I’ve been going to church since I was a baby, grew up there, but still most of the time felt like an outsider. I’m one who likes to debate, discuss, question, and research, not things that generally are expected from the people in the pews. I never had many people to discuss subjects with or if I tried it was usually met with a verse or two, or a cliche’d saying and that was that. No one wanted to really engage, to really work things out, dive deep, and hunt within the Word. Or no one would really admit their sin, it was always happy smile faces, no reality. People will admit they are sinners, but not go into specifics. They’ll talk about how God worked in their lives by healing the sick or saving them from a terrible car wreck but not their every day struggles they have to turn to Him for. A lot of it seemed fake or insincere to me. So by the time I was a sophomore in high school I was thoroughly tuned out. I would go, I would listen to the same sorts of lessons being taught, but I wasn’t getting excited or convicted or lit on fire. I wanted more than just another class to sit in and to be taught at. I wanted, no, I needed direction. Most teenagers do. No one can tell you what to do with your life, or what to become, not even your parents. And usually you’ve been doing most activities or pursuits to make them happy or proud, or you’ve been rebelling because with more freedom you just can if things haven’t been great at home. Or if you’re like me, you’re doing a little bit of both. Seriously, after my teenage years I can definitely see why God hates lukewarm Christians, it is the worst place to be in. You’re acting fine at church and around Christians but then around friends you’re just different, maybe not worse, but usually that’s the case, and neither side knows the real you and you end up not really knowing the real you by the end of it. No one suspects anything or really gets close enough to get to know the real you and see the struggle you face… so you, just like everyone else, put on the smiling church face and carry on.
After thinking long and hard about those years because hey, I was one of the statistics that got pregnant at 18 in college and ever since then have had many many days at home to sit and think about how I got from saved and on fire little 5 year old spark to disengaged, counting my days to freedom teen. I’ve figured out a few things that I feel like would have made a difference. In all honesty, I wouldn’t change my life, I can see why I went through my journey but it was tough and challenging in it’s own ways. So here it goes.
Spiritual Gifts I WISH someone would have really dissected this whole spiritual gift thing and had me and my youth group actually take a spiritual gifts analysis. I can’t tell you how much I thought about what I should major in, what I should have a career in, what I should do with my life when I was in high school and even up til now. I only really started diving into all of this last year as I was reading Renee Swope’s book A Confident Heart: How to Stop Doubting Yourself and Live in the Security of God’s Promises. This settled me and gave me confidence to be who I am in Christ, who he designed me to be, not who my parents’ expected me to be, not who society said I should be, and not the perfect person I thought I should be. It was so freeing to see that what I thought were flaws or weird quirks were actually there because God made me this way to reach people for Him in my own unique ways. This was even further solidified by Jennie Allen’s book Restless: Because You Were Made For More! I was always taught that we were here to serve God and to go unto all nations and teach the gospel but I was never shown HOW to do that besides the typical go to church, dress modestly, pay your tithes and offerings, get involved in church activities, read your Bible everyday. So since I never felt called to direct ministry, I was just kind of left hanging. No one ever talked about how I can serve the Lord in whatever field He leads me. It always felt like my vocation was just an after thought and what was really important was church service. I can now see that whatever God designed us perfectly for, we must pursue it or else we are doing Him a disservice. If a God has blessed you with incredible athletic ability, then be the best athlete you can be for Him. If he has blessed you with incredible intelligence, then pursue the academic field He has inclined you for with vigor in service to Him. But in order to get that direction and light that fire to help keep teens on the straight and narrow towards accomplishing what God has set for them, we need to help them see who God has created them to be! Teens are so set on fitting in, being cool, or not being cool on purpose, or just trying to please someone, their parents, society, friends. Instead of just teaching about being a good Christian example to others and keeping their purity, let’s show them what God has uniquely gifted them with and give them a reason to stay focused and drive on towards His Will. I also feel like along with getting teens to see who God has designed them to be, it opens their eyes to the fact that God designed other people to be special in their own ways. I know I’ve become more accepting of others behavior, habits, or personality because now I can see that, hey, God didn’t create them to be the way I’m wanting them to be. They have their own gift from Him and as a Christian it’s my job to support and encourage that or at the very least to not knock them down for it.
How to Study the Bible As a teen, I knew I was supposed to read my Bible every day. I knew the Romans’ Road and the salvation plan. I knew the parables and miracles throughout the Word. But I didn’t know how to truly interact with God’s Word to find truth for myself. I am still working on this and reading a book about it. It can’t just be a rote reading a chapter or two and shutting the book. The few times I really did feel more engaged was with devotional books aimed for teens that would identify a passage, have you read it, and then discussed it. I don’t have all the answers for this one, I just know that I wish there was more discussion about resources to go to, how to put the Bible in context with the times it was written, and how it applies to our lives today. Maybe I’m just a nerd but I would have liked some historical discussion and some help connecting the dots a little. We can’t expect teens to just magically know how to dive deeper into His Word and discover it for themselves if we don’t teach them and give them the tools to do it. Just teaching them lesson after lesson out of the Bible on Sundays leaves them hanging for the rest of the week.
