5 Benefits Of Having A Challenging Teen

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What?  Are you serious?  What good can it possibly be to have a difficult child?  Or a teen who struggles with sin?  Or a child who rebels against you?

God causes all things – even a teenager’s sin – to work together for our good. Here are 5 ways:

Having a challenging teen causes us to grow in dependence on God

Challenges with our children are as much (or more) about us than about them. Sometimes we discover that we are depending more upon ourselves than the Lord. So often we think that if we just do all the right things – have family devotions, discipline our children, love them, keep them from bad influences, educate them in a certain way – then they will automatically be saved and follow the Lord.

But doing all the right things doesn’t change the heart. The Lord is the only one who saves and changes people, not all our practices and effort, as good as they may be. Having a difficult teen causes us to grow in dependence on God – to cry out to the Lord in prayer, to seek him for mercy and grace and wisdom. It drives us to his Word, to seek out his promises. It causes us to grow in faith and trust in the Lord to work in our child.

Having a challenging teen causes us to grow in humility

When we have a child or two who do well, we can start to think that we are responsible for how well they are doing. Yes, we think, it is my parenting that did this. My hard work paid off. A difficult teen ends all that. We become aware of doing many things that failed. We become aware of making many mistakes and that the reason any of our other children are doing well is God’s grace. A difficult child makes us feel weak. It’s humbling to ask others for prayer and counsel. It’s humbling for others to find out we don’t have the ideal Leave It To Beaver Family.

Having a challenging teen causes us to grow in mercy and sympathy toward others

Years ago in my arrogance, when others had challenges with their children, I would think they must be doing something wrong. It was somehow their fault. In my arrogance I had little mercy or compassion for others.  Having a difficult teen changes all that. When you have been through challenges, struggles and disappointments with one or more of your children, you become very merciful and sympathetic to others in their struggles. You know how much you appreciate the sympathy of others, so you extend it to others. You know how much you need mercy so you become merciful to others.

Having a challenging teen causes us to grow in patience and perseverance

Unfortunately, the only way to gain patience is to be put into a situation that requires it. Jesus usually works in our children little by little, often imperceptibly, over years, as he does in us. Sometimes we must keep praying for our children for years and years – even as they are adults. All we can do is plant the seed of the gospel, then we must water it with our prayers and trust God to cause the seed to grow in his own timing. This takes patience.

Think of how patient and long suffering God has been with you. You aren’t always quick to change are you?

Having a challenging teen helps us to grow in love

Jesus told us to love our enemies expecting nothing in return. Of course our kids aren’t our enemies. But we must love them, bless them, speak kindly to them, bear with them and do good to them, even when they don’t respond. God loved us before we loved him, and he calls us to do the same. We rejected Jesus again and again, yet he loved us and came for us and died on the cross for us. Even now, millions and millions reject Jesus every moment of every day, yet he continues to love them. Whatever disrespect we receive from our children in return for our love is but an infinitesimal taste of what Jesus experiences every day from mankind.

So we must grow in love. We must seek the grace of Jesus to love as he loved, unselfishly, expecting nothing in return.

Our children’s struggles are as much about us as they are about them. So praise God and thank him, that as difficult as things are, he is at work both in you and your teen. Don’t give up, even if you see little change or fruit. God isn’t done working yet. The story isn’t over yet. God is not only working in your child, he’s working in you.

Parenting By The Book Versus The Insanity Of Parenting In Real Life

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Parenting books tend to make everything sound so simple. So cut and dry. Very equation like. If this, then this. If your child disobeys, then you help them evaluate their heart motive, then you discipline them if necessary, then you affirm your love for them, then you send them back out into the world as productive, cheerful, God-honoring members of society. Boom, boom, boom. If you follow this time-honored equation, your kids will be born again in no time.

Okay, maybe the books aren’t quite so extreme, but you get my point.

In recent years, however, I’ve discovered something that has made slightly less enthusiastic about parenting books: my children are insane. No doctor would diagnose them as insane, but they are insane nevertheless.

