Suffering is A Part of Finding Identity

Not one parent wants to see their teen suffer. Sometimes it does feel like your teen’s suffering is harder on you than it is your child. It feels harder because you know more. You know how hard life is. Your teen isn’t even to the “hard part” of life yet and is still hurting so much.

But for your teen, he/she is experiencing this suffering which means these are emotions being felt very likely for the first time. They are overwhelming emotions. Your teen is scared. Your teen doesn’t have the words to express how he/she feels. Your teen doesn’t know if the suffering will ever end. Your teen doesn’t know—and is really scared—that he/she will never be normal again.

This hurts you so much. You want to speed through the process. You want to divert out of the process. You want to numb this pain for your teen. You mostly want to speak words and make it all go away.

Here is your hope. It is in the suffering your teen will find his/her identity. His/her overall identity, and especially his/her identity as loved personally by God. As we say often at Bravester, pain is your beginning. Pain is your teen’s beginning to finding out who he/she is.

Other identity forming factors are school, classes they excel at, sports they excel at, extracurricular groups they discover a passion for, friends they surround themselves with. All of these are “liquid” and constantly changing hence your teen’s identity is continually changing. This has always been a part of adolescent development. (And why these teen years cause parents so much fear.) (And why youth pastors grieve in prayer so much because the identity of who they see at youth group is more often not the identity of who goes to high school.)

The internet creates a whole other possibility of identity formation. There are now filtered identities and faux identities. All swirling together inside your teen who is secretly fearing that he/she will never figure life out and find their place in this world.

Suffering actually offers a rootedness to all of this swirling.

It is in the suffering that one can see the constancy of Jesus. This is even more true in these wonderful and vulnerable teen years.

Their adult minds haven’t rationalized Jesus away yet (like you did at one time?). Their new emotions of hope and possibility are drawn to the personal bigness of Jesus.

Teens are particularly drawn to the big truth that Jesus is with us in the suffering. No other religion has that message. The true God does not abandon us, ask us to strive more, or sends us on a quest. Jesus’ story is riveting of love and self-sacrifice. Jesus promises “No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you.” John 14:18. This speaks. So many of Jesus’ promises speak to that fear-filled-yet-won’t-talk-about-it soul of the teenager.

Those teens who have been challenged to dig in and know Jesus know that Jesus doesn’t abandon them.

The rah-rah-ness of a youth group does not provide this. But a church family full of aged wisdom does. In a church family are people who are safe for teens to ask their secret questions to. Wise people who can put words to their fears (which are often misunderstandings but they don’t know that yet til they get adult wisdom to help them understand). Adults whom teens can see live real faith. May your teen have safe spaces where they can ask their questions and see real faith in safe adults who love Jesus through the ride of their lives.

Even when your beloved is in his/her early 20s and is questioning everything, your beloved will remember these wise adults from your church. And maybe reach out to them. You don’t forget the adults who gave you words that quelled the anxiety that overwhelms you in adolescence.

(I’ve been a teen Bible camp speaker for 25+ years. I have loads of grown camp kids who still talk to me and seek me for advice because I dared to enter into their suffering while they were at camp for a week.)

I have a graduated teen whose parents separated and eventually divorced all through her adolescent years. It was a slow process with little being communicated to her. In her bedroom, in her suffering, she began to write songs to Jesus. She has notebooks filled. She has read most of them to me. Not one of those songs have made it to a performance yet. But as an adult she is a flutist, music teacher, wife, parent, and one of those public school educators that actually changes her students’ lives. Her identity was formed through the unfair suffering of her teen years. And she is a blessing to this world.

I wish as parents we could “kiss suffering and make it go away.” I wish God would just protect our innocents from suffering. But life.

So parents, trust the God who promises with the pain your teen feels. Follow the holy tension and something holy will happen. Like your teen grows into someone who blesses this world.

(photo credit:


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