Slow Down I think this is said to teens all the time but I’m taking a bit of a different twist. Everyone tells teens to slow down, enjoy your high school years, adulthood comes fast enough, etc etc. I think we just need to teach them that it’s ok to live a slower life, period. We all want to see them succeed but what are we defining as success? More importantly what are they defining as success? What are their parents defining as success? Ooo I know I will step on some toes here and in the next point but hear me out. If we as parents are already outlining what we view success as for their life, whether it be a college degree, a spouse and kids, a nice house, a job close to home, well then we aren’t letting God’s Will be the guide. As much as we’d like to think that we know God’s Will for our childrens’ lives, we don’t. Sorry parents, I’m right there with you. I hate hearing someone say to their kids or grandkids, oh you’re going to make a great ( blank ) someday. No, we don’t know what they will be great at some day. We can guide them, give advice, and show them where their strengths lie but ultimately you can not tell your child that he or she should be a pharmacist, or should live close to home, or should not follow this or that career path. It is not up to you! It’s between them and God, so show them who God designed them to be and give them the tools and knowledge to pursue Him more and follow where He leads. And pray pray pray! Please do not use your authority or place of respect and love in their lives to manipulate them into something that makes you look good as a parent. I love my pastor’s advice of going to one year of Bible college right out of high school. I think it’s an ideal place to get away from a lot of the parental influence, come closer to God, find a group of friends to fellowship in your race with, and get a solid start with the basics if college ends up being the path you pursue. But even that isn’t right for every child. Just be willing to finally let that arrow go and don’t try to steer it to a course you as a parent think is better, you’re only screwing up the flight path God had intended. You may just be surprised when you step back and stop pushing your priorities to see the true heart God has given to your child.
Parents Are Sinners I know as parents we want to be the best mom or dad for our kids. We don’t want them to see us as wrong or as messing up, but they need to. They need to know it’s ok to screw up and ask forgiveness of God and whomever you’ve hurt. They need to see real life scenarios of dealing with the consequences of sin, even after forgiveness is given. And I think most of all, they need to know that they are being heard. I know there were many an argument between my parents and me… mostly my mom and me. She held tight to her position, and I held tight to mine, both of us not really listening to the other side and not changing our stance. I can remember many a rebellious night just because I was mad at her (sorry Mom!). Again it comes back to needing that discussion point, needing to hash things out in debate, needing to be heard and to hear the reasoning. And as a teen, there were times where I knew the position they held was wrong, but they would never go back and admit it or apologize or really listen to my side of the story. I do this with my own kids and they’re not even in school yet. I have a presumption about what my son is complaining about or arguing for and am already jumping to a conclusion and defending my point. When really once he gets his side out, it was something different, or something that we could talk about and reason with, avoiding a meltdown or power struggle. I think many parents read Colossians 3:20 and quote it up and down to their kids but look on to Colossians 3:21
v.20 Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. v.21 Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.
I think we skip over that one a little too often or don’t really reflect on how our treatment of our kids can cause some of the exact problems we’re trying to prevent. I will share my own story here. I wasn’t allowed to date my now husband for most of the time we were dating, when we were in high school. I still loved him and wanted to be with him and at school that was pretty easy. It was pretty easy to say I was going to hang out at a friend’s house, which I did do, and so did he. So we were pretty much still together, but instead of my parents getting to know him, seeing our relationship in person, and maybe even helping to steer us in the right direction, they were kind of oblivious for a while. I can still remember a New Year’s Eve party that I went to with him. It was at his aunt and uncle’s house across town, with tons and tons of his family, a pretty benign evening really. But since I wasn’t allowed to date him, I had to say I was with my friends. I did get caught, sin will always find you out, but as a teen it was so frustrating. I was discouraged from even discussing relationships and boy troubles or really anything else with my parents. From there the sneaking around got worse, we got a little better at hiding it, and by the time I graduated high school I was dead set on moving out as quickly as possible. If he had just been accepted from the start, and we could have just had him over for family dinners and movie nights, I’m pretty sure things would not have gone the direction they did. My parents did accept him and start to like him later in my high school career but there was always that wall kind of built up from the start and again they never took responsibility for the part they played so the wall continued to build. I fully own that I sinned too, I played the major part but just saying, that temptation and that path would not have been so prevalent had I not been placed in that position to decide. I feel like when there are disagreements between parents and teens it becomes a power struggle when really we need to turn it back to God. Show kids in the scripture these two verses, ask them what you are doing to provoke them, why they feel the way the feel, and further investigate in the scriptures to find the guidance you’re both seeking. And don’t be afraid to say, let’s pause, pray, and sleep on it. Sometimes just stalling the decision and getting out of the heat of the moment can bring clarity to both of your minds.
