Archive for the ‘rituals and traditions’ Category

Happy birthday! You just turned 13! Welcome to… adulthood?

The journey of a pre-teen becoming an official teenager is an adventure much bigger than we tend to acknowledge. It’s eerily similar to the 39-year-old going “over the hill” to his 40’s, except the thirteen-year-old tends to be a little more excited about his birthday…

One of my favorite things as a middle school pastor is when parents contact me wanting me to be involved with some unique thing they are doing for their 12-going-on-13-year-old. I can’t tell you how many letters or encouraging notes I have written to middle school guys who are turning thirteen because of some initiative that parents have taken to make the birthday experience a little more memorable.

In Jewish culture the thirteenth birthday brings with it the Bar- or Bat-Mitzpah. It’s their way of affirming the fact that the person is no longer a child; he or she is now an adult. There isn’t just a cake with a few candles and an all-nighter at Laser Tag. It’s an all-out ceremony and celebration of manhood or womanhood.  (I’ve secretly always wanted to sit in on one of these just to experience it first-hand.)

I’ve often wondered why Christianity doesn’t celebrate its teenagers in the same way. I strongly believe that we can change teenage culture if we took the entrance to adolescence more seriously. By communicating to our students that the next season of life will be different with bigger responsibility and bigger temptation, we can prepare our kids for the journey ahead – not just through practical wisdom and advice, but through deeper relationships with older men and women.

There is a lot of discussion today about something called “extended adolescence.” This is the idea that many people never “graduate” to adulthood and remain stuck in this period of extended adolescence, lacking in wisdom and drive to contribute to society in the way that many expect them to do. It is my belief that extended adolescence happens as a result of a lack of older men and women in teenagers’ lives who take the time to stop and challenge them with the new life they need to embrace. I am not saying that we can’t let kids be kids or have fun; in fact, I think “fun” is an essential piece of learning to be an adult. But I am saying that we need to be more “ritualistic” in the way that we invite students into adulthood.

Let me give you a few examples of what I’m talking about.

Last fall I was invited to be a part of one of our students turning thirteen. His dad invited five older men who had invested in the student’s life to come to their house one night for some food and movie entertainment. The student had always wanted to see the movie Braveheart, but his dad wanted him to wait until he was thirteen, the age of manhood. So on his 13th birthday we all watched Braveheart and enjoyed all of its manliness! After the movie ended, the dad asked each of the men to share some wisdom with the student about being a man and the challenges that will be facing him. It was incredible to watch the student pay close attention to each man’s unique advice and wisdom. To finish the night, the dad gave a gift to his son that signified his new manhood, and we all prayed over him.

Another example I heard about was a dad asked his twelve-year-old son what five older men he looked up to the most within their church. The dad then asked these men if they would spend one day over the summer with his son doing any kind of activity. One man took the student hiking, another watched movies with him, another took him to job-shadow at the police department, and so forth. During these days the dad gave each man some questions he wanted them to answer for his son regarding manhood and what it looked like to be a godly man in the normal routine of everyday life. At the end of the summer they all came together for a birthday barbeque and the student got to share what lessons he learned from each man. The cool thing was the men enjoyed the journey with the student so much that they continue to get together every year for the student’s birthday and instill wisdom in his life.

Are you starting to see the possibilities? As I mentioned before, I get contacted regularly by parents who ask me and a host of other adults to write a letter for their student who is about to turn 13. In fact, ironically while I was writing this blog, I got an e-mail from a dad in the middle school ministry asking me to write such a letter for his son’s birthday in June. How cool is that?! The dad is planning some other awesome activities to do with just him and his son in order to, in his words, “acknowledge the significance of this event for him… and his coming into manhood.” Yes!

What are some creative ideas you’ve had for students turning thirteen? What are some ways you’ve used to help your kids encounter Jesus and enter adulthood?