“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12 (NIV )
Babies grow up.
It is a well-known fact, documented from the beginning of time, so I’m not sure why it takes us parents by surprise. Every adult human on the planet has trod the hardened soil of teenhood. Some of us would like to wipe those wandering years from our memory; I’m sure a majority of our parents would like to hit “delete” also.
The transition from child to adult is bridged by this awkward, tumultuous, oft-dreaded season called adolescence. This period of time has gotten a bad rap, becoming something that many parents dread and would frankly like to skip over altogether. But we know that’s not an option.
So what does it look like for us as Christian parents to let Christ redeem our past while shepherding our teens to adulthood?
My husband and I are currently employed as parents of teens. It is a job that is filled with joy, sadness, fun, and frustration—all before breakfast. We unwittingly filled out our application for this job the moment they were born and have been in training ever since. We have floundered at times in our “on the job training,” settling for good behavior that leads to peace in our home and a pat on the back from other gawking parents. After all the parenting book advice left us unchanged, we have discovered the true meaning of something we like to refer to as OJT , “only Jesus transforms.”
What we didn’t realize until recently is how truly unsuccessful we would be at this job when relying on our own strength, abilities, and wisdom. When parenting teens, the illusion of control that creeps in in the early years of parenting is shattered. As small children, a well-timed redirection or a spanking administered in love would restore harmony to the relationship.
The parenting job description shifts from physically exhausting with constant demands on you for the care and feeding of their young bodies, to relationally and spiritually exhausting as you care for and nurture their souls. Parenting teens exposes your heart and theirs, leaving us desperate for Jesus to do the transforming work in each of our hearts that we alone cannot do.
To keep us focused on the impossible task at hand—sending our teen children out into the world as disciples of Christ—we developed a job description for parents. The desperate, humbled parent who desires to parent their teen in a God-glorifying manner must possess:
1. A Dependence on Grace
If you don’t truly know how and why the grace of God alone saved you, you cannot give to your kids what they most desperately need: grace. They do not desperately need more rules, groundings, restrictions, and threats. They do need to see the outworking of grace from Jesus in your life and theirs so they will be compelled to their only source of salvation: the grace of Jesus.
2. Willingness to Work Nights (and Days)
Parenting teens is exhausting. Take a nap in the afternoon because no words of substance or depth emerge out of a teen before 10 p.m. Something about it being dark outside makes them feel comfortable to open up the unfamiliar places in their hearts. Really important tools for the job include plenty of yummy food, loud music, and time on your hands. Amazing conversations can spring out of listening to their favorite music together and asking questions about it—even if it gives you a headache.
3. Extreme Bravery
To do this job effectively, you must have courage and a thick skin. Much time logged in prayer required. Stop being surprised by your teen’s sinful heart, but step into it. Push through the fear of what you will find there—believe me, it’s no worse than yours. Open the closed bedroom door, know the password to phones and emails, and be willing to calmly engage them about their heart struggles.
4. A Working Knowledge of Truth
To rightly address what you will encounter in #3, you must be armed with the Word of God. Angry, shaming, and religious responses to your teen’s sin are a demonstration of your lack of understanding of Scripture. The Bible is not a disconnected arsenal of weapons that you flog your teen into obedience with, but one to encourage and sharpen them with. Familiarize yourself with the whole redemptive story of God throughout the Bible so you can point them to his redemptive power in their story.
5. Honesty and Integrity
Your teen needs to see that you struggle, too. Tell them stories of sin and redemption from your life. Keep Jesus as the hero of the story. They need to have parents who speak and live their dependence upon Jesus. There should never be a moment when you are lecturing to your teen about living a godly life that you are not simultaneously sharing how hard it is for you to do so without Christ.
6. Strong Initiative and Intentionality
Strategic naiveté does not work for your teen, so why do you think it will work for you? Just as you would hold them responsible for choices they make or responsibilities they shirk, God holds you responsible. As the parent, you model purposeful, intentional effort to build relationship. Schedule in late-night snack and chat times. Invite yourself along when they want to go somewhere with friends. For crying out loud, have some fun with them! Take initiative to build relationship with them, not just referee or relegate them to their rooms.
Joining our teens in life where they are is our privilege as parents. The “job” of parenting is more about trusting God with them than training them properly. When we trust God to transform our hearts, our teens are free to fall in love with a God who can change even the craziest, most sinful of parents like theirs.
Jen Smidt is a deacon at the Ballard church, where her husband, Phil, is a pastor. She last wrote for this blog during the Real Marriage series about what to do as a wife when you sin against your husband.