Open Discussion This isn’t really something to learn, but I wish there were more places to have open discussion with important adults like youth directors or leaders, as well as with parents. I know parents try to talk to their teens and most teens grunt or sigh or roll their eyes at it ( guilty! ) but I just wanted to say to parents, don’t give up. Maybe think about what would make your teen more comfortable. Sitting at a table across from each other or right in the middle of a TV show or while they’re online might not be the best time. Why not set a special date and time every month to do something together and just be ready to listen, no judgement. If a teen feels like you’re going to judge or lecture them, they’ll never open up. Ask some questions and then just let them talk. Don’t give a ton of advice, don’t play devil’s advocate or try to use the Socratic Method. Just listen. And then ask them what can you do to support them or how can you help them. If they say nothing, just leave it at that and pray for them. If they do have an idea or just say I don’t know then explore it further but again, on their terms. I can remember times I would start to open up to my mom only to be shut down by advice, or her thoughts on the matter. I didn’t want to hear her thoughts, I didn’t want to have her fix it or tell me how to fix it. I was just trying to let her in on my life, and talk it out. Maybe this is a woman thing, but I just needed to talk to someone and since I didn’t feel comfortable with her, I’d turn to other people. If you do feel lead to share a verse of scripture, maybe ask if you can share it first. Then be ready to discuss it and hear their side out again. I know as parents we want to fix our childrens’ problems but sometimes we can’t, sometimes you have to listen to them hash it out and let them make the decision. If you want to keep the communication open, don’t shut it down by talking the whole time. And hey, I know they may have an attitude or say it’s lame in the beginning, but make the activities or dates fun for them, not for you, and just keep at it. Teens need time. Everything is changing and dynamics at school or work or within their groups are always fluctuating and they are searching for a constant. Show them that constant is God. SHARE with them how He has worked in your life. I can’t say that enough. SHARE WITH THEM! Tell them your testimony!!!! Let them see God working in your life and let them see Him in you! You don’t get that by yelling back, getting an attitude with them as well, or withdrawing and just turning them loose. I know it stinks to have to be the parent at times and to deal with hormones and mood swings. But they need you. They may not admit it until they’re older but they do. And I think our youth groups could use a time of open discussion, just talking about what they are struggling with, even, or especially if, it’s something with their parents. I think teens get a lot of being taught at, you sit all day in school being taught, you sit through parent lectures, everyone seems to have advice or input on your life. Sometimes you just need somewhere to hash it all out. Ask questions, complain, commiserate with other teens, and be led by someone grounded in the Lord to better understand your parents’ point of view and God’s take on all of it. I feel like more than any other time in a child’s life from junior high to high school they are most impressionable and at the same time trying to define who they truly are. No one can teach them who they are, or tell them exactly who God made them to be and show them their exact path. They need a little room to grow and sort things out all in a safe, supportive environment. And they are moving closer and closer to independence and should be given respect to hold their own opinions and challenged to defend them. I’ve always found that in debating or discussing either you strengthen your argument or find the flaws and start seeing it in a different light. Just being taught what someone else’s opinion is might not necessarily change yours.
I don’t think this just ends with teens. I wish there was more discussion all over in Sunday schools or Bible studies. So many times it’s just a teacher teaching and it’s not very engaging or you don’t walk away with good action plans or takeaway points to work on further. Just a thought or feeling I’ve always had but never been brave enough to lead a different more engaging Bible study except online which pales in comparison of what could happen in a true person to person group. I’ve gone through three different books now, starting on a fourth that I wish I had a group of women to study and discuss with. I know I need that interaction, and I know I needed back when I was a teen too. If anything it just engages a person more than sitting in a seat, checking off that you went to church that day, and moving on. It challenges you to get involved, to pay attention, to think!
These are just a few of the things I wish I would have known or been taught as a teen. It’s a list meant specifically for me as a teen but maybe it’ll help some other teens or parents out there. I feel like when we first have a child, we’re reading all of the books, analyzing every decision, worrying about what impact this or that might have on our young ones. But as they grow, and become more independent of our direct supervision, things get busier, we start pushing for more of what society says we should be pushing our kids towards, ( sports, academics, college, prestigious careers ) and we spend less time evaluating the impact we are having. I know parents of teens are still concerned, no doubt, but instead of just wash, rinse, repeat, and hoping for a closer connection with your teen or a change somehow, maybe try something new. For women and girls, I highly recommend the books listed above. They are meant for young adults, possibly married and/or with kids, but I really think the exercises and studies they take you through could be sensational for teens trying to find their way, and for moms to work through as well! I also really like Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Mind. It was written so both teens and parents could read it and learn from it. Definitely something to check out!
What do you wish you had learned, had more of, or changed when you were a teen?