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My Religion: Teenagers Reflect on What Religion Offers (Or Doesn’t Offer)

Talking Teens and Religion

What do teenagers get out of practicing a religion? We decided to ask. Here are six teens on teen religion.

TEEN 1 | Alexandra Garrow

I wake up in the morning, and I am filled with gratitude toward something greater than myself. I thank God for the life I was given—my family, my friends, my gifts and daily miracles. My religion has taught me that something other than myself has given me many gifts to be grateful for. This has given my life greater value and helped me see the good things.

As I think about how religion plays a role in my life, many things come to mind—school, friends, lifestyle, mindset, practices, traditions. But the words that fit best are community and behaviors.

I go to a school where my friends practice the same religion as I do. We pray to the same God, at designated times, and attend classes that teach us about our religion. Not only can I practice my religion freely, but I can also rely on the fact that my friends understand the difficulty of some of the routines I go through.

On days where my religion restricts me from driving, my friends and I walk to each other’s houses, whether it’s hot and sunny or cold and icy. Since we all follow the same religious guidelines, these restrictions become an accepted part of our daily lives.

If my friends practiced another religion, I would miss out on many events that occur on holidays or other special days. My religion has surrounded me with wonderful companions and a community that has given me a sense of belonging and confidence that I will carry with me throughout my life.

My religion has taught me valuable lessons that affect my daily life. Although at times it may be tedious to follow the rules and practices, I believe religion has shaped my life for the better.

Alexandra Garrow is in 7th grade and is Jewish.

TEEN 2 | Tomas Pinet Jr.

Religion plays a significant role in my life, whether it wakes me up in the morning or gives me the strength to go the extra mile for success. Religion is huge for me. Without it, I wouldn’t have anyone but my parents to thank.

Every morning I wake up and pray, thanking God for the creation of this earth. Religion helps me believe in myself and see the world as a place that needs improvement but is also a place to love and cherish because we are all God’s people.

Religion comforts me, knowing that God will forever be with me. It also reminds me that I have to spread goodness to all. It keeps me out of trouble because most of the teachings in my religion are based on “good works”—that we should make this world a better, safer, more suitable place. It gives me the chance to live in the glory of my beliefs.

Religion plays the role of hope, faith, and forgiveness in my life. It teaches me that whatever I do will impact the world, for better or worse. What I claim matters.

Religion gives me hope for my family and this world to shape up.

Tomas Pinet Jr. , freshman at Rufus King International High School in Milwaukee, is Catholic.

TEEN 3 | Rachel Kornbluth

Religion is like a drop of water. It can change states, be seen differently, and act in different ways. When I think of how religion affects my life, I think of camp, my friends, and, of course, food.

I go to a religious overnight camp. It is only the most amazing, fabulous place on earth. It has the mighty camp experience intertwined with the beauty of my religion. Services are held in a gorgeous area on the lake and many of the activities are built around religious views.

On a regular day at home with my family, religious services are usually tedious and not the most entertaining, but at camp it’s different. I’m surrounded by the serene, perfect simplicity of the woods. I’m surrounded by so many people—including some of my closest friends—who share my religious views. (And I also happen to be surrounded by some very attractive boys who are the same religion as I am.)

My camp friends and I tend to have a lot in common. At home, my friends and I are polar opposites of each other in many ways. Just by glancing at us you will notice that our heights differ significantly (I am on the shorter end). I have dark eyes and brown, curly hair, while my friends have bluish green eyes and light, straight to wavy hair. We also have very different religious views. Our friendship from a religious perspective is like a dog, cat, and mouse becoming best buddies. One of us is extremely devout, and one isn’t really observant at all but celebrates her religion’s most important holidays. I’m more of a moderate. We all enjoy eating around the holiday table. Whether it’s a plump ham on Christmas or a kosher meal of brisket and potatoes on Rosh Hashanah, it seems like all religions love their food!

I love my religion. I don’t follow every single rule and custom, but I enjoy the rich culture and special relationships—and being part of a greater world community.

Rachel Kornbluth is a 9th grader and a proud member of The Temple Tifereth Israel, a Reform Jewish congregation in Cleveland Ohio.

TEEN 4 | Anabelle Harden

Often, we seek a “wrong” or a “right” answer. Our minds are put at ease knowing the reasoning for things; we cloak anything and everything with justification and science before it has a chance to breathe.

