Can you imagine growing up as a child without TV cartoons and video games? Can you imagine going through your early teens without cell phones that can access texting, social media and game apps? Can you imagine being me?

Yup, that’s how deprived I was in my formative years. There was radio, of course, and that put me in touch with cowboy hero Tom Mix, as well as comedians such as Amos ‘n’ Andy and Baby Snooks. But my real contact with the culture of the outside world came through comic books.

The Golden Age of comic books is defined by historians as the decade between the late 1930s and the late 1940s, which is the exact span of my childhood years. We thought we were in heaven, as exciting new titles seemed to come out every year. If we were given a dime, we couldn’t wait to take it up to Mrs. Rowland’s store to choose our latest treasure (10 cents was what a comic book cost). My favorites were all the superhero comics, from Superman to Wonder Woman, as well as all the various comedy cartoons, like Looney Tunes and Popeye. When Archie hit the scene in the mid-1940s, I felt some kind of illicit attraction to the dramas among his teenage friends, even though I was still a pre-adolescent. That’s where I learned about boy/girl relationships.

The thing about comic books is that you can only read them a couple of times before they’re old and stale. So, resourceful boys in my crowd were really into trading comics. Two or three of us would set up a time when we’d get together with small stacks of comic books we were willing to trade. Among another guy’s books, one or two usually stood out to me — I had to have them! I was fortunate if the other guy had a similar reaction to some of the books I was offering. Coming home from a trading session was really a happier time than returning from Mrs. Rowland’s store with a new purchase. I usually had, not just one, but several treasures to explore.

Over time, though, the friends in our circle were all offering the same old comics for trading. Nobody had money to buy new issues. So, we were forced to reach out to a broader set of trading partners, to friends of friends who were in touch with other circles of comic enthusiasts. This not only allowed us to locate volumes of familiar comics that we had missed, but it also introduced us to new, somewhat more “dangerous” kinds of comic books — True Crime, suspense and horror stories, science fiction and (most scary of all) romantic love stories.

What am I talking about here? It’s all the same. Trading comics was my way of exploring the world outside of my little cocoon life. Modern young people do it through their cell phones and social media. Their pace is much faster, and the possible scope of outreach actually extends around the globe. But the journey toward discovery is the same.

There are two things that impress me about this comparison. First, just as my parents didn’t have a clue about what those comic books meant to me, modern parents can’t get inside the heads of their children and teens as they follow their unique discovery journey (and I’m not sure they should try.) Second, this discovery journey is not only aimed outward, toward experiencing the fullness of life. Its more important focus is inward, our children’s discovery of who they are and how they fit into the universe of reality they’re discovering. This can be much more overwhelming and awesome today than it could be for me through my comic book trading.

We need to pray for our young people that God will give them the wisdom and the faith to keep trading outward, believing that whatever they discover will lead to a deeper friendship with him. We need to believe for them that their journey away from us will not be a journey away from him, that whatever their adventure is, God will be at its center.

– Pastor George Van Alstine