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Understanding the Young Person

“The river of our life is interrupted by the turbulent period of youth.”

[Part 6 of a series from Raising them Right, a sub-book extracted from The Path to Salvation by St. Theophan the Recluse]

Chapter 6
Understanding the Young Person

The river of our life is interrupted by the turbulent period of youth. This is the time when the life of the body and spirit is boiling at full steam.

  • It is only the youth that is boiling with life.
  • One must have a very strong foundation so as to stand firm at this time against the shock-waves of youth.
  • The very disorderliness and impulsiveness of the movements of this age are dangerous.
  • What was before becomes for him a dream, a prejudice.  Only his present feelings seem true; only they seem to have actuality and significance.
  • For the Christian youth, the new impulses being secondary will be weaker.
  • A youth absolutely wants to keep his word – hence the prior Christian vows are still valuable to him.
  • What about the youth that has never even been introduced to a Christian upbringing?
    • He is a house without protection, given over to robbery, or a dry branch given over to burning in a fire.
    • When the arbitrariness of youthful ideas throw a shadow of doubt on everything, when arousal of the passions are causing a mighty disturbance in him, when the whole soul is filled with tempting thoughts and movements – the young person is in fire.
  • A youth lives in his own world and who will investigate all the movements and inclinations of his heart?

“The state in which we emerge out of the years of youth depends a great deal upon the state in which we enter into them.”

There are [three] kinds of people

  1. Some shine with virtue and nobility.
  2. Others are darkened by impiety and a corrupt life.
  3. A third, a middle class, a mixture of good with evil which is something like a firebrand that inclines now towards good and now towards evil, or like a broken clock that sometimes runs well but sometimes runs fast or slow.

…even a good upbringing will not always save a person

  • Without a firm vow to be a Christian early in life, one may not fall into crude vices, but may still be pulled away from Christ and the life of the Church by things in the world and he leaves his years of youth in a state of coldness without reaching harbor anywhere.
  • Two tendencies or hallmarks of youth:
    • The thirst for impressions
    • Inclination to enter into contact with others
  • These tendencies need rules to be used for good instead of evil.

Thirst for impressions

  • Tests everything, wants to see everything, hear everything, be everywhere.
  • Shows most interest in the new, picturesque, finding books with an “effect”.
  • Falls into day-dreams, light reading, fantasy, enjoyments…which are offspring of a thirst for impressions.
  • There is no better way to starve the good seeds which have been placed before in the heart of a youth than by these means.

“If one stands for a long time in the wind, especially a damp wind, and then comes to a quiet place out of the wind, he feels that everything within him is not quite in its place; the same thing happens in the soul that has been amusing itself, in whatever way.  When he returns to himself from his state of distraction, the youth finds that everything in his soul has become distorted.”
– St. Theophan

  • Everything good has been covered by a veil of forgetfulness.
  • To preserve purity and innocence of childhood, refrain (with as much strength as you have) from amusements, disorderly reading, tempting books and day-dreams.
  • Youths should be under the guidance of others.
  •  Those youths who are not allowed to arrange their own conduct until they reach the age of adulthood, one can call happy.  And every youth should rejoice if placed in such circumstances.
  • Avoid amusements, by love of labor.
  • Avoid day-dreaming by serious occupations under guidance.
  • Reading especially should be subject to guidance – choice of books and method of reading.
  • Passions, doubts, inclinations all are kindled in precisely this unsteady ferment in the mind of a youth.

