Kids ask questions.
This probably comes as no surprise to anyone. They ask big, important questions, like “Why is the sky blue?” and “Where does God live?” the dreaded “Where do babies come from?” They ask big, important questions, and we don’t always have answers, but we love it when they ask.
Then they get older, and the questions change. They ask, “If the world works the way I was taught, why is this the way that it is?” or “Why did my parents treat me this way?” or “Why don’t the people at my church act like Jesus?” They’re still big, important questions, and we still don’t have all the answers, but now we don’t always like it when they ask.
Maybe we’re afraid that if they follow their questions too far or look for the answers in the wrong places, they’ll go down a dangerous path and end up believing something that isn’t the Truth. Maybe we’re afraid of what the questions might mean for us, if we really think about them. But those questions can seem awfully scary.
Teens still ask them, though. Some ask their parents or their friends. Some look online for answers. And some come to us and to our stories.
Stories are powerful. Jesus used stories to share his deepest lessons. He wasn’t afraid of questions, either. He had a habit of turning questions on their heads, of throwing out assumptions and preconceived notions, both worldly and religious, and bringing in ways of thinking that were brand new and yet older than time. But he never turned away a question from a genuine seeker.
Sometimes we do, though. Sometimes we give pat spiritual-sounding answers that could be ripped from some mass market devotional, something that sounds nice but doesn’t engage with grief or anger or betrayal. Or worse, sometimes we tell teens that this is the way it is and it’s not to be questioned, that doing so would be going against God Himself. (The same God, mind you, who listened to David’s sorrow, Hannah’s anguish, Jonah’s bitterness, Sarah’s disbelief, and Habakkuk’s desperate need to know why.)
We can shut down questioning, but the questions don’t go away. They build inside our teens, erupting in frustration, disappointment, and disillusionment. They feel like they don’t belong. And so … they leave.
I wrote my novel Morrigan because I wanted to write a fun fantasy adventure, but I always end up bringing my worldview along for the ride. We all do, in our own ways. And when teenage Abel Whittaker turned up in the role of main character, he was a preacher’s kid whose father commanded respect and authority and cultivated an appearance of control and perfection. Abel was smothered by empty rules and masks and parental and spiritual abuse. In the end, the frustration erupts, and he leaves.
And that’s where the story begins.
It’s a story of Abel finding out the world is much different than what he’d been taught (and not just because of the Celtic gods and monsters all over the place). He’s forced to question his preconceived notions, confronted with new experiences and wildly different people—and in doing so, he finds the parts of his faith worth holding on to.
When teens come to us for answers, we can shut them down, or we can engage with them and meet them where they are. We won’t have all the answers, but with compassion, empathy, and humility, we can help them find their own. We can trust them to think for themselves. We can show them the Jesus who cares.
Award-winning author Jonathan King has been writing about the fantastic and the impossible since he was seven years old. His favorite thing to do is take our mundane world, drop some weirdness into the mix, and see what happens. Jonathan lives in Greenville, SC with his wife and two cat children. His YA novel Morrigan is available in ebook and paperback on Amazon. Visit his website at jonathankingauthor.com.