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.

Scripture Teaches Us How To Speak

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At ten months old, my son Elliot has a small vocabulary. His contribution to the household conversation is limited to a couple of consonants and one vowel, combined, recombined, and repeated. His most advanced word to date is “Gack,” which may mean, “duck,” “Uncle Joe,” or “Help me, I have pureed green beans up my nose.”

Lord willing, Elliot will eventually learn to distinguish his Uncle Joe from a duck. But right now his perception of the world is limited by his lack of words. He cannot describe his world or his experience. He cannot enter into conversation with us. Learning to speak will give him categories of thought and perception that make all of life fit together and make sense. Words – true, accurate words – define reality.

Do you realize that Scripture is teaching you to speak? I’m not making a comment on the size of your vocabulary. I’m talking about words as a measure of our ability to understand and describe ultimate reality, and enter into conversation with the Author of reality. Though we are capable of speaking thousands of words a day, if our words are not shaped by the words of the God who speaks, molded by the story of the Word who became flesh, then they are empty words. But God, through Scripture, is teaching us to talk.

Think of it like this. As a small child, you had no idea of the connection between the word “hot” and the experience of fingers seared by a stove burner. Slowly, through repeated parental warnings –“No touch! Hot! Hot!” – and the painful lessons of experience, you came to understand reality. Likewise we all, without God’s instruction, have no conception of the reality behind words like “sin” or “rebellion.” We see no connection between the four-letter word that escapes during the traffic jam, and the dissatisfaction and distress that festers in our soul while we wait. But slowly, patiently, God teaches us to refrain from anger (Psa. 37:8), and to wait on the Lord, committing our way to him (Psa. 37:5, 7). We learn true words that accurately define our inner world and our outer world, and we learn to enter into dialogue about both with the God who speaks. In short, we learn to talk.

Until God speaks, we have only vague notions of his existence – and even these we twist and pervert to suit our own fancies. We don’t know who we are until God tells us. We don’t know what health or what depravity look like until God defines them for us. And, like infants, we are slow and hesitant to learn to speak accurately. But Scripture teaches us to speak. It gives us names – true names, accurate names, names not of our own invention but of God’s revelation – by which we can call upon God: Creator, Lord, Almighty, Father. It teaches us to see ourselves accurately: simultaneously sinner, sufferer, and (in Christ) saint. And it teaches us to respond rightly to our circumstances: not with religious ideas or human-centered moral exhortations, but by relating to the God who speaks, through Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh and crucified so we can call upon God as Father.

This is what sanity looks like, what maturity sounds like: a conversation between a redeemed soul and God himself. Christ, have mercy. Father, deliver me. To you, O Lord, I give thanks with my whole heart. So open the God’s word, and call upon Jesus, the living Word. Listen to the One who speaks. And join the conversation.

Photo by Ashton

The Hard Part About Actually Changing

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photo credit: Amy McTigue via photopin cc

At least once per day, I find myself thinking, I’m pretty sure my kids are insane.

My daughter, Charis, is flipping out because she can’t wear the skirt she wants to wear. “You NEVER let me wear ANYTHING!” she tells Jen. I don’t usually point out that, technically speaking, we do let her wear clothes. My daughter Gwendolyn is screaming because I won’t let her eat the dishwasher detergent pouches that looks suspiciously like candy. My daughter Ella has just thrown a roundhouse punch at Charis, because Charis won’t let her pretend to be Elsa, from Frozen. You get the point.

What I’m learning is that if I’m going to grow in patience, God has to put me in situations which actually require patience. Thus, God gives me children who are insane, in order that I might grow in love and patience.

For some reason, I tend to think that change happens in a vacuum. It’s like I think of sanctification as being some kind of divine magic trick. I pray that I would grow in mercy, and God magically makes me more merciful. I pray that I would trust God more, and God magically infuses me with more trust. I pray that God would help me be more loving, and, presto chango, I’m suddenly more loving.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Sanctification happens through circumstances.

In James 1:2-3, it says:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

God brings various trials into our lives in order that we might grow in steadfastness. We can’t grow in steadfastness unless God takes us through trials.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

When we experience affliction, we also experience God’s comfort. We, in turn, are then able to comfort others with the same comfort we received. Being afflicted causes us to be more compassionate and merciful toward others, and prepares us to offer divine comfort to others. We could not offer this comfort unless we are first afflicted ourselves.

Jesus commands us to love our enemies. We won’t grow in loving our enemies until we have a tangible opportunity to do so. We won’t grow in trusting God until our budget becomes uncomfortably tight. We won’t grow in being merciful until we are let down by our close friends. We won’t grow in peace until our future becomes uncertain.

Don’t despise the circumstances in which God has placed you. He is using your crazy kids to teach you patience. He is using your singleness to teach you trust. He is using your extended illness to teach you rejoicing. He is using your tight budget to teach you dependence.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I hear someone screaming.

Sanctification and the Seinfeld Effect

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For just a moment, join me in remembering some of television’s best comedic duos (trust me, there is a point to this).

  • Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza.
  • Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.
  • Andy Griffith and Barney Fife.
  • Jim Halpert and Dwight Shrute.
  • Leo Marvin and Bob Wiley.
  • Bert and Ernie.

Each of these brilliant duos has one thing in common: The combination of a normal, straight-laced guy, with a total nut job. In almost every situation, each guy drives the other one crazy. Dwight insists on sitting on an exercise ball instead of a normal office chair. Jim pops the exercise ball with a pair of scissors. Bert tries to keep their apartment neat and organized. Ernie is constantly bringing chaos into the apartment. Jerry wants to join together with George, Kramer, and Elaine, to buy a television for their engaged friend. George, who is a perpetual cheapskate, can’t believe they are spending so much money on one person.

By themselves, the characters wouldn’t be nearly as funny. I suspect this is why the solo projects by these guys haven’t been nearly as successful (what has Jason Alexander done in the last twenty years other than “Dunston Checks In”?).

God also seems to have a particular affection for odd couples. In fact, one of the primary ways he sanctifies us is through the quirks and quaintness of other people.

For example, I’ve never been a particularly sympathetic, compassionate person. When I was younger, I didn’t have much patience for what I considered to be the weaknesses of other people (despite the fact that I am rife with weaknesses). Then God gave me three daughters. Three daughters means a lot of drama, a lot of crying, and a lot of princess talk. Having three daughters has forced me to grow in compassion and mercy and sympathy. It simply doesn’t work for me to tell my daughters to suck it up when they get hurt or when they are sad. I need to comfort them and be compassionate toward them. In his infinite wisdom, God gave me daughters who are verty different from me in order that I might grow in holiness. God joined me with three little girls who are wonderfully different from me.

God has also paired you up with people who are very different from you. You are creative and artsy and spontaneous. Your husband is ordered and regimented and inflexible. God has put you together in order to sanctify you both. You are neat and clean and hygenic. Your son could wear the same pair of jeans for a month straight. God has intentionally brought you together! You are passionate about the outdoors. Your daughter is more interested in writing and performing music. God has paired you together in order that you might serve each other.

Don’t despise the stark differences in your spouse, children, or friends. Don’t view those differences as obstacles. Instead, see them as divine opportunities. God has joined you to those people in order that both of you might grow in holiness. God brings odd couples together to help the odd couples grow in godliness.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a Seinfeld marathon to watch.

Don’t Be An Internet Arsonist

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It’s so easy to hit “send” or “post” or “tweet” or “publish”. One click. One tap of the screen. One “yes” to Siri. I don’t even have to think about it. I bang out my message and fire it off, like a cowboy shooting from the hip. Maybe I post something funny. Maybe I post something critical of someone else. Maybe I post a link to a scathing article written about a prominent pastor. Maybe I make fun of the President.

The Internet makes it so easy to be an arsonist. To set the world on fire. To be a walking napalm. To go through the day spraying virtual gasoline on everything and everyone.

In James 3:5-6 it says:

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.

James’ point is that our words, which are seemingly small and unimportant, and which flow out of our mouths in a torrent, can be incredibly destructive. Our words are the equivalent of fire, which can level an entire forest, ruin massive buildings, and cause untold amounts of misery. Words are no small thing.

This passage in James applies just as much to the words we say digitally. Every Facebook post has the potential to set someone on fire. Every Tweet has the potential to ignite a blaze. Every Instagram and text message and Pin and Snapchat has the potential to set your entire life on fire. God takes our digital words just as seriously as our vocalized words. Do we take our digital words seriously?

It’s so easy to be an Internet arsonist. The Internet makes it so easy to say things we would never say directly to a person. Our glowing screens offer a false sense of security and protection. We can say something about a person without seeing the effect it has on that person. We can criticize a person without seeing the devastating, harmful effects of our criticism. We can post a picture without seeing how that picture tempts other people. The Internet allows us to say whatever we want without any of the normal consequences of speech. 

How can we avoid being Internet arsonists? We would be wise to regularly consider the following Scriptures:

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths [or computers or smart phones or tablets!!!!], but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:29-30)

Before I hit “post” I need to ask myself: does this serve to build others up? Or are my words tearing and ripping and shredding a person? If  I said these words directly to a person would they be built up or torn down? Would their affection for Christ be increased or decreased? God intends all of our words and posts and tweets to have a building up effect.

The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak [or comment or post or Tweet!!!], for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.  (Matthew 12:35-37)

The things we post online are a reflection of what is already in our hearts. In other words, our speech is a reflection of who we are. When we stand before the Lord on Judgment Day we will give an account for every word we produce. Every spoken word, every text message, every Facebook update, every Tweet, every Pin, every Instagram. Before I post I need to ask myself: will I be ashamed of this post on the final day? Will I regret these words when I stand before the Judgment throne?

I don’t write this post as a guy who has it all figured out. No way. In fact, just the other day Jen graciously corrected me for something I posted on Facebook. I need that. Why? Because I don’t want to be an Internet arsonist.