Raising Your Teen God’s Way
by Shelby Spear
If you have a teenager you undoubtedly have thrown your hands in the air frantically pleading to God for answers, guidance, and strength. For me, this has become part of my daily routine in dealing with my fourteen-year-old son Johnny. While the flailing and whining on my part certainly works well as an exercise routine, it falls short as a coping mechanism for the mom of an irrational adolescent. Allow me to let you into my world for a moment.
While I frantically prepare breakfast for three kids, my son lumbers into the kitchen looking angry. I try to ignore his daily school uniform attire of severely wrinkled blue slacks and white polo shirt.
“Good morning, Johnny. How did you sleep last night?’
“Grunt…pfffffffff.” (Best guess at the actual quote.)
“Glad to hear that, honey. Are you all set for school?”
“No I’m not, because I don’t even want to go to school. For once I wish you would just let me sleep in like all the other moms do. Who cares if I’m tardy? Why do you have to be so strict?”
I smile…refuse to engage, but whip the eggs a little harder.
“Well, I hope you have a great day, Johnny. Maybe something really good will happen this morning even though you don’t want to go.”
I then secretly wonder if I really am a bad mother compared to all the others.
My son bounds into my office after school. “Hi, Mom! Guess what happened in gym today? We played our basketball tournament and I hit six three-pointers in a row! We won by thirty-two points. How was your day? Did you listen to the CD I made you last night? I really hope you like it because I put your favorite song on it.”
“That’s great about your basketball game Johnny. Your hard work at practice is really paying off. I did have a good day. Thank you for asking. And the CD you made was perfect. I appreciate you taking the time to think of me.”
“Sure, Mom. I love you.”
I am overwhelmed with a sudden rush of self-affirmation that I am a good mother.
Ten minutes later…
“Mom, can I get on the computer to download songs from iTunes and upload CDs that Michael let me borrow? “
“I have to finish this design project I am working on first, Johnny. It will take me the rest of the night. You can use the computer tomorrow after school.”
“What! I have to give these CDs back to Michael tomorrow! If I don’t he won’t ever let me borrow them again and then I’ll never get these songs that I have been waiting to get forever!”
“Sorry, John. That is just the way it goes right now. I’m sure Michael won’t care if it is an extra day. He’s loaned CDs to you many times before.”
“Are you kidding me, Mom? Are you telling me I can’t do this today? Why do you always say no?’ “Why can’t I ever do what I want?’
“Johnny, I suggest you change your tone with me or you will have consequences.”
“Like what, Mom? Are you going to take the phone away from me tonight? Why do you always make such a big deal about everything? Why do you always have to make me mad? “
I begin engaging in bad-mother exercise routine complete with arm-flailing and other toddleresque non-verbals.
“Why do I make you mad? Johnny, you’re the one having a fit because I said you would have to wait until tomorrow to get your music.”
“I am not having a fit, Mom. I said it would be fine if I waited until tomorrow to upload the songs. Didn’t you hear me? It’s not my fault that you didn’t hear me. You never hear me. And now you’re freaking out telling me I might lose the phone tonight! This is unbelievable.”
I smile and gently ask Johnny to leave the room, then methodically pick up the phone to call psychiatrist and/or physician to check my hearing and mental stability.
Despite being Johnny’s mom for fourteen years, as well as the mother of two pre-adolescents, I consistently find myself doubting whether I know anything about childrearing. I go to bed at night wondering if my angry outbursts and preachy diatribes in retaliation to my son’s behavior nullify my standing as a good Christian mother. Hmmm.
During a recent prayer time I desperately prayed for courage and strength to understand the heart within Johnny--for the wisdom and patience to parent the unrecognizable fourteen-year-old who was my son. God led me to a devotional that spoke of the importance of being still before the Lord. Stillness was defined as complete silence within. A place where we listen to what God is saying without asking or praying for anything.
Since my anxiety and exasperation were fruitless emotions when it came to dealing with Johnny, I decided to follow the advice and be still in God’s presence. This was the message God loudly whispered.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (Parents of Teens Translation)
Love is patient and kind…even when your teen sleeps until noon and talks on the phone until midnight; Love is not jealous or boastful…even when your teen spends more time with his iPod than he does talking to you. Love is not arrogant or rude…even when your teen tells you that you don’t know anything and only his friends understand. Love is not irritable or resentful…even when you come across an email from your teen to his friend that defames your character. Love does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right…even if your teen admits to making a poor choice, but falsely accuses you of causing him to make it. Love bears all things…even countless “I hate you” jibes;
believes all things…even when your teen does everything in his power to hide his love from you; hopes all things…even when your teen declares Church is stupid and there is no point in going; endures all things…mood swings, sarcasm, negative peer influences, bad language, disrespect, days of silent protests, two-word responses, weird clothes, strange hair, embarrassing moments in public, eye rolling, angry outbursts, manipulation tactics, “it’s all about me syndrome”…and on and on to infinity. Love never ends…because when raising a teen, love is always beginning.
Sigh. God went straight to my heart. Could I pretend I didn’t hear Him? Although thankful for the wisdom, I couldn’t help but throw back the “sounds good in theory, but…” rebuke. Did God really expect me to have the fortitude to show this agape love – the love of God – in the heat of battle? I turned to God in silence once again – this time with my legs crossed and my arms tightly folded.
He gently whispered this time, “The first step is allowing your spirit to be humbled. Jesus warned you about judgment when he asked, ‘Why do you point out the splinter in your friend’s eye when you cannot see the log in your own?’” (Matthew 7:3)
I slowly unfolded my arms. I began to ponder His message wondering if He was saying that our behavior as adults is similar to that of a teenager. We make countless mistakes and lapses in judgment on a daily basis, but God still accepts us for who we are. At times we deliberately turn our backs on God to embrace the world, and He remains steadfast in our life. We often fall down on our walk toward spiritual maturity, yet He never gives up on us. All He asks is that we follow Him -- just as we ask our children to follow us as we attempt to raise them in the light of Christ.
Oh, that log…
The lesson God revealed was that whether our teenagers take the quick and narrow path or the long and winding detour into adulthood and spiritual maturity, if they find themselves in the midst of His presence along the way they will be blessed. It is our responsibility as parents to give them an opportunity to feel His presence by showing them agape love, the ultimate act of selfless acceptance that Christ asks us to share with all our brothers and sisters -- especially our precious teens trying to find their way in a challenging world. God loves us unconditionally, expecting nothing in return. We are called to do that and more for our children.