When I was in high school, I was the poster-child for youth ministry. I was at every Life Teen retreat my church had, I stayed busy as a student minister at my high school, I volunteered for every skit, had something to add to every small group, and considered my youth minister one of my best pals. I thought youth group was the coolest spot to be, and I thought I was super cool for being there. I thought that anyone who wasn’t part of my Catholic community in high school was simply ignorant to the fact that Jesus and the people that wanted to follow Him were so attractive, fun, “cool.”
Maybe I was naive or maybe God was protecting me from harsher realities, but when I got into my college years, I soon learned that people that weren’t at youth group weren’t coming because they didn’t want to be there — they weren’t there because they didn’t think youth group was “cool.”
This came as a shock to me, especially as I found myself trying to fit into new friend groups, where a relationship with Jesus wasn’t common ground. I found myself in a whirlwind of feelings: self-consciousness for being “the Catholic one,” concerns about being perceived as a prude or judgmental, and fear about sharing my faith honestly with people who didn’t share my beliefs. I was thrown off when, for the first time, my faith stopped being the “cool” thing to seek out and I had to learn with being OK with not being the coolest person in the room, or abandoning my faith.
If You’re Christian, You Won’t Always be “Cool”
When my faith stopped being a “cool factor” for me in certain contexts, a lot of temptations crept in: I started to hide aspects of what I believed and who I was at my core in order to be perceived as more “normal.” But here’s a fact of life: Christianity won’t always be perceived as “normal” or “cool” in the world. Certainly, you can keep up with current realities in the world and should aim to be approachable and relatable as a human being, but authentically living your faith is radically different from the life that secular society settles for, so that means, as a Christian, you need to get comfortable with the fact that some people with think some of the things you do (i.e. fasting, making Sunday Mass a weekly commitment, going to Confession, getting your throat blessed on St. Blaise’s feast day — seriously that last one is pretty unique) are a little odd.
Yet in Scripture, St. Paul encourages us in his letter to the Romans, “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God.” (Romans 12:2). Part of being an authentic Christian, then, means surrendering to and accepting the fact that the world might not be into everything you’re doing; and conversely, you actually shouldn’t be into everything the world is doing. When you step out of your safe youth group environment, your profound answer to the question “why do you believe in God?” might not be as popular as it was in your small group. Shocking, I know. At least it was for me.
Jesus Prepared You For This
When I started to find myself in contexts where my faith wouldn’t be such an acceptable, cool, or admirable thing to share with people, my first temptation was to hide it. I would avoid bringing up the fact that I spent part of my morning in prayer, wouldn’t tell people that the reason I couldn’t make it to brunch was because I had to go to Mass, I even let it affect what I shared on social media — I would stop sharing so much “Jesus stuff” because I knew only some of my friends (my Christian friends) would consider it “cool,” and I didn’t want to risk my non-Christian friends thinking that I wasn’t cool. However, when I realized that I was starting to compartmentalize myself, I quickly felt the tension of inauthenticity — I wasn’t being honest with any of my friends about the wholeness of who I am and was keeping the richness of what I believe to myself. So, in short, my friends weren’t really friends with me, they were just friends with pieces of me — the pieces I did decide to share. I needed to grow in boldness, honesty and authenticity.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus prays a beautiful prayer to God the Father, for all of His followers. In this prayer, He begs Him, “I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one… As you sent Me into the world, so I sent them into the world” (John 17:14-18).
With these words, Jesus is affirming the truth that Christianity is not always going to be the coolest way to live, it’s not always going to be the easiest way to live, but we have the power of God to protect us. If we’re committed to following Jesus, the One who was executed for the things He said and did, we’re not signing up to be wildly cool to the majority — we’re signing up to die to ourselves. And the coolest thing about this all is that Jesus prayed for us and is with us through it all — that we might have the strength to be bold, even when boldly living our faith isn’t celebrated by everyone around us.
Your Faith Isn’t Worth Abandoning — Being Considered Cool is
The harsh truth about living an authentically Christian life, in all contexts and around all different types of friends, is that we have to give up the desire to be considered cool by everyone. The life Jesus has called us to isn’t easy, but it’s the only place where we’ll find true satisfaction as human beings — it’s the only place where the human experience, human desires, and human fulfillment makes sense. Giving up being cool won’t be easy, but if that’s the cost to live the most full life, it’s worth it.
Trust me, I know how hard it can be to choose to live a true Christian life at the cost of being cool. I’ve had uncomfortable conversations, where people I deeply care about and love are unable to accept the life I’ve found to be most whole in Christianity — in some cases, they think I’m a straight up weirdo. But I do know that my true friends, even if they can’t relate to my faith, and even if they think I’m a straight up weirdo and/or “uncool,” have never disrespected or attacked my beliefs. And I know that those who have are not truly interested in loving me for who I am, and are not people that I need to keep in my life.
The reality is, though, being cool will last a moment, being accepted will feel good for a time, but a life of true fulfillment in relationship with Christ will last for eternity. Jesus hits us with this challenge when He asks His followers, “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Matthew 16:26). Being liked, hip, attractive, etc. will come and go, but what God has called us to is far more fulfilling than any of that popularity. Giving up on the hope of always being considered “cool” is worth the life of true freedom and happiness in Christ. And at the end of the day I can take comfort in the fact that He thinks I’m pretty cool and that’s enough for me.