Last time, I talked about what I call the First Principle: We are nourishers. This is a first principle for mothers. I said in that post that Part 2 would focus on food, but I hadn’t considered what we need to cover before that: the first principle we need to teach our teens. It’s different with teens when compared to younger children; they have (rightfully so) more freedom and make more of their own decisions. Therefore, they need a principle for themselves.
This principle is one I lifted straight from Charlotte Mason. (Very few of my thoughts are original, but you already knew that.) She uses it in her book School Education in regard to physical culture and exercise. She also applies this principle to all aspects of being human, including thoughts and opinions.
What is this powerful principle?
Ye are not your own.
But if children are brought up from the first with this magnet — ‘Ye are not your own’; the divine Author of your being has given you life, and a body finely adapted for His service; He gives you the work of preserving this body in health, nourishing it in strength, and training it in fitness for whatever special work He may give you to do in His world, — why, young people themselves would readily embrace a more Spartan regimen; they would desire to be available, and physical transgressions and excesses, however innocent they seem, would be self-condemned by the person who felt that he was trifling with a trust.Charlotte Mason, School Education, p. 103
This can be a hard principle for us to swallow because we live in a culture dominated by the idea that there is zero authority over our bodies save self. Our bodies are ours and we can do what we will with them. Who are YOU to tell ME what to do with my body? This sort of statement has been used by the left regarding abortion, yes, but also by those of all walks of life who have stood for freedom and bodily autonomy regarding forced medical procedures and devices like vaccines and masks. It was a statement used here in California for years before the legalization of marijuana.
This statement encapsulates an assumption that is almost universally accepted as true by right, left, and moderate: my body belongs to me.
Charlotte Mason says no, and in doing so she is simply agreeing with Scripture and millennia of Christian tradition.
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.I Corinthians 6:19-20
In immediate context, I Corinthians is talking about sexual immorality, and many try and limit the application to just this, pretending that the Lord has authority over the body in this regard only. But the Lord’s authority is total. That is the definition of the title Lord. Our submission to Him was originally intended (before the Fall) to be total, and growing as a Christian means, among other things, discovering the many ways in which we are not in submission to Him and then repenting.
In fact, if you just go up a bit in Corinthians, food is mentioned:
Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.I Corinthians 6:13
The God of the whole body is the God of its individual parts, including the stomach. Even the stomach is called to glorify God.
Applying the Principle in a Healthy Way
When teens are confronted with the idea that their bodies don’t belong to them, but to the Lord, the applications are multitude. (Just the way they are for the rest of us!)
One caution: this doesn’t need to become a form of legalism. It doesn’t need to become a way to make life a dreary burden for our teens.
After all, God likes to throw a party on occasion.
If the distance is so great for you that you are not able to bring the tithe, since the place where the Lord your God chooses to set His name is too far away from you when the Lord your God blesses you, then you shall exchange it for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place which the Lord your God chooses. You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.Deuteronomy 14:24-26
The sort of festivity described in Deuteronomy is healthy: good food, good drink, and good fellowship. We ought to teach our teens to submit themselves to God in all things, including partaking in or throwing a big party with lots of yummy food and drink.
Festivity, of course, isn’t daily life, and in daily life we must guard against excess. The excesses of the body are many: food, drink, exercise, sleep, etc. (Excess, by the way, can mean both too much or too little.) These are temptations we all face in life.
The guiding question becomes, then, how can I best glorify God with my body in my daily life? In this moment right now?
If it’s Christmas or Thanksgiving, it means eating more than usual and partaking of dessert. If it’s a regular day, it means being generally responsible (which I’ll try to define in future posts).
The point is that our bodies must be under authority. We don’t have the right to abuse our bodies so that we end up sick, moody, tired, and unfit for the service to which God has called us.
How to Teach This Principle
There isn’t a single way, and I’m certainly not going to prescribe one. I mean, that’s the point of a principle, isn’t it? Once you have really grabbed hold of the truth of it, the ways of applying it will come to you as a matter of course if you give yourself some time to think about it.
I can share a little about how I have tried to teach this principle to my own many teenagers. Here is an incomplete but possibly helpful list:
- Charlotte Mason’s book Ourselves. This volume is divided into two books. The first is for the early teen years (13-15 or so), the second for the latter years (16+). I have always appreciated that the earliest chapters (Part 1 chapters 1-5) offer much opportunity to talk about the excesses of the body. What does it look like to be a slave to your appetite for food? A slave to drink? Charlotte Mason gives specific examples in her chapters, but I have found it helpful to read these chapters aloud and make sure we discuss and come up with examples of our own. I was amazed that all four of my children became cautious about gluttony and greed just through reading these chapters and discussing them.
- Conversation. We have to be careful here: I don’t mean preaching at my children when I disapprove of their choices. I mean honest conversations in daily life about these issues. What does it meant to glorify God with our bodies? Talking about these things before they become hot-button issues seems to be key. These conversations can drive home the goal of being fit for service. Can a teenager self-limit junk food or choose to get a reasonable amount of sleep without intervention from Mom? There are a couple important things learned in these sorts of conversations. The first is nuance. Many times, there are competing things going on (parents of children with allergies will know one example of what I mean — we want to go and participate in something but we have to figure out how to make it safe for allergic children). The second is related to the first. Because there is nuance — because there are competing issues — conversation begins to teach them how to reason like adults. They get to see first hand how adults prioritize in order to try to make the best decisions they can.
- Reading books together on health and wellness. Teenagers deserve to know why. Teens have a reputation for assuming their parents are stupid. Sometimes this is just pride and arrogance; other times this is a sign that they don’t know why their parents are doing certain things and it seems senseless to them. Why not help them see the why and own that why for themselves? After all, they will be leaving home sooner than we think. I usually have one health and wellness book going as a read aloud. We’ve read books on nutrition, first aid, exercise, breathing, and coming up is one on sleep. I share articles or things I’ve researched that apply to the various health issues our family has faced.
- Belonging to a good church. Over the years, we have heard sermons that discuss glorifying God with our bodies beyond just the usual striving for chastity. It is helpful for our children to hear truth from adults other than us, isn’t it? Sermons that bring the Scriptures to bear on everyday issues of food and drink — I remember a sermon that covered drug use a few years ago — also come home with us and give us more to discuss in conversation.
The important thing to keep in mind that principles like this aren’t learned in a single day’s neatly-packaged lesson. Teenagers are just like us. We have to learn these principles over and over again, and when we think we have them mastered, we often discover we’re only swimming on the surface and there’s so much more to learn. Important truths are such that we have to keep returning to them over and over again, reminding ourselves of what they mean with each new opportunity for application.
The Proper Care and Feeding of Teenagers Series Navigation
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