Archive for Saturday, February 9, 2002

Lawrence youths find direction, inspiration in religion

February 9, 2002


It's 9 a.m. Sunday. Some teen-agers are still dreaming peacefully in their beds. Others are eating breakfast while watching MTV or playing the newest video game.

Still others are somewhere entirely different. These students are at church, learning about their faith.

For some teens, religion is a key part of their lives. Although they may not participate in a Sunday morning service, many teen-agers have lifestyles that not only involve religious convictions but also revolve around them.

Some teen-agers grow up with religion as a constant factor in their lives. Whether being dragged to church by parents, attending with a sincere interest or just wanting a glass of Kool-Aid and some Teddy Grahams at 10:30 in the morning, many grade school children frequently attend church. Others, however, are not exposed to religion at an early age.

By junior high, students begin to form their own religious beliefs. Some stick with what they have always done, whether that is being involved with a certain religion or remaining unreligious. Others decide to begin searching for something new. This can involve looking at different faiths, selecting a new place of worship or changing their ways entirely.

Free State High School junior Andy Sneegas became involved with his current church while in junior high school.

"(Religion) has been a factor in my life since eighth grade," he said. "Mostly, it's just a check on my decisions to make sure I'm going in the right direction."

While often used as a guide for making decisions, religion also has other important influences on students' lives, including friends, family life and school.

Sarah Garlow, a Free State sophomore, said: "Without (religion), I would be a completely different person. It's the foundation of who I am. I would have a totally different outlook, a different set of friends and a totally different family life without it."

Easier over time

It can be challenging for teens to discuss their faith with others.

"When someone asks, I do not hesitate to talk about religion. I don't try to bring it up myself," Andy said. "Most people see it as overbearing, so I wait for them to show an interest before giving my opinion."

Sarah shared a similar opinion.

"I don't walk up to people and start talking about God, but I have talked with people about religion," she said. "You'd be surprised when and where God can be brought up."

Discussions of faith can get easier over time, she said.

"I don't feel like I can only approach somebody with a cross necklace and a WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) bracelet to talk about God. That's one of the coolest things about religion  once it becomes a part of who you are, talking about it is pretty natural."

Other students, while religious, do not actively participate in a congregation. Some choose not to because they have no time in their hectic schedules. Other teens view religion as a private matter.

Jameelah Lang, a Free State sophomore and a Muslim, does not participate in a specific Islamic community.

"Although there is a local mosque, I don't really participate in the Islamic community. I don't really feel like I benefit much from it at this point," Jameelah said. "It's important to relate to other people with similar spiritual beliefs, but it's hard to become an active member of a religious community when you're in high school."

Lasting influence

For teen-agers who are involved with religion, the experience can have a lifelong influence.

Nathan Askren, a sponsor for the youth group at First Christian Church, decided to stay involved with the group after high school.

"The youth groups that I went through really meant a lot to me," he said. "So when I saw the opportunity to help make that happen for a different group of kids, I gladly started helping out."

Religious groups also can hold a great deal of social value. Sarah Hilliard, a ninth-grader at Central Junior High School, is an active youth group participant.

"Our youth group is great," she said. "We do so many fun things. There is definitely something for everyone."

 Audrey Southard is a sophomore at Free State High School.

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