by Alex & Brett Harris
While reading the current discussion about issues amongst our church youth I was delighted to have this book fall into my hands: Do Hard Things, by Alex and Brett Harris. It is a thought-provoking book written by nineteen-year-old twins that challenges teenagers to rebel against the low expectations placed on them, not the least of which are low spiritual expectations. Much of this review is simply text taken directly from the book which summarises the main thoughts.
The word teenager is so common today that most people don’t even think about it - and if they do, it’s usually not positive. But would it surprise you to find out that at one time teenagers didn’t even exist?
The first documented use of the word teenager was a Reader’s Digest issue in 1941. Prior to the early twentieth century and, really, throughout history, people were either children or adults, and teens were given increasing levels of responsibility at early ages. Read the book to learn about a twelve year old sea captain who took charge of a ship captured in war and sailed it safely back home, all the while maintaining discipline amongst the crew and prisoners of war.
The question is: what changed? Why is it that young men and women of the past were able to do things (and do them well) at fifteen or sixteen that many of today’s 25-30 year olds can’t do?
Living in the “century of the teenager”, entire industries - movie, music, fashion, fast food - and countless online services revolve around the consumer habits of teens. With all this money and attention focused on teens, the teen years are viewed as some sort of vacation. Society doesn’t expect much of anything from young people during their teen years - except trouble. And it certainly doesn’t expect competence, maturity, or productivity. The saddest part is that, as the culture around them has come to expect less and less, young people have dropped to meet those lower expectations.
Where expectations are high, we tend to rise to meet them. Where expectations are low, we tend to drop to meet them. So whose expectations are we living by? The Bible says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2). When we let cultural expectations become our standard, we allow ourselves to be squeezed into a mold, with little room for Christ-like character or competence.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:11 “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” Notice he didn’t say: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But then I became a teenager and I looked like an adult, I sounded like an adult, but I still acted like a child”. No! He said, “I became a man, and I gave up childish ways.”
Of course, sometimes we like being able to do things we know we shouldn’t do - or getting away with less than our best. We excuse our choices because that’s what teens are supposed to do or by thinking, Well, I’m not as bad as some people I know. We go with the crowd. We do what comes easily: we certainly don’t do hard things. That’s as true for teens as it is for older adults.
The consequence? We waste some of the best years of our lives and never reach our full God-given potential. We never attempt things that would stretch, grow, and strengthen us.
So what are hard things? The authors have given defined them in five ways:
1. Things that are outside your comfort zone - they can challenge you because they are unfamiliar or even scary, but they always end up growing your comfort zones for the future.
2. Things that go beyond what is expected or required. You aren’t content to “do no harm: - you purpose to do good. These actions are hard because they rest entirely on your own initiative.
3. Things that are too big to accomplish alone.
4. Things that don’t earn an immediate payoff. These are tasks like fighting sin, doing your homework, obeying your parents, being faithful in your spiritual disciplines, driving the speed limit (even when you’re late). Hard because you won’t see much progress from one day to the next, and they don’t win you recognition or praise.
5. Things that challenge the cultural norm, taking a stand for what is right (dressing modestly, saying no to premarital sex, sharing the gospel with others, living as an obvious Christian). Hard because these choices could cost you popularity or friendship.
The principles outlined in the book are continually illustrated by real life examples of teens doing hard things and achieving tremendous results. Each time the authors clearly show that the strength to achieve these things comes from God, and the glory of their achievements is God’s. Biblical texts continually back up the principles outlined in the book. The authors also lead by example, having been the youngest interns in the history of the Alabama Supreme Court at the age of sixteen, and leading an election campaign at the age of seventeen.
Their principle: “The teen years are not a vacation from responsibility … they are the training ground of future leaders who dare to be responsible now.”
If you are a teenager, get hold of a copy of “Do Hard Things” and resolve to fulfil your God-given potential through the grace of the Holy Spirit. If you have a teenager, or a grandson or granddaughter, I also encourage you to pick up a copy of this book. Give it to them, but read it yourself as well. It will challenge you to break out of your own comfort zone and do hard things. It will encourage you to expect great things from yourself and from the teenagers in your life. With God’s grace it will lead to great things being done to God’s glory.
Review by C Schoof