When my children sin, it doesn’t happen in nice, linear fashion. Sin simply detonates in my house. Charis selfishly tells Ella that she can’t use the coloring book. Ella screams at Charis, then throws a pair of scissors at her. Meanwhile, Gwendolyn is pulling the Windex out from under the sink and getting ready to clean out her mouth. It really is like a scene out of some sort of demented sitcom called “Dad In Charge”, starring Ray Romano or Tim Allen.

When this happens, I dutifully wade into the fray, trying to sort out who did what and trying to keep Gwendolyn from poisoning herself. I try to figure out motive and heart issues. I try to discipline appropriately. I try to bring the Bible to bear when appropriate. But most of the time, things don’t go according to the book. Many times Ella is beyond reason, and is simply screaming and throwing herself on the floor. When she gets to that point, the only thing I can do is send her to room until she calms down. Charis is currently in a stage in which she denies all culpability in every situation. She has the innocent martyr act down really well. No matter how much I push the issue, she swears she is innocent. Gwendolyn…well, Gwendolyn is two, and she is a maniac. A cute maniac, but a maniac nonetheless. And to top all this off, I’m often dealing with my own sinful heart as I’m trying to help my kids deal with their sinful hearts. I wonder if I can get a reality TV show deal?

My point in all this? I’m going to parent my kids as best as I can, according to all the wise principles I’ve learned from the Bible itself and authors. But when it comes down to it, God absolutely must be the one who saves my kids. 

The hearts of my children are too messy, my wisdom is too limited, and my heart is too sinful in order to successfully shepherd my children into the kingdom of God. Only God can do that, and that actually gives me a great amount of comfort. I firmly believe that God will save my children. I also firmly believe he will use all my successes and failures as a parent in order to bring about the salvation of my kids.

I see my own life as a prime example of this. My parents were the absolute greatest, without a doubt. But like so many other parents of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, they were reading parenting books that placed a heavy emphasis on behavior and little emphasis on the heart. Talking to my dad now, I know that he regrets the times when he placed too much emphasis on my behavior and too little emphasis on my heart. (For the record: my dad majorly changed his stance on this, and began seriously emphasizing the heart.)

My parents made lots of mistakes and God still saved me. I’m making lots of mistakes, probably more than my parents, and yet I’m still confident that God will save my kids. Why? Because he is faithful to use my our frail, small efforts. Because he often works in spite of me. Because he loves my kids even more than I love my kids. Because he is good. Because I regularly pray that God would supernaturally cause my children to come alive to him, and I know that he answers prayer.

Don’t freak out about being the perfect parent. You’re not the perfect parent, and you never will be. Simply seek to be faithful, and then entrust the results to God. He won’t disappoint.

We Need To Stop Blaming Parents For “Wayward” Teens

 

photo credit: mark sebastian via photopin cc

photo credit: mark sebastian via photopin cc

Did you hear about Ben?

No I didn’t. What happened?

Well…this isn’t gossip, it’s just so you can pray for him. He got caught smoking pot. Apparently he’s been doing a lot of drugs lately. And I think he might be sleeping with his girlfriend.

Really? That’s sad. Maybe his parents need to get more involved in his life. You know, bring more discipline. Keep him in line. That’s what I do with my kids. I lay down the rules in my house, and if they break the rules, they pay the price. If I caught my kids smoking pot, they’d face some serious consequences. My kids would never smoke pot.

Keep him, and his parents, in your prayers. They need it!

We’ve all had an experience similar to the one described above. A teenager in the church gets caught in sin. Maybe it’s drugs, sex, an eating disorder, cutting, or porn. It doesn’t really matter what the issue is. What does matter, is how quick we are to assign blame to the parents of the child.

Many of us, either consciously or unconsciously, hold to the idea that if we do all the right things as parents, our children will turn out okay. If we educate them properly, faithfully teach them the Bible, and pray for them on a daily basis, they will become Christians, pursue holiness, avoid sin, and serve faithfully in the church. We treat parenting like some sort of divine equation. If we input the right things into our children, our children will then output the right things. If this, then this.

