around the time I started realizing that, uh, I can't make friends in groups, much less establish and maintain a romantic relationship. One of the things I used to hear (and then repeat) about group dating was that you're more likely to be yourself in a group of friends, so the other person gets to know you as you really are... or something. The only reason I really latched onto this idea was because I didn't realize what it meant to be an introvert yet. I didn't realize that I COULDN'T DO ANY OF THIS. I am much less myself in a group of people than I am with just one other person. If Jacob and I spent all our time together with other people, I would never feel like I really knew who he was, and he certainly wouldn't know who I was. And if I still felt this life lesson to be true today, it would be because I didn't know who I was, either.

In High School: Committed Christians are outgoing, boisterous and enthusiastic.
This connects to the previous one, actually. This one isn't always said out loud, but it's a powerful unspoken implication in American Christianity. It's not entirely the church's fault -the same things are told to introverts in non-spiritual terms in the rest of the world. It's just kind of leaked in. The louder, more extroverted Christians are praised for "truly living their faith," while the quiet, introverted Christians are told they need to "get out of their comfort zone" so they can really live for God.

Now: A person's enthusiasm and outgoing nature has absolutely no correlation to their walk with God. None whatsoever.
Sometimes I wonder if this is one of the reasons I never really made friends in high school, because I was so busy trying to be extroverted that I hid a lot of who I really was. I complained to my online friends how hard it was to do the right thing and push myself to reach out to anyone and everyone around me... not realizing that it was hard because I'M NOT AN EXTROVERT. I was pushing and guilting myself into being someone I'm just not because I thought that was what God wanted me to do. And, ya know what? I sucked at it. I'm a terrible extrovert. So I was even more awkward than I usually am and never really connected with anybody. I really wish sometimes that I could go back and relive those years knowing what I know now about who I am.

In High School: If you don't go to church, you won't have a strong walk with God.
This was always the easiest way to measure whether someone was "backsliding." I assumed the people who only came to church every once in awhile were not doing much with God outside of church either. The most devoted to God were the ones who were in the church all the time, although only going to one service a week was acceptable if you were really busy or lived far away.

Now: Church is good, but your actual relationship with God comes first, and you don't always need church to be close to God.
I'm still figuring this one out. It still feels wrong to say. But I absolutely know the above sentence to be true right now. I know this because I haven't really regularly attended church since I lived in Illinois 3 years ago (and even then it was kind of iffy) and my relationship with God is going GREAT. I'm learning and growing and changing and life is good. In fact, my relationship with God is much stronger than it was when I was a regular churchgoer, and CERTAINLY stronger than it was when I was an *avid* churchgoer. It doesn't just happen on its own or anything - I'm still putting tons of effort into my relationship with God.

My first year here in Huntington I tried to find a church to attend but found that every week it was just causing more and more stress to go and be a part of it. Finally, I decided to give myself a break from church for a couple months, and the weirdest thing happened - my relationship with God got better. I grew closer to him, spent more time connecting with him, felt like I heard from him more often. I tried going back to church and, once again, became very distanced from him. So I stopped again. And that's kind of where I am now. Sure, I would like to someday be able to find a church I can connect to, but right now I'm perfectly okay supplementing it with alone time with God and God-themed discussion with the Christians around me.

In Conclusion
So there are a few of the ways in which my worldview has changed from when I was in high school. I'm sure that 10 years from now, there will be many more changes. Maybe I'll have to do a "life advice from mid-20s Hannah etc. etc." series. Heh. But overall, I think I have figured out a lot of things since then. I feel like I'm more open to other people's thoughts, closer in my relationship with God, and more willing to live without all the answers. Which is good, because I'm not going to have them any time soon. Life's a lot more uncertain, a lot more about trial and error and learning how to fail than I thought it was in high school. And I'm OK with that.


  1. This is really great. I don't have much to say except that only about 10% of everything I believed, or was a part of me, is still the same.

  2. Savannah: Yeah, I'm sure the amount of "teenage us" still around varies greatly from person to person. Some people do complete 180s and others (more like me, I think) change in quieter ways but outwardly remain much the same person. It's fascinating stuff to me. :)

  3. Imma be honest, Hannah. When I began to read this, I was apprehensive that it was going to quickly become a tired, familiar post about how reality is too difficult for the naivete of youth or the self-righteousness of the churchy church crowd.

    Then you went and examined everything in the rarely discussed context of being an introvert. I tip my hat, ma'am. You've not only managed to find a truly unique and thoughtful angle on these topics, but you've wholly succeeded in the writer's task of sharing the personal and intimate in a universally accessible way. Kudos and thank you for sharing.

    On a personal note, one of my friends was home-schooled until high school and to this day maintains as faithful as ever. She prays before each meal, and doesn't care if we're at Waffle House at 1 AM. Another friend of mine is a complete introvert whose faith has been shaky of late. I feel like you've both reflected these friends of mine as well as offering me a new glimpse into them. Thank you for that.

  4. Thank you, Travis! I think it helped that the church I grew up in wasn't self-righteous in any way. They were a very humble, honest, warm group of people. They just weren't quite sure what to do with introverts (as is true of a LOT of people). Since introversion is such a huge part of who I am and I misunderstood it so badly growing up, it makes sense that a lot of these would be directly connected to that.

    My homeschool experience was also a little different from many people I know since, although I was definitely sheltered as a younger child, I was given a lot more freedom as a teenager (especially an older teen) than some of my more conservative friends. My parents knew that at some point I'd have to start making my own decisions, and so they *did* start giving me the freedom to do so. Although, sure, there were things that took me a bit by surprise when I interacted with the "real world," and, sure, there was (and probably still is) some naivete in my approach to the world, I was never terrified by the "secularness" of the world around me as some of my homeschool friends were. It just wasn't my experience. I feel very fortunate as far as that goes.