Thursday, 24 May 2012
The Difficult Teen Years: A Letter to my Grown Children
( I wrote this letter to my grown children back in 2005)
To my children:
Even though you are grown and have families of your own, many of the lessons the Lord taught your Father and I during your teen years remain fresh and awakened in my mind. The lessons we learn in God’s classroom are not soon forgotten.
I do not consider myself an 'expert' in the challenging area of training teens. I believe I failed more times than I care to admit or perhaps even realize. The Lord was merciful and was directing us continually, even if we failed at carrying through His orders. What you find below are just a few of those lessons we attempted to take to heart.
It may be hard to imagine now as you look at your small children but someday they will be teens. Your father and I may, or may not, still be here on this earth. My prayer is that the Lord may still continue to use our experiences to help you in your daily parenting during that time.
Here are a few of the lessons that God taught us during those years ….
1. Keep my eyes on God and what He is exposing in my own heart.
- This became my anchor... my relationship with God. Since God uses all things to work together for our good to conform us into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:28,29) and James 1:2-4 says that we are to count it all joy when we fall into various trials knowing the testing of our faith produces endurance, etc., then I knew that I needed to look to the Lord to see what He was wanting me to learn in this situation. This particular trial exposed sin in my heart that I was not even aware of. I learned that I had prided myself in my children's performance and behavior, that I lacked the humility and love that Jesus had when treated disrespectfully and I realized more than ever how much I needed Christ’s life within me to be what I could not be on my own. The contrast between the Jesus I saw in Scripture and the reality of who I was in the flesh was distinct! I found my need for Christ in a way I had never known before. Only Christ could be, through me, the parent my children needed. I saw that I could do nothing of value without Christ first working it IN and THROUGH me.
2. I learned that I am only responsible for my sin before God.
I went through a period of despair because I felt that I had somehow caused the disobedience I saw at times in my children. Yes, as an imperfect parent, I had my parenting flaws and sins which I continually repented of, but somehow I was carrying even the responsibility for your actions. I had bought into the teaching (taught in some home school circles) that if your Father and I raised you children in a certain way then we could avoid the ‘teenager‘ syndrome that was so rampant during our time. My hope had been IN the home schooling ‘lifestyle’ and not in the Lord. This thinking was so subtle that I had deceived even myself. So, naturally, when we encountered resistance in those teen years I immediately questioned God. I asked why He would allow this to happen when I had given up so much to safeguard my children. Ah… but the heart of the matter was being exposed which was …HUMANISM. I had approached my child training, unknowingly believing that if I controlled the influences in my children's life then I could determine their outcome. Without realizing it, I was believing that a child is an empty vessel and what you put into a child is what that child will become. I know this to be absolute heresy! Scripture teaches that a child is not empty or without sin. He is born and shaped in iniquity, even in the womb, (Ps. 51:5) and unless that child puts his faith in the work of Christ on the cross for their sins then they are destined for an eternal hell. (John 6:44) The difficulty we face with our children in their teen years is often the issue of an unsaved child’s heart being exposed. I knew this intellectually but had allowed myself to adopt unbiblical thinking that bypassed this doctrine.
I began to see through Scripture that no one is held responsible for another’s sin. (Ezekial 18) When we stand before the Lord we will not be able to point fingers. It was important for me to divide the difference and stay focused on my responsibility towards God and my responsibility towards my child. If I carry the responsibility of my child’s sin and his salvation then he no longer feels the weight of his own actions and all my dealings with him will not be aimed towards helping him to see his sin and heart attitudes.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am still a strong supporter of home schooling and believe that it was God‘s will for our family. The fault did not lie in home schooling but in my own doctrinal beliefs. If I were, today, given another child I would choose to home school them but this time I would know where my hope lies.. and it wouldn’t be in my own efforts.
3. I learned to trust your Father’s decisions in training and disciplining more than I ever had.
I had been the main disciplinarian throughout the day since your Father was at work. When we hit these difficult years I realized I needed his strength of authority and protection more than ever. God gave him wisdom and long-suffering FAR beyond what I was able to give. I struggled giving you children freedom as you grew older. I was fearful of all the temptations I knew awaited you and more fearful of how you would respond to them. Your father, on the other hand, was able to look at things much more logically. I tried to listen more intently to his direction. I often wondered how single mothers handled these times. I was so thankful for your Father’s protection and guidance.