When a teenager goes AWOL, we immediately assume that the his parents must have failed him in some way. His parents must not have brought enough discipline into his life. His parents must not have prayed for him enough, read him the Bible enough, sent him to VBS enough. If his parents had done the right thing, the child wouldn’t be plunging headlong into sin.

We really need to stop blaming parents for wayward teens. 

Two reasons.

First, only God can cause a teenager to be born again. In reality, there is no such thing as a “wayward” teen. There are only two types of teenagers: spiritually dead teens and born again teens. A spiritually dead teen will always act according to his nature. He will plunge into sin with great delight, because that’s what sinners do. That’s what you and I did before God caused us to be born again. It shouldn’t surprise us when a teen in the church dives into sin. If he isn’t born again, that’s exactly what we should expect him to do.

In Romans 8:7-8, Paul describes the unconverted teenager:

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

The unconverted teenage girl is hostile to God. She absolutely cannot submit to God’s law, and she absolutely cannot please God. We shouldn’t be surprised when she has sex with her boyfriend. After all, isn’t that what non-Christians do?

Should her parents do all they can to restrain her from sin? Of course. But the reality is, they may be able to curb her behavior, but they can’t change her heart. Only Jesus Christ, the mighty warrior and sinner’s friend can accomplish such a great task. When we blame parents for the sinful behavior of their teens, we put the parents in the place of God. We must stop expecting parents to do what only God can do.

The second reason we need to stop blaming parents for the sinful behavior of their teens, is that blaming cuts the parents off from what they desperately need. When a dad is dealing with the craziness and heartbreak of a son on drugs, what he needs most from those in his church is shoulders to weep on. When a mom is dealing with her sexually active daughter, what she needs most is to be reminded of the mighty God who saves even the hardest of sinners. Parents don’t need condemnation or criticism, they need grace. They need their fellow brothers and sisters to come alongside of them, to pray with them and to pray for them.

As members of the body of Christ, we are called to bear on another’s burdens, and there are few burdens heavier than parenting. There are few things that weigh heavier on a parent than the salvation of their son or daughter. When we blame parents for their teenager’s sinful behavior, we fail to help the parents bear the heavy burden they are carrying.

Are parents called to faithfully shepherd their children in the ways of the Lord? Of course. Will parents fail in a variety of ways? Of course. Despite these things, let’s stop blaming parents for the sinful behavior of their teens. When a teen in the church is sinning, let’s come alongside her parents with love, prayer, and support. Let’s fulfill the law of Christ by loving one another, instead of blaming one another.

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Facing off with Bullying

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Bullying is real. It’s also really exaggerated. Somehow collective “wisdom” has decided that any time one person is mean to another it’s bullying. That’s not bullying; that’s being a jerk. People have been jerks since Adam and Eve got a hankering for fresh fruit.

Bullying is more than simply an insult or a fistfight. It is the consistent or systematic targeted abuse of someone vulnerable by someone (or someones) stronger. A bully is the guy who always steals lunch money from the same kid or the group of girls who decide to start an online smear campaign of a classmate by spreading rumors and posting embarrassing photos.

What we call bullying is a monster of our own making. We call all every mean person a “bully.” My kids would be horrified by my casual use of the word bully; to them it’s like a curse word (three cheers for public schools). We make bogeymen and misfits out of so-called bullies. They wear the scarlet letter and are marked by the black spot. It is horrifying and shameful; they must be dealt with!

Sometime back we forgot that conflicts are to be resolved, matters settled. Instead, the bullying mantra creates a division by labeling one person as evil and the other as victim. No longer can the “victim” stand up for him or herself with voice or fists. One child can’t pop a bully to defend another. Just as bullying is the bogeyman, confrontation is the Black Death. And so there isn’t any resolution.

The best way to eliminate bullying is to stop emphasizing it. The same wisdom that decided all meanness was bullying decided that the more we point bullying the less it will happen. That’s garbage. Bullying isn’t just a bad action like selling drugs or stealing cars. It is psychological warfare and thrives on fear. The fear in the bully drives him to make others even more afraid. And the more we “see” bullies hiding behind every insult and under every conflict the more we feed the fear. We must be aware but not paranoid.