An inclination towards contact with others

  • Need for companionship, friendship and love – all of these if they are in true order are good: but it is not the youth himself who should place them in this order.
  • Lively feelings and manifold interests abound, but feelings do not like to be hidden within themselves, and the youth wishes to share them.
  • He has need of a person who might share his feelings, that is, a friend and companion.  This is good and noble, but it can also be dangerous!  To the one whom you entrust your feelings you give a certain authority over yourself.
  • How careful one must be in the choice of a close friend!
  • Every young person is rightly advised to be careful in the choice of a friend.
  • It is good not to conclude friendship until the friend has been tested.
  • A good first friend might be one’s father or spiritual father where it is safe to converse, entrust secrets, ponder what he says and learn.
  • Under one’s father’s guidance, with prayer, God will send other friends if it is necessary.
  • More danger is found in companionship than in friendship.  Rarely do we see real friends, but more often just acquaintances and “friends” in the loose sense.  And here how much evil is possible, and how much there really is!
  • There are certain circles of “friends” with very bad ways of life.
  • Being drawn in with them you do not notice how you become united with them in spirit, just as you do not notice, when you are in a foul smelling place, how foul you yourself smell.
  • People often lose awareness of the indecency of their own conduct and they quite calmly become crude in it.
  • If they do become awakened to their crudeness, they lack the strength to leave the circle of “friends” – out of fear of persecution and sarcasm from peers.
  • Evil company corrupts good habits. (1 Corinthians 15:33)
  • For someone who has decided to labor for the Lord, his only companionship is with those who are pious, who are seeking the Lord.
  • One should avoid others in all sincerity and have no close contact with them, following the example of the saints of God.

Understanding Sexual Attraction

  • The very pinnacle of danger for a youth is contact with the other sex.
  • A need for what is beautiful arises in temptation and compels the awakened youth to seek satisfaction for it.
  • Meanwhile an “ideal”, not earthly, of beautiful forms in the mind of the youth which leads him to meet with one of the opposite sex and is wounded.
  • A youth should flee this wounding more than any other because it is a sickness, and a sickness that is all the more dangerous in that the patient wants to be sick all the way to madness.

How to avoid this wounding?

  • Be wary of the special feeling of loneliness.
  • Avoid pity, tenderness and attention to oneself.
  • Resist any temptation to become pleased with oneself.
  • Be careful with the conviction that one must be pleasing to others. Specifically:
    • He begins to wander or to seek companions, yet without a definite aim, but in accordance with a secret inclination in his heart.
    • He tries to show how smart, attractive, pleasant he is – to be liked by others.
    • He gives free reign to the primary organ of contact with other souls – the eyes.
  • He finds something to ignite his disease:
    • In such a state, a youth is like gun powder placed next to spark.
    • By glance of eyes or a voice that is pleasant, he is struck by an arrow or wounded by a shot…his attention and heart are directed to a certain object and are drawn to it with an unconquerable power.
    • From this time, his heart begins to be eaten by languor (pleasant tiredness or fatigue).
    • He is afflicted with a fierce illness which gnaws at his heart, hinders his breathing, dries up the very fountains of life.
    • Defend against this wounding – banish the signs that precede it – the vague sadness and the feeling of loneliness.
    • If you become sad, do something serious with your attention and it will pass.
    • If self pity or self-pride are aroused, hasten to sober yourself up with strictness, discipline, making clear a sound idea of the insignificance of whatever brings these thoughts to mind.
    • Belittlement or humbling of self in this case would be like water poured on fire.
    • If you stop the movement here, it will go no further.
    • Practice strict discipline in everything:
      • in bodily labor
      • even more in labor of the mind
      • increase studies
      • sit at home
      • do not give yourself over to amusements
      • if you must go out, guard your senses, avoid the other sex and – the chief thing – pray
  • Two other attributes related to this wounding:
    • An outlook that exalts to the heavens rational knowledge or one’s own understanding.
      • A youth considers it a privilege to place a shade of doubt upon everything, and to set aside everything which does not correspond with the measuring stick of his own understanding.
    • A worldly outlook:
      • Marked by a life according to the impressions  of one’s sense.
      • The person is almost always living outside himself.
      • The world with all its corrupt concepts and customs is pounded into the receptive soul of a youth who has been warned ahead of time and has not been prepared to stand against it.

“Here are the dangers for youth from being young!  And how difficult it is to resist! But for one who has been raised up well and has decided to dedicate himself to God before the years of youth, this age is not so dangerous.  He needs only to endure a little, and then there will come the most pure and blessed repose. Only keep the vow of pure Christian life during this time also, and afterwards you will live with a certain holy, unshakable firmness.”
– St. Theophan

  • Whoever has gone without danger through the years of youth has, as it were, sailed across a stormy river and, looking back, he blesses God.
  • But someone else with tears in his eyes, turns back in regret and curses himself.

You will never recover what you have lost in your youth. Will one who has fallen ever again attain what is possessed by one who has not fallen?

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