Last week my mom texted me dozens of pictures of the many styles I tried in high school. I mean, she flooded my phone with a seemingly impossible barrage of photos. It turns out, I tried somewhere close to every look possible in my search to “find myself” in my younger days. Did I have a flower child phase in 1998? Maybe. Did I try to bring back the magical sock hop style of the 1950s forty years after it died? Of course. Did I succeed? Absolutely. Am I lying about that? Yes, I am. My 1950s look was especially embarrassing. If you need to see the photos for yourself, I posted them here on Instagram, because I believe in living in the light.
Anyway, seeing the photos reminded me that I’m still prone to believe the same lies I believed when I was a teenager. I still tend to search for the same things. My pursuits might look a little different now, but my misplaced hopes are often pretty much the same.
I’m going to invite you to walk back into the uncomfortable memories of your own adolescence, so you can empathize as you encourage the teenagers in your life. I hope we can help this younger generation to cling to the truth in a world that’s lying to them.
Lie #1: Being Pretty Will Make Me Happy
I went to school with a girl whose mom was a professional hair stylist. Kate’s everyday hair was just ridiculous. My hair has never in my life looked as good as the way her hair looked after PE. Not even on my wedding day. Actually, especially on my wedding day. I asked for loose curls, and they gave me a fifties-style bouffant (maybe I was born in the wrong decade) underneath dozens of thick layers of hairspray. It’s fine.
Anyway, I thought it was really unfair/borderline cruel having to spend eight hours a day with that kind of competition. I cannot even imagine what it would have been like had Instagram existed back then — if I were able to follow Kate’s hair for twenty-four hours a day. That’s what teenage girls are dealing with today. And they’re not just comparing their pretty to Kate’s pretty. They’re scrolling through photos and boomerangs and video clips of every filtered supermodel and every classmate at every hour of the day.
The beauty thing is hard. I still want to be pretty. I have female relatives in their eighties who still talk about their diets and lipstick and outfits. It’s an every-girl, every-age issue. We want to be pretty because we think if we’re pretty, we’ll be happy.
But, what does God’s Word say about outward beauty?
“Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the LORD will be praised.” – Proverbs 31:30
“Don’t let your beauty consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles and wearing gold jewelry and fine clothes, but rather what is inside the heart — the imperishable quality of a gentle and spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” – 1 Peter 3:3-4
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of the bones of the dead and every kind of impurity.” – Matthew 23:27
When we look to God’s Word, we see that focusing on our appearances, worshipping our own images, leads us to become just like the Pharisees. Name-brand on the outside, dead on the inside. Pretty doesn’t do what we think it will.
I want better for my daughters. They want to wear make-up? Great! I like make-up too. But, I don’t want my daughters chasing outward beauty the way I did and finding themselves empty and hopeless inside like I was. I want to help them live with hope in their hearts and supernatural love overflowing in their actions. I want them to experience and then share the kind of love that makes a person beautiful on the outside because they are so content in Jesus on the inside.
Lie #2: Being Accepted Will Make Me Happy
Teenagers may be inexperienced, but they’re smart. If you’re telling them not to get caught up in the popularity game, but you calculate your purchases and playdates in an effort to be accepted by a certain group of people in your life, they can see it. You’re believing the same lie that you’re telling your teen to fight against. This particular lie is really tricky because we were designed for relationships.
Friendships and marriages are gifts from the Lord, meant to be pictures of gospel love. We all want to be known and loved.
In his book The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller writes, “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”
We can help our teenagers chase gospel-centered relationships by encouraging involvement in the local church, and once again, by modeling it ourselves. As hard as it is, our teenagers need to see us loving the unlovable (Luke 6), forgiving those who’ve wronged us (Ephesians 4:31-32), loving our enemies (Matthew 5:44). Teenagers need to see it in us, and they need to see the joy and peace it brings.
Lie #3: Being Impressive Will Make Me Happy
I don’t know if you’re into the Enneagram, but I’m certain your teenager is. I bring this up to tell you that my Enneagram number is three, which is labeled “The Achiever.” It is very hard for me to combat the lie that being accomplished will make me happy.
But, like every other self-centered pursuit, the glory of an A+ or a met goal is never enough. Whatever goal we set and meet is only a fleeting thrill. Fleeting because anything we do in an effort to bring ourselves glory is an effort to do the opposite of what we were created for.
We were made to make much of Jesus. There aren’t enough accolades in the world to fill up what He can in our hearts.
Truth: Jesus Will Make Me Happy
I grieve the years I wasted as a teenager and young adult, buying into these lies that led to heartbreak. Beauty-obsession led to eating disorders that nearly killed me. Obsession with being loved and admired left me feeling lonely and flimsy and fake. I learned through experience with Jesus that the living water He offers is the only kind that satisfies.
I want so badly to push His hope into younger hearts. It really does lead to contentment, joy, and true beauty. Let’s live this out in our homes. Let’s link arms with our daughters and younger friends and fight the lies with truth together. Let’s live knowing there are a deeper beauty and an everlasting love available to every woman and every girl and every man at every age.
Want to see more from Scarlet? Check out her other LifeWay Voices posts: