Over the past several weeks I’ve been going through old photos in preparation for my son’s high school graduation. It makes me laugh to see pictures of his timeless, mischievous smile and goofy mannerisms. But I have another emotion that surfaces when I look at old photos of my kids.
Sometimes, I feel regret.
I look at their young faces and regret not hugging them more when they were little. I regret “getting through” the younger years rather than taking in all the joys of toddlerhood. I feel guilty that I did not instill a greater reverence for God’s holiness or a better understanding of His mercy and grace.
And then I sigh through my many “if only” statements: If only I sent them to this school and not that one; if only I waited a little longer to let them have a phone, and if only I fed them more vegetables and less animal crackers.
I know I’m not alone in these emotions because I’ve talked with other parents who get stuck in the same pit of regret, especially when we’re launching a child into the world. But I’m not sure this is the way the Lord wants us to reflect on our childrearing years.
God has graciously brought us to where we are right now in our parenting, so rather than looking back with guilt, we should reflect on our past parenting with thanksgiving and anticipate our child’s future with great hope.
Looking Back with Abundant Thanksgiving
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
The first part of this Proverb exhorts parents to “train up a child in the way he should go.” I can assure of you of this: no one who has lived through the nuances of parenting has done this perfectly. No one.
God specifically chose you to parent your child, not because he thought you could do it without mistakes, but because God knows exactly what your child needs. And so, in His graciousness, He matched you with your child.
There’s no doubt that this God-ordained “match” is a sanctifying one. Our sin is magnified in our attempt to love, nurture, and direct, but we also grow through our mistakes, learning day by day and year by year how to better love the child that God has placed in our care. What grace the Lord shows us through this journey!
Accordingly, the Hebrew translation of “the way he should go” speaks into the child’s individual inclinations. While the goal is to train our children in the wisdom and knowledge of Jesus Christ, each one is totally unique in their personalities, circumstances, and needs.
Because of this, we are not given a Biblical outline on the one right way to train up a child. That training will look very different depending on the strengths and weaknesses of the child whom God has given you.
Regret in parenting often arises when we forget that our calling in parenthood is unique and instead, we become envious of other parenting stories or successes. We perceive someone who did it right, and in turn feel guilty that we didn’t follow their ways. But the Lord says, follow me. Keep your eyes on me. Using other parents as the ultimate standard discounts the wisdom and goodness that God has provided in your own, unique parenting journey.
Do you sense the freedom in this truth? You don’t need to reminisce with regret, but you can remember with joy and thanksgiving all that God has done in guiding and sustaining you as a parent thus far. Give your regrets to Jesus; throw them at His feet and rejoice freely in your heavenly Father who has walked with you and guided you.
What is more, God lovingly redeems your greatest weaknesses as parents. The world tells us that our kid’s successes depend on our success. There is nothing true in this statement. What is true is that God uses our failures in ways we could never comprehend. That doesn’t make sense on a human level, but, as Luke 18:27 reminds us, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Jesus is always at work, even in and through our mistakes.
Looking Forward with Great Hope
The second half of this Proverb urges us to look forward: “even when he is old, he will not depart from [God’s ways].”
It’s essential to understand that this verse is not formulaic. Generally speaking, it is true that training up a child in the ways of the Lord will result in a child who considers God’s ways. But this is not a guarantee. It’s a principle, not a promise.
We struggle with this concept because we have a hard time not being in control. So, if our child is wayward, we blame ourselves for not doing enough, but if our child turns out “great,” we pat ourselves on the back and very quickly offer our expert parenting manual to others.
Both responses discounts God’s loving sovereignty. It is God who receives glory in our parenting victories, and it is God who receives glory even in our parenting failures because He uses our frailty in ways we could never fully understand. The way you parent does not ensure a particular future for your child. God alone is the author of their stories, and while we have tremendous influence as we “train them up,” it is ultimately Jesus who works in their hearts, often in profound and mysterious ways.
Anticipate your child’s future with great hope because we serve a great and awesome God who can and who will do great things!
And in the meantime, don’t stop making disciples. Even if you are on the brink of empty nesting, your work as a “trainer” continues. Listen well when your child seeks advice, pray often for their relationship with Jesus, and look for other younger children and parents to disciple.
I can’t help but think about the Apostle Paul. Of all people who might live with regret, this persecutor of Christians had every right to live a guilt-ridden life. But after Jesus revealed himself, the rest of Paul’s life was not marked by regret, but instead by faithfulness to the gospel message. He lived and breathed Jesus.
May our lives be marked similarly as we look forward with great hope to all the ways in which God will continue to use our parenting to advance His kingdom and to spread His love.
Published on Thursday, June 23, 2022 @ 5:41 PM EDT
When things happen that just don’t make sense, I think the very “Christian” thing to do is to put a Bible-verse-bandaid on it and hope that the bleeding stops.
But as a parent, I think it is a bad idea to cover up feelings and emotions with Bible verses.
I think it is a wise thing to heal feelings and emotions with Bible verses.
Let me explain the difference.
You know the verses I’m talking about…the ones that instinctively make you roll your eyes the second you hear someone say them to you.
And then you immediately feel that guilty feelings come over you because, who rolls their eyes at the BIBLE?
So it’s usually the “all things work together”, “be anxious for nothing”, and “I can do all things” ones.
And here’s the thing. The bible is not a bandaid.
It’s a sword, actually.
It’s for opening up wounds to reveal the heart.
It’s a light.
It’s for putting the spotlight on our sin so we can confess and repent and look more like Jesus.
It’s for relationship.
It’s for spending time listening to the living Word that shows us a real, loving person who wants a real, loving relationship with us.
So we need to start using it in that way.
After a big disappointment in life, I realized how I was feeling about God.
How I was feeling about his character, how I was feeling about the way he was treating my family, how I was feeling about what he thought of me.
It was not positive and even though I knew that it was based on my feelings, it did not minimize the emotions and the “Realness” behind it.
I also knew that my boys were feeling the same way.
What happens when you sit on feelings and emotions without addressing them, is that they start to creep into other aspects of your life.
You may not realize it, but you start making a little pile of hurts and misunderstandings.
After time, it becomes an enormous pile of big hurts and misunderstandings.
And after an even longer time, you look back and wonder how you ever got to this point of bitterness that you never saw coming.
So here’s the question. Should you let your kids question God?
My answer? YES. Yes, yes and yes.
Listen, we all question God at times. All of us.
I do not think that we need to raise our kids to feel guilty for the questions, but I do think we need to train them on what to do with those questions and emotions.
Here’s what I think it should look like.
After a disappointment, or hurt, or loss…I think it would be helpful if we did this.
Take your child out for an ice cream, or donut, or just make some hot chocolate and get some time alone together.
Bring a notebook and your Bibles.
Express the fact that feelings and emotions come from God himself! He made us emotional people!
It is not a negative. However, when we allow our feelings (heart) and emotions to control us, that is where we can get into trouble.
Tell them that everything you talk about today will be honest. Promise that you will be honest with what you say, and you want them to be honest with what they say.
No judging each other. Make it a deal. (Do a handshake, pinky swear, knuckles, whatever…keep it lighthearted but deep and real.)
Take out your notebook.
Make two columns.
One column will say “What I feel”
The other column will say “What I know”
In the first column, be totally and completely honest with how you feel.
You can go first so they know it’s a safe place.
I’ll share a little bit of what mine looked like.
1. I feel like God does not want to give me good things.
2. I feel like God does not want me to succeed.
I told you it would be deep and real.
This is real, life stuff and real, life emotions.
Now. Once you have both gone back and forth with what you FEEL.
You are going to look over your list and determine that you will find out, from God himself, if these feelings could be truth.
So with number 1. I feel like God does not want to give me good things.
Let’s do some research to see what God actually says.
Matthew 7:11 – …how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him.P
Psalm 85:12 – The Lord will give what is good.
Psalm 34:10 – But they who seek the LORD shall not be in want of any good thing.
Alright. So I know my feelings. And they are based on this, this and this with what I see, what happened, what I feel, etc.
BUT God says all of this about God giving me good things.
So, let’s check it out. Are my feelings based on truth?
In this case, no.
Alright, let’s go to the next one.
And you go through your list of your feelings, and you check them out based on God’s truth.
TRUTH OVER FEELINGS EVERY TIME.
You are teaching your kids that feelings are real, and shouldn’t be ignored or brushed off.
And disappointments and loss and hurt are all very real.
And you are teaching them that YOU are the safe place to go to talk about those very real feelings.
Do your kids feel safe to tell you “I don’t feel like God loves me.” or “I don’t think God hears my prayers at all”
and not be afraid that you’re going to say- come on… you know that’s not true. Don’t say that. That’s not right…
Also, there may be times when your kids feel like God is not hearing their prayers, and maybe that is accurate.
Do some research on what God says about that. Have him read the verse that says, if I have iniquity in my heart, God won’t hear me.
Be open and honest about everything God says, and don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t understand the answer,
but you are going to work together to find it!
Because if our kids are going to be feeling any of these things (And they will.) They will either hold it all in until they break,
or they may talk to someone who will just tell them that maybe it is true. Maybe God doesn’t love them, or hear their prayers, or you know what?
Maybe God isn’t even real!
Should you let your kids question God?
Well, I think your kids are going to question God whether you know it or not.
So the real question should be, should you let your kids talk to you about how they question God.
And the answer to that would be yes.
But let our questions lead us to the truth.
Let our questions lead us to the one. Jesus.
The one who is the way the truth and the life.
The one who came and lived among men who is full of grace and truth.
We need to correctly hand the word of truth with ourselves and with our kids.
Let’s raise our kids to be thinkers, to know where to go with their emotions, and to know what to do with their feelings.
Help them to use their feelings to find the truth.
Not their truth. THE truth.
We will then have strong, unwavering, godly kids who grow into strong, unwavering, godly adults that this world so desperately needs.
And in all of it, it helps you to put the truth above your own feelings, and it brings you closer to your kids.
Life is hard.
Doing it together and figuring out what God wants in all of us makes it better.
Yes, question God. But always let God give the final answer.
Truth over feelings every time.
Published on Thursday, May 5, 2022 @ 4:44 PM EDT
Thanks for all you do to invest in the life of your teenager(s). You probably feel like an uber driver (ready to pick them up/drop them off when they call), coach (helping them perfect their sport), tutor (working with them on homework), guidance counsellor (preparing them for the future) and, sometimes, a jockey (pushing them to cross the finish line…without a whip of course!)…all wrapped up in one!
That’s why, with all the insane busyness of parenting a teen, it’s easy to let youth group attendance slide off the grid. It’s tempting to think, “My kid’s just too busy for a night of hanging out with other teenagers, playing some goofy games and hearing another Bible lesson.”
Believe me when I say, I understand the temptation. As a parent of a teenager (who has tons of homework, plays football and is not yet old enough to drive) my wife and I are constantly under pressure to measure every event through the lenses of what matters most. And we have decided that youth group attendance must be a priority. Although we view ourselves as the primary spiritual influence of our kids, we also believe that a strong youth ministry plays a vital role in his overall spiritual development.
With this as a backdrop here are 5 short, yet powerful, reasons you should encourage (make?) your teenager(s) go to youth group:
1. Teenagers need models and mentors.
“O God, You have taught me from my youth, And I still declare Your wondrous deeds. And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, Until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to all who are to come. “ Psalm 71:17,18
In the Jewish culture it wasn’t just parents that poured into the younger folks. Older men poured into younger men and older women poured into younger women (Titus 2:1-8.)
Of course you as a parent are called to be the primary spiriutal mentor of your own teenager but he/she also needs other godly adults! It’s important for your son or daughter to see that this whole “Christianity thing” is more than just mom’s and dad’s belief system. They need to have models and mentors that reinforce all of the spiritual truth they are learning from you.
2. Teenagers need community.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24,25
In an age of bullying, gossip, slander and hatefulness (which can destroy a teenager’s self-identity), young people need other young people who can lift them up, encourage them and challenge them in all the right ways.
Youth group is also a place where teenagers can discover their spiritual gifting and begin to use it to serve others. This will help them have a heart to selflessly serve others for the rest of their lives!
3. Teenagers need mission.
When Jesus challenged his most-likely teenaged disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations”,he was tapping into the activist wiring of these young men. In the same way your teenager needs challenged with the mission to reach their peers with the good news of Jesus in a loving and contagious way.
Youth group is a place where your teenager can invite their unbelieving friends to hear the gospel. But it’s also a place where they can be equipped to share the good news of Jesus with their own peers (which will help them grow in their faith!) As your youth leader continues to build a Gospel Advancing ministry the message of Jesus will advance in them and through them. This process will accelerate the disicpleship process in the life of your teen in ways you could never imagine!
4. Teenagers need theology.
“Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.” Ephesians 4:14,15
Youth group is a place where teenagers can wrestle through the theology you’ve been teaching them (you’ve been teaching them right?) and have it reinforced in a powerful and personal way under the guidance of a youth leader who knows how to ask great questions and point teens to sound truth.
This should result in your teenagers knowing and owning their faith on a deeper level. Youth groups and small groups should be a place where teenagers can ask tough questions and even share doubts and struggles with their beliefs without fear of rebuke. Skilled youth leaders can take questioning teens back to God’s Word as the source of authority and help them process through all of the Biblical truth you are praying they grasp, believe and live out.
Great youth groups build on the foundation that godly moms and dads have laid. And, for those teenagers who don’t have believing parents, an effective youth ministry helps lay a solid foundation of Biblical truth for the rest of a teenager’s life.
5. Teenagers need a safe place to confess and confide.
“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” James 5:16
Often teenagers who struggle with sin and temptation have nowhere to confess and confide. They feel trapped by their sins. But a healthy youth ministry can create a safe space for teenagers to open up and talk honestly about their struggles. Of course this doesn’t mean they should confess every sin to everyone. But it does mean that they should have a handful of others who know their struggles and can pray for and encourage them to walk in victory over those sins.
When my son came back from a youth retreat last year he had this opportunity. He opened up with a handful of others about some of his struggles and then he came back and opened up to me. After he confessed his struggles he told me that he felt a thousand pound weight had dropped off his back.
Here’s the thing, my son and I have a very strong and very open relationship. But there was something about his band of brother friends, under the leadership of a caring adult in a youth retreat type setting, that gave him the freedom to confess and confide.
Skilled youth leaders know how to create a context of open and honest dialogue. Teenagers who push their struggles down and never open up often struggle later on in life with addictive and destructive behavior. An effective youth ministry can help teenagers deal with these challenges now and prepare them to be victorious both now and later.
Yes, I know that teen life is busy. But it would be a shame if our teenagers graduated from high school and were catapulted into “the real world” without every opportunity to know, live, share and own their faith.
At the end of the day, our teenagers embracing and embodying the Christian faith is more important than sports and more important than academics. Getting them involved in a healthy, vibrant youth ministry is worth fitting into a crazy, busy schedule. And if it’s not quite as healthy as you think it should be then why don’t you volunteer and make it better?
There’s too much at stake for us to get this wrong. So let’s get it right!
Published on Friday, February 4, 2022 @ 5:48 PM EDT
We walk in silence now, awkwardness wedged between us. Instead of laughing, we battle. We plot to defeat each other. But there are no winners in our war of words, only scars that ache with loneliness.
You feel like a prisoner in our family. You want more freedom. I get it. I understand that you’re upset. But I can’t allow all the freedoms you want. I am your parent, not your friend.
You hate me. You say this with flaming, resentful eyes, and for a second—just a second—I don’t recognize you. Suddenly an old bridge washes away and we stand on separate shores, a raging bitterness between us.
I reach out to you now, to find a way back. As your parent, I have to make unpopular decisions. (I don’t expect you to understand this.) But maybe with kinder words, we can build a new bridge that we both can cross.
One day soon, your independence will arrive and you’ll spread your wings, wide and full, and break free. And I will cheer with delight as you lift off into the glowing sky.
Until then, let me put away angry words, cast aside my arrogance, and lead us in a better direction. I promise to try harder when we disagree. I will follow these simple rules:
1. No more judging
2. No more blaming
3. No more wanting to win
I pledge to listen more and talk less. I pledge to put my frustration aside and work to understand you. I pledge to be more sensitive and less reactive. I pledge to act out of respect instead of defensiveness.
This will take time. I will stumble and fall back into old habits. But I’ll keep trying—I won’t give up on us.
And in the future, when harsh moments fade, and silence echoes in the emptiness of your room like the strings of your unplayed guitar, I’ll take this letter out and, with an open heart, give thanks.
