By Laury L. Davis
This morning my husband tried to give fashion advice to our 14- and 17-year-old boys as they were getting ready for church. “Give it up,” I told him. “If a 40-something-year-old man is trying to tell a teenager what’s cool, just know it’s exactly the opposite.”
We can handle a boy who wears jeans and flip-flops to church, but what if one child decided not to go to church at all? Our soon-to-be-adult children could even choose not to follow Christ. We take comfort in the verse, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). However, one thing I’ve learned while rearing three teenagers is humility. If my child’s good behavior is based on my perfect parenting, we’re going to have a problem. I might be able to get a compliant child to conform into an upstanding citizen, but my goal is transformation into a disciple of Christ.
The following are three scriptural principles that Christian parents know to be true but don’t always incorporate into our actions and anxieties. Conquering this contradiction is key to parenting (especially teenagers) joyfully.
1. Your Child Is a Separate Person
I remember the pride I felt on our baby girl’s first Easter. She was an explosion of cream lace from crown to toe, and our church family obliged by admiring her. I also acutely remember the shame I felt when our 3-year-old was uninvited to Sunday school class for knocking children down and disobeying the teachers.
This can be compared to the pride I felt recently when my son rebuilt the motor of a 20-year-old car with his father—only to subsequently feel embarrassment when he got a giant speeding ticket with a court date and sentenced to community service.
I reminisce about the early years of parenting because I have found the teenage years to be a kind of second toddlerhood. Their actions are just as teetering and testing, but unfortunately I have less patience with it. I take it personally when my children question values that I have spent years instilling. The stakes are higher, and my fears have grown in proportion.
As my children assert their individuality in good and bad ways, I am learning I must not let my emotions be on a roller coaster linked to their actions. Though I felt personal pride and shame in the earlier mentioned instances, none of these occasions accurately reflected my standing with the Lord.
My children are separate individuals with their own lessons to learn and their own unique glory to give God, as am I. The day is coming when each of us will be accountable to our Savior. Parenthood is part of the stewardship of this life to the extent that I am faithful, not to the extent that my children are successful. I will get none of the credit or blame for my child. My heavenly reward, or lack thereof, will be based solely on my own actions (1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 4:1-5; 1 Peter 1:17).
I am challenged to evaluate my level of devotion. My time on earth is growing short, and I’ve got to get serious (Ephesians 5:15, 16). What better way to teach my children the value of a godly life than be an example of a wholehearted follower of Christ?
2. Your Child Is a Sinner
Believe it or not, the scriptural principle of humanity’s sinfulness was a comfort to me the first time my child lied to me. Truth washed over me like a tide of relief when I realized that I was not to blame. Nothing I had done made my child lie. My child had sinned all by himself.
God’s own mouth proclaimed this reality shortly after the worldwide flood when he said, “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (Genesis 8:21).
Why should a Christian parent be reminded of this? There’s a phenomena that stems from our culture that tends to blame most of our problems on our parents. There are definitely times when adults can badly influence children and even cause them to sin, and God will deal with this harshly (Luke 17:1, 2). The basic nature of a child, however, remains unchanged.
That’s where the gospel starts and a parent’s job as a missionary begins. Understanding the need for a Savior is a child’s first step toward meeting Christ. It is essential in understanding self and other people. More than once in life your child will need to forgive others, including you. If a child is to exhibit a merciful spirit, a realistic view of human nature is vital.
3. Your Child Needs to Grow Up
If they could only stay young forever. . . . When will they finally be out of the house? My attitude fluctuates wildly from the time I wake a sweet, sleepyhead at 7 a.m. to when I’m watching the clock tick past curfew at 11 p.m.
One hundred years ago the predominant view of childhood was a time to prepare a person for adulthood. Many were expected to work to help provide food on the table. My own grandmother boarded in town and worked as a maid in order to attend high school.
Today we often treat childhood as an oasis in the desert of life. Many consider it a time to be unconcerned and even unaware of daily struggles. No wonder real life can seem so disappointing, and often people spend their whole lives trying to recapture that carefree feeling.
The Bible has an opinion about the matter that trumps our trendy thinking. As parents we are called to train and teach and exhort and discipline. We have a valuable and fleeting time of influence over the next generation. We can make the most of our time, not as our child’s calendar keeper or entertainment facilitator, but as an inspiring coach.
As my boys set out for church today, one was wearing a sport coat and tie and one was wearing cutoffs and a black T-shirt. My husband took a picture to post with a joke—“Which boy are we raising right?”
Then the cutoffs son pointed out, “Can’t tell, Dad, cause neither of us are carrying our Bibles; my tablet wasn’t charged.”
The world is changing, and whether or not we parents are keeping up, our children are synced with culture. They have to be in order to influence it for God’s kingdom.
As our children begin to reach adulthood and the intense training period is drawing to a close, we parents have a new way to make our eternal impact: we must believe that God is doing something in, for, and through our children. That’s the definition of our responsibility because “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).
It is a useful part of our service to our heavenly Father to settle in to the comfort of his good will and timing, for ourselves and our children. Plus it makes us feel better about the crazy teen years.
Laury L. Davis is a freelance writer in Germantown, Tennessee.