When twin brothers Alex and Brett Harris were 16, they started a blog to encourage their peers not to waste their teen years but to instead "do hard things." Since then, the 19-year-old brothers have launched a website that gets 1.2 million hits per month, started a series of international youth conferences, created a 200,000-member grassroots campaign to support presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, and released the book Do Hard Things (Multnomah). Todd Hertz, managing editor of teen publication Ignite Your Faith, talked to Alex and Brett, now freshmen at Patrick Henry College, about their book and future plans.
What is your message to teens?
Alex: Our society expects very little of teens. They expect us to be immature and irresponsible. They don't expect us to do anything meaningful or to care about meaningful things. But that's a lie. [It's part of this culture's] myth of adolescence, a view of the teen years as a vacation from responsibility. But that's not a biological stage. It's a cultural mindset. You don't just flip a switch at a certain age and become responsible and mature. Those are muscles that you have to work out.
Young people are capable. We are challenging them to discover that by challenging themselves for the glory of God. We combined the words rebellion and revolution to create a concept we call "the Rebelution," a teenage rebellion against low expectations.
What has the reaction from your peers been?
Brett: We have been blown away hearing things like, "This is what I'm missing at church or at school. All my friends are shackled by these low expectations. You are putting into words what I have been feeling ever since I became a teenager. Don't stop." They have had this heart cry that God wants to use them now — they don't have to wait till after college.
There have been so many teens in recent years doing huge things — fighting modern-day slavery, evangelizing others, starting foundations. Why now?
Brett: First, you can't explain young people stepping outside their comfort zones, serving others, and accomplishing these incredible things apart from God working in their lives — whether it's grace in the life of a Christian or common grace in the life of an unbeliever who actually has a heart to serve others. Second, we now have technology that allows young people to be aware of — and reach out to— the entire world. Third, this technology provides young people a platform they have never had before.
What does your message mean for adults?
Alex: The low expectations for young people are not coming from just the world — the media and MTV. They are in schools and the church, too. But teens are hungry for more. They are hungry for doctrine and theology. They want to know about God and not just have pizza parties at youth group. They believe they can accomplish things for God. They need older, wiser mentors and adults in their lives to come alongside them and be the wisdom that complements their strength and energy and excitement.
In addition, recognizing that culture has turned teens into mere targets of our consumer culture changes the way you teach them. We have had parents read the book and say, "Hey, you're right. I don't want my daughter to just be a little Bratz doll. I want to prepare her for a serious time of preparation and launching."
The message of the Rebelution also speaks to adults to do hard things. Adults get stuck in ruts where they are not going outside their comfort zones. Adults need to do more than is required. They need to dream big. They need to be faithful in the little things, and they need to take a stand.
How did the way you were parented lead you to where you are?
Brett: Our parents made it very clear that the teen years were not a vacation from responsibility. They were not a free ticket to be rebellious and immature. They didn't buy into the low expectations and let us know that was not the expectation in our home. They also showed through their actions that they were willing to follow God, do what he said, even when it was inconvenient, even when it meant going against the flow.
Alex: They encouraged us not to get stuck being comfortable with what came naturally to us. Brett and I were involved in competitive speech and debate for several years. That was our identity. Our parents decided it was time to move on from that and take those skills we developed and apply them to the real world. And that was when the Rebelution began.
What is uniquely Christian about your message?
Brett: The message of Do Hard Things is helpful to anyone, the same way it's helpful to anyone to exercise or eat healthy food. However, we believe the only way we can truly do hard things with the right motivation — a heart to serve — is to be rooted in the gospel. What Christ did was the ultimate hard thing we couldn't do for ourselves. And that's why we do hard things.
For you, doing hard things has meant being politically active and reading challenging books. But some teens may not have the reading capacity you do or aren't as interested in politics. What does Do Hard Things mean for them?
Alex: We think young people should read and be involved in politics — not necessarily as much as we have, but we definitely think they are good things. But Do Hard Things does look different for everyone. Something that's hard for us may not be hard for you and vice versa. That's the point. "Do hard things" doesn't mean "do this list of things." It especially doesn't mean "do the things Alex and Brett are doing." It means do what's hard for you. Where you have been stuck in your comfort zone, trust God enough to take that first scary step. When you only need a C on a test to pass a class — but you're not learning — aim for an A. The goal is excellence, not excuses, not just getting by. So, depending on where you are in life, what's going on around you, and the talents God has given you, Do Hard Things will look very different for every person. But the mindset is very similar: It's trusting God enough to obey him, even when it's hard.
What did you each learn from supporting Mike Huckabee?
Brett: We learned about the power of the ordinary citizen to make a huge difference in a national election. We didn't wait for orders about whom to support from the national party. Instead we each said, "Look, that's the guy who best represents my values. I'm going to go out and work for him now and not just wait until the primaries are over to vote down the Republican ticket."
This was a case where a lot of people, many of them evangelicals, rallied behind a candidate whom most people didn't think had a chance, and made him the surprise of the entire primary election, winning Iowa, showing strong on Super Tuesday, and being the last candidate in the race before John McCain clinched the nomination. Huck's Army was not so much a grassroots organization as it was organized grassroots.
With Huckabee no longer in the race, what are you focused on politically?
Brett: As Christians, our role in politics is to fight for the best candidate. For us, that was Mike Huckabee, and we fought hard. Now, it's a Christian responsibility to switch to the next best candidate. However, we have to recognize that our hope is not in politics but in God. So we are fighting for revival at the same time.
We are concerned about Barack Obama. He would not make a good President. It comes down to core issues like sanctity of life and marriage that as Christians we hold very dear. He is one of the most liberal candidates we've ever seen in a presidential election. Our motivation in this election is to see Obama kept out of the presidency. Because of that, we're throwing our support behind McCain. We would love to see even more indications from him that he supports our values. He definitely has been strong on the pro-life issue. If we can save more babies with McCain in office, then that's good enough for us.
Being homeschooled, do you find that those who attend high school react any differently?
Alex: The number-one response we receive from homeschool students is, "I thought I was the only one who felt this way." For public school students, the main reaction may be more of a paradigm shift. They are a little bit more surrounded by the low expectations.
Brett: The main thing I've seen is a different application of the message. Public-schoolers are more likely to be challenged to take a stand and go against the flow. Homeschoolers identify more with the challenge to do things that do not pay off immediately. You also see them responding to the challenge to go above and beyond what's expected or required. A lot of homeschoolers can struggle with complacency.
How has doing hard things specifically changed your individual faiths?
Alex: One of the neatest lessons for me has just been realizing that God still uses young people. In Scripture, all these young people — King David, Esther, Jeremiah, Mary the mother of Jesus — were used by God to change the course of history. It's been amazing to hear all the stories of ordinary young people like us who God is using to impact thousands of lives. That is a very faith-deepening thing.
Brett: I was just reading the other day about when Christ called the apostles. These were not well-qualified people. The only thing that qualified them was the willingness to leave everything and follow Christ. Likewise, my only qualification, which is also by his grace, is that I was willing to say, "I'm going to obey you when it's hard."
Todd Hertz is managing editor of teen publication Ignite Your Faith.
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Do Hard Things is available at ChristianBook.com and other book retailers.