Let’s do a quick word association test. What is the first thing that comes into your mind when you see or hear the word teenager? Sadly, for many, the first words that come to mind are entirely negative. The word teenager brings to their mind other words such as lazy, apathetic, irresponsible, rude, know-it-all, and so on. Most people today have very low expectations for teenagers in general, and too many have low expectations for their own teenagers in particular. Teenagers themselves recognize these low expectations, and many live down to them — sleeping in and sliding by. Not all teenagers, however, are so complacent.
Alex and Brett Harris are twin brothers who grew up in the Pacific Northwest. They have a challenge for teenagers and have put it in a book titled Do Hard Things, a book written by teenagers for teenagers. The subtitle of the book sums up the challenge: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations. The ideas behind this book first began to take shape on the Harris brothers’ popular Christian blog The Rebelution (a combination of the words “rebellion” and “revolution” intended to communicate the idea of rebelling against rebellion). In short, Alex and Brett want teenagers to see these years of their life not as a vacation from responsibility but as the training ground for their future.
In Part One, Alex and Brett encourage teenagers to rethink their understanding of this part of their life. They first describe the experiences that caused them to begin thinking about these issues and ultimately led to the Rebelution blog. They also include a helpful chapter entitled “The Myth of Adolescence,” showing that the concept (of adolescence) itself is a recent invention and that the spread of this idea into the wider culture has had some very negative consequences. In the next chapter they propose “A Better Way” of thinking about the teen years and summarize the five kinds of “hard things” that are the subject of the chapters in Part Two of the book.
The first kind of “hard thing” teenagers are challenged to do involves those things that take them out of their comfort zones — new things. The Harris brothers use numerous examples of real young men and women who have stepped out into unfamiliar waters and succeeded, sometimes after several attempts. The second type of “hard thing” involves doing things that go beyond what is expected or required. The challenge here is to get past complacency and strive for excellence in all things. Doing things that are too big to do alone is the focus of the next chapter. Here the Harris brothers challenge their fellow teenagers to collaborate with others in order to achieve the truly extraordinary.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are those things that are “hard” simply because they do not seem to make much of an immediate impact. Doing the dishes and keeping one’s room clean seem so insignificant compared to launching a website or writing a book, but as the Harris brothers demonstrate, faithfully doing the small “hard things” have important long-term effects on a person’s character.
The fifth kind of “hard thing” involves taking a stand even when it is unpopular. The problem of peer pressure is a problem for all people, not only teenagers, but it is a particularly difficult problem during these years. The Harris brothers offer teenagers helpful encouragement to persevere.
The final chapters of the book encourage teens to put what they have read into practice and offer a number of examples of teenagers who have done just that. The book concludes with an explanation of the gospel, explaining that no one is saved by doing hard things but by faith alone in Christ alone.
Do Hard Things is the kind of book many adults will wish they themselves had read as a teenager. However, even though the book’s primary audience is teenagers, much of what is written therein remains relevant for adults as well. All of us, young and old alike, should strive for excellence and faithfulness in all that we do.
It is very encouraging to read a book by two young men who have realized that these years of their lives should not be defined by the culture around them, but by the Word of God. It is even more encouraging to discover that they are not alone and that many other young men and women are rejecting what the world says they should be doing with these years and striving for much greater things.
If you know a teenager, or have a child or grandchild who is a teenager, give them this book as a gift.
Dr. Keith A. Mathison is an associate editor of Tabletalk magazine, academic dean of the Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies, and author of the book The Shape of Sola Scriptura.
The vast number of books published each year makes it difficult for readers to separate the wheat from the chaff. Dr. Keith A. Mathison helps us sort out the good books from the bad each month in his book review column Tolle Lege.