There is nothing more frightening to our more-educated-than-ever, quickly advancing human race than ambiguity and being completely in the dark. Generation after generation of scientists, doctors, teachers, lawyers, and artists alike seek new and deeper answers to constantly arising questions.

Where does religion fit into all this? Although there are no easy answers, I still find both comfort and reasoning in religion.

One day, in my art history class, the teacher spoke about profus (the profane) and sacer (the sacred) and how artists strive to depict things from both worlds. He explained how the medium between these two things, the bridge which fills a gap, is inevitably religion. I raised my hand: What if there were no religion? He said that this was not possible, that humankind would create it to explain the unexplainable. I found this especially interesting in that religion, although possibly the most vague and broad topic alive, serves as our reasoning. It serves as a way for us, in the real world, to explain and connect to the dream world.

Religion has given me comfort and safety. When I feel uncomfortable or frightened, or I am doing something especially extraordinary, I turn to religion. For example, when my family and I were snowmobiling in Utah, there was a moment in which we had to tip the nose of the snowmobile over the staggeringly steep side of a snow bowl. Right before we plummeted, I began praying to something, or someone, in hopes that we might be kept safe.

Time after time, in the face of religion, we ask ourselves what is “right” and what is “real.” People will form their own opinions and answers to these questions. In my life, however, they are still unanswered. What I do know is that religion plays into my daily life, both in the form of reasoning—as my “medium”—and as comfort.

Anabelle Harden, a high-schooler who enjoys travel, the outdoors, photography, and music, is Christian.

TEEN 5 | Alexa Jankowsky

I was performing with a school choir at a church. During a quick break, the topic of religion came up. My fellow choir members talked about their faiths. One girl spoke about having one Protestant parent and one Catholic parent. I said that I was not religious. One fellow student asked: “Is it weird for you to be in a church?”

I was surprised by the question. To me the answer was obvious. Of course, it was not weird for me to be in a church.

I have often been asked how it feels not being religious. When I was younger, the question left me somewhat confused. I knew that other kids were religious and I was not, but that was normal to me. Why did my friends seem surprised that not everybody was religious?

I think this is because people don’t know as much about not being religious as people know about being religious. Being religious is the social norm. Religion is the source for cultural identification for many people. Only about 15 percent of U.S. adults identified as not religious, according to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2008. Most of the world’s population is religious; therefore religion plays a role in everyday life for many people.

Growing up without religion has never been an issue for me. Neither of my parents is religious. However, both were open about religion with me, and I was exposed to religion from a young age. I went to a Jewish preschool and, occasionally, to religious celebrations such as weddings and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. On occasion, I went to church for Christmas with my grandparents.

Some may think I feel isolated because of my lack of religion. I don’t. Religion does not make me uncomfortable. Even though I have been introduced to religion, and understand the importance of religion to others, I personally have never felt the need to be religious.

Alexa Jankowsky, a ninth grader, is an atheist.

TEEN 6 | Vincent Baerman

I was born into a religious family. I went to a public school but attended religious school classes to learn about my faith’s teachings until the 8th grade. I got off to a good start, but I never really felt like I knew God. I was following what my religion requires a child like me to do, but it wasn’t leading me anywhere that I could understand. I was under the impression that everything I was doing religiously would allow me to instantly understand my relationship with God, but for me it was actually the opposite. At that time, I was extremely confused about God and felt that I was as distant from him as I could be.

At the start of my high school career, I attended a parochial school where everyone shares the same religion. I participated in a service program, which was interesting because even though it was in the name of religion, it didn’t seem to have anything to do with what I had learned about my religion. Basically, we invited kids from poor local areas after school and helped them with homework, played with them outside, and talked with them about whatever.

As I continued to work with the children, I was able to seek the real meaning of my faith. The different activities we took part in with these kids, who probably had hard lives at home, reflected lessons I’d learned about how to treat other people—caring for the poor, listening to those who are never heard, and spending time with outcasts. I learned how to see the value in every life. We respected and cared for these disadvantaged kids by giving them somewhere safe to go after school, and by spending quality time with them.

Participating in this program gave me an opportunity to see God in other people. In the process, I came to understand the lessons of my faith and to know my God more personally. For me, finding God wasn’t about following every single teaching precisely, but more about finding the path that ultimately led me to Him.

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