I will be thankfulZZZz that we learned to fight for each other, instead of against each other. And that together we found the strength, on our journey as parent and child, to step away from stubbornness and lead with love.
Published on Monday, January 24, 2022 @ 5:16 AM EDT
7 Things Teenagers Desperately Need Adults to Understand | 7 ways to quiet your teen's negative self-talk.
"Every day is a prison, trapped inside this changing body, repeating the same day over and over. My whole life is made up of things I have to do, not things I want to do. Tests, quizzes, reading assignments, papers, group projects — I spend the entire day with people I am forced to be with: teenagers who feel just as messed up as me.
"Sometimes my feelings get hurt at school — by teachers, deans, counselors, but mostly by other students. I don’t tell you this, because I’m ashamed to feel hurt. I don’t want you to know how hurt I feel all the time.
"My whole life has become 'I don’t want to...' I don’t want to wake up. I don’t want to go to bed. I don’t want to go to school. I don’t want to...I don’t want to...I don’t want to.
"I can’t think of a single thing that I want to do — except sleep. It’s the only time I’m not stressing, the only time I’m not worried, the only time I’m not upset.
"Sometimes I hide in my room and binge watch Netflix, YouTube, or mindless videos over and over, because I can’t stand to be with my own thoughts. I’m distracting myself from me. Does that sound crazy?
"And, yes, I know that my room is a mess. I like it that way: It looks how I feel inside. And please don’t ask me what’s wrong, because I don’t know. I don’t know where these feelings came from.
"I know that you’re mad at me. I can’t blame you. I stopped talking to you. Sometimes I say such mean things to you, horrible things. I blame you, curse at you, push you away. Sometimes I break things, because I feel broken inside.
"It wasn’t always this way. When I look at old photos of me in elementary school, I see a little kid who was so happy all the time. A little kid who loved to dance and sing, who loved to be silly, who didn’t care what people thought.
"I feel like that little kid is dead.
"I’m going to tell you something now that’s hard to say. Please listen, because I really mean it: Don’t give up on me. Don’t hate me back. I need you to be stronger than me. I need you to be my parent, even though I say I don’t want one. I need you to be more patient than I can be, more understanding, more accepting. Even when I am yelling at you, even when I tell you that I hate you, I still need you to love me.
"If I could tell you how to help me, this is what I would say:
1. Give me space.
Don’t come in my room, corner me, or make demands. I don’t have any answers. When you push me or yell at me, I feel worse. I need to be alone. I need space.
2. Don’t yell at me.
The noise in my head is so loud sometimes that I can barely hear my own thoughts. I can’t stand it. When you yell, I feel worse about myself. I feel unloved. I feel like I am your biggest disappointment.
3. Take my electronics away.
I can’t put my phone down; I try, but I just can’t. I know it’s devouring all my time, but I can’t help myself; I can’t stop checking it. I need your help. I need you to set limits on technology. Please. I will fight you, but it’s what I need. Don't try to reason with me: Just do it.
4. Bring me someplace quiet.
I say I don’t want anything to do with you. But if you could bring me somewhere quiet, somewhere we could walk together and not argue, somewhere I can feel the sun and listen to the wind in the trees, somewhere I can breathe and forget about everything that’s bothering me, I think I would like that. Even if we don’t speak, I will feel comforted.
5. Stop spoiling me.
Stop giving me everything I want. The more you give me, the more I resent you. I want to earn things. It helps me feel grown-up. I want to learn how to save money, spend money, share money. And I’m never going to learn that if you keep giving it to me. I hate being dependent on you; please help me become independent.
6. Find me someone to talk to.
I need someone to look up to who isn’t you. I need an adult to admire, someone I want to be like, a person who believes in me, who pushes me, and who understands me. A mentor, a counselor, a therapist...anyone who can give me hope when I have too little for myself.
7. Tell me that you love me.
I pretend not to care. But I really need to hear you say the words, 'I love you.' Because right now, I don’t love me. Even though I’m making your life hell, I still need to feel loved. Especially by you.
"I guess that’s it. I know that being a parent is really hard. Sometimes you probably wonder why you did it. But I’ll get better. I promise. I’ll get older and we’ll enjoy each other again. Until then, understand that I appreciate you.
"I may not say it often, but still I love you."
Published on Monday, January 24, 2022 @ 2:50 AM EDT