What would happen if we raised kids who won’t stand for injustice? We don’t want vigilantes and bullies who bully the bullies, but neither do we want tiptoeing tattle-tales who won’t look a bully in the eyes and tell her to knock that crap off. We need to teach our kids to stand up for those who are vulnerable. We need to give them the support they need so when they face the attacks they can be strong then come home for comfort and encouragement then go do it again the next day. Our kids don’t need to be fighters (although that’s not so bad); they need to have conviction that picking on the weak is unacceptable. Some will be strong and silent and others will hit back. Either way, it is this conviction and action that will put bullying on its heels.

photo credit: Profound Whatever via photopin cc

God Better Save My Kids Because I Sure As Heck Can’t

Right now my hands smell like poop.

Well, not right now because I just washed them. But they smelled like poop a few minutes ago. Why? Because my 18 month old daughter Gwendolyn has figured out how to take her diaper off. She’s gotten into the habit of taking off her diaper while still in her crib, which often results in her and her crib being covered in poop. Oh yeah, and my hands also get covered in poop as I clean her off.

So often parenting doesn’t feel like parenting. It feels more like riot control, and I’m using the word “control” veeeeeerrrrry loosely.

Family devotions often feel the same way. I’ve got all the right resources. I’ve got the Jesus Storybook Bible and The Big Picture Story Bible and Big Thoughts for Little Thinkers. I’ve read Shepherding A Child’s Heart and am regularly trying to address heart matters with my kids. But despite all these great resources my family devotion times often feel more circus than sacred.

I’ll gather Charis and Ella and Gwendolyn together in the living room, and for the first 15 seconds everything looks very promising. Then Charis and Ella will get into a grudge match over who gets to sit on the couch. So I sort out the grudge match. By the time I get everything sorted out it’s likely that both of them will be crying and saying things like, “I never ever get to sit on the couch ever!”

Then we start reading. The reading usually goes something like this…

Joseph’s brothers were not kind to him at all. They were jealous of…Charis please stop laying upside down off the couch!

Joseph’s brothers were jealous of the coat his father…Ella if you don’t stop playing with Kleenex box you’re going to have to go lay on your bed.

Joseph’s brother’s were jealous of…Gwendolyn give me my iPad!

They were…yes Ella you have a coat just like Joseph.

And on and on and on. It takes 20 minutes to read a few pages. By the time we reach the end of the story I’ve pretty much given up on being heart-oriented, gospel-centered, and all those other hyphenated words I’m supposed to be. I’m just trying to make it to the end.

I believe in the doctrine of election because it’s in the Bible. I also believe in the doctrine of election because I have kids.

I desperately need God to save my kids because I know I sure as heck can’t. If I were ultimately responsible for the salvation of my children I would have a complete nervous breakdown.

I’m not saying biblical parenting isn’t important. Of course it is. But biblical parenting doesn’t produce saved kids, only God does that. 

My parents did a wonderful job of faithfully teaching us from God’s word. We regularly had family devotional times. But I often fell asleep during family devotions. There were many times when my hard heart simply didn’t want to hear what God’s word had to say. When my dad wanted us to wake up at the crack of 8 AM for family devotions during the summer I told him very clearly, “You are ruining my summer.”

My parents were faithful to teach me God’s word, but they couldn’t make my heart come alive. Only God could do that. And praise God, he did make my heart come alive.

When God saved me all the things my parents had taught me began to slide into place and lock together, like a jigsaw puzzle being assembled. The Holy Spirit would bring things I had been taught to mind and would use those things to convict me and change me. The seeds my dad had been scattering for years finally began to blossom and bloom.

Right now parenting feels part biblical, part survival, and part insanity. But I have faith God will save my kids. Not because I’m doing a bang-up job as a parent, but because God is faithful. I believe God will use my feeble efforts to bring forth good fruit in my kids lives. I believe God will use the seeds I’m desperately flinging. I believe God will save my kids because he is mighty to save, not because I’m mighty to teach.

Gotta go. I smell poop.

+Original photo by shane o mac