As I have gone through this journey with my kids, I stumbled upon one approach that seems to have actually worked. You will find this glaringly obvious but once you do, you’ll also wonder why you’ve tried all the other parenting methods above before you try this one.
The parenting method is simply – be like Jesus – go in with Grace and Love and pray constantly – particularly about your need to judge.
I said at the beginning that Unconditional Love is only learned from parenting teenagers. Here’s why: When our kids are babies and little, they are helpless and need us constantly. We love them in that “caring for a puppy” way. We love them because they need us to love them and because God wired us that way from the moment they are born. It’s not until they get to be teenagers that they don’t really need us anymore and thus have the ability to truly reject us.
You remember when you’re 8 year old said he was running away from home. He probably got his backpack and packed some lame survival stuff in it and walked a block down the street before he ran back and said he wasn’t ready yet and apologized. We all remember those stories and repeat them wistfully and knowingly. We’re good parents, our kids want to be with us.
But some switch turns in their head at puberty and suddenly they don’t want to be with us – in fact, we’re stalkers if we want to be with them or talk with them about their friends. Many, many kids run away from their parents in their teen years. I did. Overnight. Came home and was grounded for 2 months after a physical fight with my dad. I was 16. I was a GREAT kid. All my friends’ parents loved me, wanted their boys to be like me. Yet I ran away and HATED my parents for a great deal of my 16th year. What did they know about my choices, my girlfriend, my life? It’s pretty likely that you have a similar story. And you were a good kid, too. I know you think things are much different now, that kids and parents get along better than when you were a kid.
The reality is that when our kids get to be a teenager, we get to understand in just a very small way what it would like to be God and have ourselves as a child. This truth hit me in a very real way this summer. I was whining to God in my quiet time about how unfair it was the way my teen was treating me. God can you get through to her and show her how horrible she’s being? Then I read the passage. One that I’d memorized (ironically enough) when I was 16.
“Consider it all joy my brothers, when you encounter various trials. Knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
I had a reference there in my Bible to Matthew. So innocently enough, I paged over to the sermon on the mount and saw this:
43-47 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
Matthew 5:43-48 The Message (MSG)
The NIV says “be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” which I always had difficulty understanding – but the actual word for perfect is better translated “mature”, so the Message translation above gives it’s true meaning: Grow up.
Parents – I don’t want to make a comparison to the persecution that the early church suffered as being our lot here with teenagers, but I think it is very clear that this is a significant trial for most parents. The rejection is real, it is painful it is not going away with a wave of a parenting book or a counseling session. It’s going away eventually, after the brain gets developed. I believe I’ll have that relationship I always thought we were building a foundation toward – just not maybe as soon as I’d like. But, and this is very difficult to say and has taken me a while to get my head around, that is good. In fact, it is cause for Joy!
Before you all assume that I’ve completely gone off the deep end – remember what James says — “consider it joy” because you know that this trial produces a complete you. God is literally going to use this pain and difficulty to help you better understand and appreciate him and to build you into a more complete person. Here’s how.
You never really learn unconditional love until you have a teenager. Because unconditional love is love that is given in the face of rejection. It’s love that is an action in spite of a counter action that is much different. It’s the love of a Savior on the cross forgiving those who crucified him. It’s the love of a father walking back to the car to get something for his daughter even when she was rude in demanding he do it.
It’s a love that doesn’t retaliate. It’s a love that doesn’t pout but looks for the good even after being chastised by a know-it-all 15 year old. It’s a love that refuses to engage in battle for the sake of ego. It’s a love that stands firm and takes it and turns the other cheek.
This is the cauldron in which the complete Christian is formed. It’s not in those happy joyous times of raising 8-10 year olds in a whir of motion and excitement. We are not formed into complete and mature Christians when our daughters run to your arms when they hear you come through the door at the end of the work day. We are pleased then, we are overjoyed then, but we’re not “growing” and learning endurance and according to Jesus in the chapter in Matthew, we’re not even doing anything different than non-believers there.
I mentioned grace as well. Grace is not correcting every faux-pas or rude remark or evil comment. Or it is correcting them gently and with positive reinforcement, minus the sarcasm and guilt trips and Christian Theology. Grace is playing soccer with your 17 year old after she was particularly rude to you and ignoring her disgust with your inability to pass the ball exactly where she needs it.
Grace is what we have expected and even demanded continually from God for years as a Christian, but what we find so difficult to give to others. We expect grace in bucketfuls, and measure it back in teaspoons. Isn’t that how we relate to God? And now we’re upset that our children relate to us in similar ways?
Next, judgment is a critical step here. I’m just coming to grips with the fact that even though I’m making strong gains on the Love side and with Grace, I’m woefully inadequate in my judgment. Just a bit later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus discusses this:
“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own.
Matthew 7:1-3 The Message
Obviously, we can’t offer the Grace and the Love if we’re judging out loud like this, but that wasn’t my problem. I was already working hard in those areas and this wasn’t an out-loud issue for me as much as it was in my head. I was still keeping track of all the stupid comments, of all the perceived slights, of the rude behavior. I was keeping a list. I’d mention it later to my wife, or worse, one of the other kids in hopes of getting someone “on my side” or understanding how much I was “putting up with.” Of course there is no way this was creeping into my attitude or wrecking my spirit… It’s interesting how quickly that actually does happen when we harbor anger or frustration inside. No matter how we try to hide it, we slip up. It comes out.
So if you find yourself in the path of that teenage wrecking ball, here’s the steps to getting through it without leaving a you-shaped imprint on the opposite side of the living room wall.
1) Read James 1:2-4 and agree with God that this is a trial and you need to start thanking him for it and acknowledging that he’s going to use it to make you Complete.
2) Begin working on not retaliating. This is the love. It’s very difficult at first, but pray a lot each time you feel like you need to come back with sarcasm or deal with the lack of respect. The harsh reality is that your feelings got hurt by a kid. Grow up. You’re the adult, start acting like it (back to The Message’s version of Matthew 5 above).
3) Look for all the opportunities to show Grace and each time you do – thank God that he showed you grace in a similar situation.
4) Romans 12:1-2 – Most of this is in your head – it’s a mindset that you need God to change for you and replace with your new mind. Ask for this before, during and after the confrontations you face.
5) When you begin keeping an internal record, when you start judging in your head, go back to Matthew – “respond with the energies of prayer.” It’s very difficult to be angry or show contempt for someone you are constantly praying for.
Finally, whatever you do – work together with your wife or your husband. No one should have to face this alone and it is always better if you defend your wife and your wife defends you than if either of you defends themselves. This is actually straight out of the life of Christ. Jesus is constantly defending those who are defenseless. Look at the women caught in Adultery, the lady who pours perfume on his feet, the healings, the lepers, etc. And he’s never defending himself, even to the point of death. Not defending yourself is the only way to model Christ’s behavior to your kids during this time of their lives.
Go forward, and be mature and complete, lacking in nothing…
- Grace, Love, Judgement and Parenting Part I: (aliendad.wordpress.com)
- How Brennan Manning Changed My Life: Part II – Grace Is Enough (identityrenewed.wordpress.com)
- Trading Perfectionism for Grace (pocketfulofmotherhood.wordpress.com)