Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Straighten Out My Life?
“I JUST couldn’t go inside,” said John. He found himself standing outside a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. As a teenager he had left Christianity and pursued a life of crime, drugs, and sexual immorality. After years of living that way, he still could not put the Bible out of his mind, so he went to a Kingdom Hall—but was too frightened to enter. “You don’t understand,” he said to someone who encouraged him to go inside. “I’ve just done too much. I don’t feel that there is any way that Jehovah is ever going to forgive me for what I’ve done.”
Countless youths rebel against their parents’ rules, religion, and morals. It is particularly shocking and tragic when youths raised by God-fearing parents do this. Although more than a few have gone that route, in time, some begin to feel a nagging sense of emptiness that even a riotous life-style cannot mask. (Proverbs 14:13) Some youths, having been burned by this wicked world, want to straighten out their lives and return to the Bible truths they learned as children. But is it really possible for them to do so?
A Rebellious Son Leaves Home
Jesus’ parable of the prodigal, or wasteful, son found at Luke 15:11-32 yields much insight into this matter. The account reads: “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the part of the property that falls to my share.’ Then he divided his means of living to them. Later, after not many days, the younger son gathered all things together and traveled abroad into a distant country.”
Surely this youth did not rebel because his father was harsh, abusive, or overly strict! According to the Mosaic Law, a son was entitled to a substantial share of his father’s property, though normally not until his father’s death. (Deuteronomy 21:15-17) How callous it was for him to demand his share in advance! Yet, the father lovingly acquiesced. (Compare Genesis 25:5, 6.) Clearly, then, the young man’s attitude—not his father’s—was faulty. As scholar Alfred Edersheim put it, possibly he disliked “the order and discipline of his home” and had a selfish “desire for liberty and enjoyment.”
As a previous article in this series acknowledged, not all parents are kind and thoughtful.* When a parent is harsh or unreasonable, however, rebellion is hardly the answer; ultimately it is self-destructive. Consider, again, Jesus’ parable. After traveling far away from home, the young man “squandered his property by living a debauched life. When he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred throughout that country, and he started to be in need.” Even this did not bring him to his senses. Still self-confident, he “went and attached himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to herd swine. And he used to desire to be filled with the carob pods which the swine were eating, and no one would give him anything.”
Says Bible scholar Herbert Lockyer: “The Jews listening to Jesus must have shuddered at these words, ‘to feed swine,’ for to a Jew, there could not be a greater depth of debasement.” Likewise today, those abandoning Bible truths often find themselves in difficult, or even humiliating, circumstances. One Christian girl who ran away from home confesses: “All my money went for drugs, and I had no money for anything else. So I began shoplifting any and everything to support my habits.”
“He Came to His Senses”
How, though, did the prodigal son react to his own dire circumstances? Jesus said that he finally “came to his senses.” The original Greek words mean “having come into himself.” In other words, he had been “beside himself” in an insane fantasy world, blinded as to how desperate his situation really was.—Compare 2 Timothy 2:24-26.
Some rebellious youths today have likewise been shocked into reality. Reaping the grim aftermath of fast living—jail, serious injury, sexually transmitted disease—can be a sobering experience indeed. The words of Proverbs 1:32 finally hit home: “The renegading of the inexperienced ones is what will kill them.”
Consider young Elizabeth, who left her parents and got involved with drugs. “I forgot about Jehovah,” she says. However, while visiting New York, she passed the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The effect? “Pain ran through my mind and heart,” she recalls. “What had I done? How did I let my life snowball into such a disaster?”
When the prodigal son finally faced the truth, he made a courageous decision—to go home and straighten out his life! But how would his father react after having been hurt and betrayed by his son? The account answers: “While he was yet a long way off, his father caught sight of him and was moved with pity, and he ran and fell upon his neck and tenderly kissed him.” Yes, before the youth could make his carefully rehearsed confession, his father took the initiative to express love and forgiveness!
Setting Matters Straight With God
Even so, the prodigal son said to his father: “I have sinned against heaven and against you.” The lesson? Youths who have strayed from God’s ways cannot straighten out their lives until they “set matters straight” with God himself! (Isaiah 1:18) We can be thankful that Jehovah makes such reconciliation possible. Indeed, the father in Jesus’ parable is a symbol of Jehovah God. And God demonstrates the same forgiving attitude by saying to repentant sinners: “Return to me, and I will return to you.” (Malachi 3:7; compare Psalm 103:13, 14.) But like the erring Jews in Bible times, such ones must resolve: “Do let us search out our ways and explore them, and do let us return clear to Jehovah.”—Lamentations 3:40.
This means taking a hard look at one’s sinful course of conduct. When an erring youth does this, he should be moved to confess his sins before Jehovah God. Said the psalmist: “When I kept silent my bones wore out through my groaning all day long. . . . My sin I finally confessed to you, and my error I did not cover. . . . And you yourself pardoned the error of my sins.”—Psalm 32:3-5.
What if a youth has got involved in very serious wrongs—perhaps abortion, promiscuity, drug abuse, or criminal activity? Understandably, such a one may feel unworthy of forgiveness. John, mentioned at the outset, felt that way. That is why he stood immobilized outside the Kingdom Hall until a kindly congregation elder reminded him that King Manasseh of ancient Israel had also been guilty of serious sins—including murder! Yet, Jehovah forgave him. (2 Chronicles 33:1-13) “That elder saved my life,” says John. Knowing that forgiveness was possible, John found the courage to enter the Kingdom Hall and ask for help.*
Most youths in such a predicament likewise need help in setting things right with God, and the local congregation elders can do much good in this regard. They can listen with empathy and understanding as a youth ‘openly confesses his sins.’ They can also render discipline and practical help. For example, they may arrange for the youth to have someone ‘teach him from the beginning the elementary things’ of God’s Word by means of a home Bible study. And if the erring one has difficulty praying, an elder can do so in his or her behalf. “The prayer of faith will make the indisposed one well,” the Bible assures us.—James 5:14-16; Hebrews 5:12.
Make Straight Paths for Your Feet
Of course, setting things straight with God is only a beginning. Just as the prodigal son apologized to his father, erring youths should try to make amends with their parents. A sincere apology can go a long way in easing some of the pain they have suffered and in securing their support. One young runaway who returned home with an illegitimate baby recalls: “Mom and Dad showed a tremendous amount of love to me.”
A youth who wants to please God needs to ‘keep making straight paths for his feet.’ (Hebrews 12:13) This may mean his changing his life-style, habits, and associates. (Psalm 25:9; Proverbs 9:6) Establishing a routine of personal study is also important. One formerly rebellious girl says: “I read the Bible every day and read all the Bible-based material published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. I thank God for giving me a second chance.”
John sums matters up well, saying: “I look back at the time I wasted. I think about the way things could have been, but there’s no way I can undo what’s happened.” Happily, we worship a merciful God who warmly invites those who have left him to return. Why not accept his invitation?
See “Young People Ask . . . Why Should I Obey My Parents?” in our December 22, 1994, issue.
If you were not raised as a Christian but still see the need to change your way of life, a visit to a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses is a good start. Ask for a free home Bible study. In this way you can have personal assistance in straightening out your life.
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Mature Christians can help you straighten out your life