Reflection is an important part of spiritual health. Without reflection, it is easy to miss how life is impacting one’s Christian journey. While some young people are reflective by nature, the majority live their lives as many adults do – merely reacting to life without much intentionality or reflection.
There is an interesting activity you can do with teens to help them look at their spiritual lives a bit more closely than they normally might. It is also structured so they can realize the impact others in their family may have had on them spiritually. It is an activity commonly used in adult mentoring groups called a spiritual autobiography.
While it may seem a little silly to an adult that a teen has lived long enough to write more than a couple of sentences, the reality is that many teens have experienced more trauma and confusion than some adults have. Because an honest spiritual autobiography may contain some of this deeply personal information, it is important to structure the activity so it is safe for everyone.
Although it makes it easier to mentor teens who share their autobiographies with you, it will be important to them to know they are in control of how much of it is shared and with whom. Often this means they may only share the information with a mentor or a small group of trusted friends. Some teens (especially extroverts) may feel comfortable sharing their story with the entire class. This needs to be handled with care to make sure that someone who shares their relatively “perfect” spiritual autobiography with everyone, doesn’t discourage someone who is struggling from sharing his or her story at all. At times, it may be helpful to share your own story – just be careful to think about the impact it could have (for example making sin seem somehow glamorous).
Writing is often an issue with teens who are tired of writing essays for school. Giving them the option of using bullet points or drawing images can make reluctant writers more willing to participate. You may also need to give them some questions to guide their writing. For example:
- Are any of your parents and grandparents Christians? (Are there more distant relatives who were also Christian?)
- What do you know about their faith stories? (How did they become a Christian, did they stay faithful to God, etc.?)
- How did your relatives influence your view of God, the Bible and/or Christianity?
- What else has influenced your faith journey?
- What are your personal beliefs about God, the Bible and Christianity?
- What shaped those beliefs?
- With what aspects are you still struggling?
- Have you had any positive or negative experiences that changed your spiritual thoughts, attitudes or behaviors?
- Are you a Christian? Why or why not?
- What do you hope your spiritual life will be like 5, 10 or 20 years from now?
- What do you need to do or change in order for that future picture to look like a strong, productive Christian?
After students have completed their autobiographies, provide opportunities for reflecting on what they wrote with parents, mentors and/or you. This guided reflection can really help those who are struggling, while also providing you and other key adults with a better insight into those teens who may reject God in the future without additional teaching and mentoring. Even for teens who are spiritually strong for their age, the exercise can teach them the importance of regularly reflecting on where they have been spiritually and where they may be headed.