Recently, I read about a woman, upset about her teenage daughter's preoccupation with boys. Trying to combat this preoccupation the women tells her daughter she doesn't need a man in her life, she just needs Jesus. Surely there is some truth in that statement. My feminist side certainly echos the "she doesn't need a man" part. Primarily, however, this comment irritated me. Undoubtedly this is a reflection of my own biases but as I contemplated further I realized there is something else that bothers me here: it is not true. Jesus is not this girl's boyfriend. Jesus is not a replacement for relationships with other human beings. Jesus did not come to earth and die so that we wouldn't need each other anymore. We are human beings. We need each other. When we try to make Jesus sound like a replacement for human relationships, we make the gospel sound false. Teenagers have a very active baloney detector. They know that Jesus is not the answer to raging hormones, social acceptance, and human intimacy. Surely faith can be of help instilling a sense of identity, self-worth and meaning so that one is better equipped to handle the realities of life and the human drive to procreate. Still, Jesus is not anyone's boyfriend. The work of the gospel is to name the reality and then deliver the Good News. When we skip the naming of reality or treat Jesus like a magic fix it all, the gospel rings false.
This is where Ash Wednesday comes in. On Ash Wednesday we hear the words, "You are dust and to dust you shall return." By this we are reminded of our mortality. We take time to stop and name the reality of death in this world and the pain and grief that surrounds us. Jesus did not die for us so that we would not die. We will all die. Jesus died and then rose again so that we too might die and rise to new life. This is the gospel, fully steeped in the realities of what it means to be human.
I was fortunate to have someone talk to me about reality in my younger years. I heard about the reality that society tends to make women feel like they need a man for validation. I learned why it was important to be a strong, independent woman. I was taught about my value as a person and if someone didn't want me then clearly that relationship was not meant to be. I learned that relationships are challenging and will be nearly impossible if both parties don't come into the relationship with a sense of who they are and feelings of self-worth. It is within this reality that the gospel is given to us: the Good News that we have been claimed by God, forgiven, and given eternal life. Indeed this is a powerful sense of identity and self worth. But, Jesus still isn't my boyfriend.
Incidentally I also had other doses of reality to help me through my teen years. Reality like an early and strict curfew. Funny how that seemed so stupid then and seems so brilliant now that I am a parent. In fact I don't think my curfew was early enough. I think my girls will have a 3:30 p.m. curfew. Just kidding, that would be ridiculous. They need some time to get home from school. 4:00 it is. See teenagers? Parents can be reasonable after all.