Spiritual Identity in Adolescents

It’s a puzzle with us trying to find the right fit, size and shape where the pieces will fit to make us whole. So we begin by growing, and developing, and learning and moving, and thinking and tasting, and touching and testing, and hugging and loving! We go through different stages of growth and growing, and learning and maturing and changing and aging and ultimately death.

This writer believes we are searching for our spiritual identity. The NIV Bible says that the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being. Man’s spiritual identity comes from God! Jesus was about twelve years old according to the NIV Bible when he began his quest for spiritual identity. Luke 2:49 reads: “Why were you searching for me? ” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house? ” After a female egg becomes fertilized by a male sperm it becomes a zygote. This living organism is a product of each parent’s chromosomes.

This zygote begins a two week period of rapid cell division which eventually becomes an embryo. Eventually, this embryo will become a living being which was produced and created by its two parents. This child’s physical identity comes from his parents! I use the term parent’s very loosely because I am aware that his identity comes from his bloodline or his genes. I am making a point. By far the most provocative theory of identity development is Erik Erikson’s. It was Erikson who first understood how central questions about identity are to understanding adolescent development.

Erikson’s fifth developmental stage (identity versus identity confusion) says during this time adolescents (between the ages of eleven to young adult hood) are faced with who they are, what they are all about and where they are going. Erikson framed the best of maturity in the ego identity of what he called the moral-ethical, spiritual human. This human is one with a horizontal, earthly identity and a vertical, transcendent identity, meaning an identity both religious and spiritual that embraces non-physical manifestation.

As adolescents search for their spiritual identity researchers have found that various aspects of religion are linked to positive outcomes in adolescents. Religion has been proven to play a role in adolescent’s health and whether or not they engage in problem behaviors (Cotton & others, 2006). For example, in a recent national random sample of 2000 11-18 year olds, those who were higher in religiosity were less likely to smoke, drink alcohol, use marijuana, not be truant in school, not engage in delinquent behavior and not be depressed as compared to their counterparts with lower religiosity (Sinha, Cnaan, & Gelles, 2006).

The initiator of the Baha”i movement, Baha””u “llah in 1863 believed that there were seven mystical stages to human development and he believed as does most Muslims today that human development is closely linked to religious development. He referred to those stages as “The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys”. They are: * The Valley of Search * The Valley of Love * The Valley of Knowledge * The Valley of Unity * The Valley of Contentment * The Valley of Wonderment * The Valley of the True Poverty and Absolute Nothingness He believed that one has not truly developed unless he has entered in or experienced each of hese stages. During my years of adolescence I was considered somewhat of a spoiled child. My mother sent me to a modeling school to become a trained runway model. By the time I was 13 I have performed in more than 100 different fashion shows in and around Michigan, Illinois and New York. Needless to say my environment consisted of my peers being much older than myself. I was constantly traveling and partying and dating older men. When I would return home I would become angry with my mother because she forced me to attend church. Church was always the center of our home.

My mother was the secretary at our church for over forty years so we were always there. It seemed as if we were preparing our clothes for church 7 days in advance. So I ravished the opportunity to be out of town or on a modeling assignment on Sundays. When were taught to pray daily, morning, noon and night. My mother always told us the story of Daniel in the bible who prayed three times a day every day. And that is what she expected of us. I was a typical teenager who thought it was a waste of time. By the time I was 16 years old I became pregnant. My worst nightmare had come true.

I remember my mother telling us that we should always pray. I began to pray daily asking God to show me how to tell my mother that I had ruined my life. I can almost remember the calm that would come over me whenever I was in prayer. Soon I realized that if God could listen to me and love me and allow that peace to come over me that there really was a God, an everlasting father and a true friend. I got the courage to talk to my mother and tell her how sorry I was and confess to God about the things that I had done knowing that they were not His will.

This was the beginning of my transformation. My search had just begun. This began to give me answers to all of my seeking and questioning of myself, my world, my purpose. This bought purpose and stability into my life. Today I can say that I am a Minister of the Gospel and I do not believe I would be where I am not had not I gone through the experience of searching, seeking and finding during my adolescent and young adult years. This is just my story, no theory, just the facts. As man seeks and searches for his spiritual identity his mortality also surfaces.

The NIV Bible allows us a peek into ourselves in I Corinthians 13:12, for now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully. As we are seeking to understand adolescent behavior we must remember that they are seeking and searching for who they are and whose they are. During this search they shall encounter experiences that they may not understand, they may even become people that you don’t understand, but with patience, love, guidance, education and prayer you can help them become the person they are looking for and want to become.

Sometimes we as parents forget that our children not only need to be educated in the ways of the world and how to become successful healthy, productive adults but they also need to be taught about their spirit man. That part of them they cannot see but they can project in their life style. The part of them that no one else can even know or understand. The loving giving life that was breathed into them by the lover of their soul. The concept of a higher being. The ability to know and to understand that they have to answer to someone greater than themselves. The knowledge of understanding that life does not just revolve around them.

This seeking and searching has a beginning but should never have an end. James Fowler believed that one had to go through 6 stages of Faith in order to find their own spiritual identity. | Stage| Description| Simplified version by M. Scott Peck| Stage 1| Intuitive-Projective| This is the stage of preschool children in which fantasy and reality often get mixed together. However, during this stage, our most basic ideas about God are usually picked up from our parents and/or society. | I. Chaotic-Antisocial| People stuck at this stage are usually self-centered and often find themselves in trouble due to their unprincipled living.

If they do end up converting to the next stage, it often occurs in a very dramatic way. | Stage 2| Mythic-Literal| When children become school-age, they start understanding the world in more logical ways. They generally accept the stories told to them by their faith community but tend to understand them in very literal ways. [A few people remain in this stage through adulthood. ]| | | Stage 3| Synthetic-Conventional| Most people move on to this stage as teenagers. At this point, their life has grown to include several different social circles and there is a need to pull it all together.

When this happens, a person usually adopts some sort of all-encompassing belief system. However, at this stage, people tend to have a hard time seeing outside their box and don’t recognize that they are “inside” a belief system. At this stage, authority is usually placed in individuals or groups that represent one’s beliefs. [This is the stage in which many people remain. ]| II. Formal-Institutional| At this stage people rely on some sort of institution (such as a church) to give them stability. They become attached to the forms of their religion and get extremely upset when these are called into question. Stage 4| Individuative-Reflective| This is the tough stage, often begun in young adulthood, when people start seeing outside the box and realizing that there are other “boxes”. They begin to critically examine their beliefs on their own and often become disillusioned with their former faith. Ironically, the Stage 3 people usually think that Stage 4 people have become “backsliders” when in reality they have actually moved forward. | III. Skeptic-Individual| Those who break out of the previous stage usually do so when they start seriously questioning things on their own.

A lot of the time, this stage ends up being very non-religious and some people stay in it permanently| Stage 5| Conjunctive Faith| It is rare for people to reach this stage before mid-life. This is the point when people begin to realize the limits of logic and start to accept the paradoxes in life. They begin to see life as a mystery and often return to sacred stories and symbols but this time without being stuck in a theological box. | IV. Mystical-Communal| People who reach this stage start to realize that there is truth to be found in both the previous two stages and that life can be paradoxical and full of mystery.