Kenda Creasy Dean, author of a book on teens and religion, is not a Mormon, but she found, while interviewing hundreds of teens, that Mormon teens had something other teens did not. One thing she found is that Mormonism gives its teenagers hope for the future.
Mormon teens were able to explain to her that the purpose of life was to grow spiritually and to be tested, with the eventual ability to return to Heavenly Father if they keep the commandments. Other teens, she felt, were more vague about the purpose of life, which tended to be that they were supposed to be happy and feel good about themselves.
The difference between those things is part of the secret to why Mormon teens did better in the interviews. If the purpose of life is to be happy and have good self-esteem, it creates a very self-centered focus on life. Life turns out to be all about you, which is why some people are calling young people part of the Me generation. Mormon teens are taught it isn’t all about them and it isn’t all about this life. They have an eternal goal that requires hard work, sacrifice, and a focus on other people. Now, it just so happens that when you’re working hard, sacrificing, and focusing on other, you will be happy most of the time and you will have good self-esteem, but those are not the only focus.
Yes, God wanted us to be happy, but not in a worldly way. Happiness in a worldly way might mean you get to spend your teen years playing video games and hanging out at the mall. What Mormons are after is joy. They have a scripture that says that man is that he might have joy. Joy is different than plain old happiness. It is the feeling that comes when we make Jesus Christ the center of our world and let our love for Him determine how we will live.
Mormons believe we are saved by grace. Grace came to us because Jesus took on Himself our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane. That doesn’t mean we don’t have to pay any price for our sins; it just made it possible for us to be forgiven for them if we repent. He also died on the cross for us and then was resurrected. Because He overcame death, we can too. So grace allows us to live forever, to choose to repent of our sins, and to return to live with God if we are worthy. This gift of grace is given to everyone who has ever lived on the earth and there are no requirements and there are no actions required, not even believing in God. It is a free gift.
However, what’s free is pretty much never as amazing as what we can get when we’re willing to work for it. So, although living forever is a free gift, we can upgrade our eternal status by keeping the commandments. You can’t just work your way back into heaven, though. This is a little tricky. The truth is that when we love someone we want to make them happy and we want to be what they want us to be. Because we love God and Jesus Christ, we want to do what They’ve asked us to do and to be what they’ve asked us to be. The more we love Them, the more we want this and the easier obedience becomes. So our actions must come from love for God, not for the mere desire for rewards. If we do all the right things on the outside, but our hearts are wrong, we get nothing for it. If we love God and we’re doing what we’re supposed to do because we love Him, that’s when the rewards come.
God said that everyone who says “Lord, Lord” won’t get into Heaven (Matthew 7:21).To get into Heaven, you have to keep the commandments. This is because believing isn’t enough. Jesus also taught even the devils believe in Jesus. It does no good to believe in Him if you aren’t also willing to obey Him and if you don’t love Him.
All of this is part of a great plan of salvation God taught us and that we agreed to before we were born. Mormon teens know they lived with God before they were born. They were spirits there, but they were themselves. After living there and learning and deciding what kind of person they were going to be God taught them it was time to grow up and leave home for a while—just as you will someday. The place we’d be going was called Earth and we’d be born into families and get bodies. But we’d also be tested here. We’d have trials and be expected to learn how to resolve them and overcome them.
This means Mormon teens don’t expect life to be always easy and fun. They know God won’t always step in to keep us from experiencing hardships because we wouldn’t learn anything that way. They do know He is listening when they pray, and they know He will answer their prayers, but He won’t always answer them the way we ask Him to. God is in charge and knows what is best for us. He can see much further into the future than we can. Sometimes what we think we want is all wrong. Still, if He makes us suffer for a while or gives us something different than we asked for, He will be there to comfort and guide us. Mormon teens trust God.
Trusting God gives them hope. They know what He promised them—eternal happiness in His presence and the privilege of being with their families forever. They want this and they believe they are capable of getting it. It might be hard work, but Mormon teens aren’t afraid of hard work. They’ve grown up with it.
Can you see how all of this gives them hope? They are in charge of their eternal futures. That doesn’t mean everything on earth will happen just the way they want it, but if they do God’s will, serving God and serving others, they will get the very best God has to offer. It’s entirely up to them. No other person can keep them out of Heaven. God has told them exactly how to get there and they’ve confirmed it through personal prayer, not the promises of men. They’re in charge because they know God is in charge and will always keep His promises.
God makes covenants with His children. He sets the terms but if we do our part, He always does His part. This brings Mormon teens an extraordinary sense of stability, comfort, and hope for the future. It’s even more than just hope…it’s knowledge that their eternal life can be perfect.