To try and help eliminate some of the power struggles that are so common during the teen years, your Father took over most of the disciplining. I would write down the offense during the day and then your Father would handle the matter when he got home. There was less conflict between Dad and you so this helped to take some of the pressure off of our relationship during the day.
4. I learned that I had blurred the distinction between house rules and God's rules.
Somehow, I had blurred the distinction between my preferences and opinions vs. God’s commands. I believe this lessened my credibility with you children at times. I believe it’s absolutely okay to set house rules for the good of the family but we needed to make sure we kept the distinction between God’s rules and our own house rules clear.
Don’t put a ’thus saith the Lord’ unless you can back it with solid Scriptural proof.
One instance is whether a young girl should work outside the home. You know how strongly I feel the biblical example set forth in Scripture is one of a woman’s primary responsibility being in the home. Yet, you wanted so badly to find work outside of the home the closer you approached 18. I would have loved to have you remain home and work in the house and on the property. I could find no Scriptural mandate stating it was a sin for a woman to work outside the home so how could your Father or I demand that of you? I knew the temptations for working women and where it could lead once you were married. I’ve watched over the years the pull of temptation for a married woman to work outside the home because she (and her husband) know how much money she made when she was single. If she had never worked and made a good income there would be far less temptation to work outside the home once she was married. But your Father and I had to decide whether forbidding you to work could be backed by scripture. Since we could find no Scriptural mandate requiring you to not work outside the home we prayerfully helped you find a job where other Christians were working in a safe environment. Hopefully you remember our exhortations of the temptations that would face you.
As you children became older we had to decide what was absolutely necessary to enforce and what was not. We let some house rules go but we determined to never let God's commands slide. We were accountable to the Lord for what was done on our property and in our home and what we allowed our children to do. There were things that God had specifically said were sin. We could not, nor would not, slide on those things. There were also things that we believed we could not let slide in our own home, even though they were only house rules. We had to decide what freedoms we could allow that would not harm you or the rest of the children in a negative way, and would not be a sin against God. This takes much prayer and God's wisdom. As a child becomes older they need to be allowed more freedom as they show responsibility. As they show more and more self-control a parent needs to have less rules regulating them. Your Father was much more equipped at allowing you more freedom. This was a very difficult lesson for me that I did not do well in at all. I was the mother hen who wanted her chicks safe under her wings. This is a good thing for a young ‘chick’ but causes many problems when a mother hen tries to keep a grown bird under her wing span. *smile*
5. Your father suggested that I find some areas of ministry with godly men to place you boys once you were in high school. He was concerned about you being under the influence of only women as you grew older. In times past a young man would be sent to work in the fields with his father or in the shop. Homeschooling boys are often kept under the tutelage of their mother 24 hours a day. So, we prayed long and hard for a safe, solid ministry within the church for you children to spend some time training.
I also looked for things we could do together that would not allow contention between us but would allow us to enjoy each others company. I watched for things that interested you and then tried to help you pursue them. This was different for each one of you. This was an area that we could enjoy each other without conflict.
6. Lastly, recognize that your child may not be a believer.
Sometimes children do not become believers until later in life or possibly not at all. Jesus said that He came to cause division, and many times it is between those in our own household if they have not accepted Christ as their Savior. (Luke 12:51-53) I was responsible to obey God personally but there came the time when I had to realize that everything we tried to do to bring peace in our homes may still bring resistance if I was dealing with an unbeliever.
I’ve written this last paragraph at a time when you children are grown with families of your own. You are seeking to train your children in God’s ways. I thank God for that, knowing full well it is His work alone that He has done in your hearts. If the Lord allows you to suffer the pain of a child who has not yet come to know Him until his later years… do not give up hope. God is faithful. He will be with you each step of the way. He will use each moment, each day, each experience and all of your failings to draw you closer to Him and conform you more into the image of Christ. ( Romans 5:3-5) You are in His school, just as your children are. Keep your eyes on Him. Learn to depend on Him for your very breath. Know that He alone has the power to can change a child‘s heart. (November 14, 2005)
Here are a few of the books that encouraged me during those later years of child training:
Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tripp
Age of Opportunity by Tripp
Prodigals and Those Who Love Them by Ruth Graham Bell
Lena by Margaret Jensen