By Teasi Cannon
My youngest child graduated from high school this year, and while it most definitely does not make me the expert on all things parenting, I have learned a few things while stewarding three unique souls through their teen years. Though I am super proud of my children for successfully making their way through years of compulsory education, what matters most to me is that all three now have their own growing and reasoned faith in Jesus, and they all truly love and enjoy their parents.
Getting them to the high school graduate milestone wasn’t a carefree process. I often tell friends and those I’ve counseled that parenting isn’t for sissies. There is no pain like your child’s pain. I’d rather have a million people call me a fat lard than hear one voice saying it to my child, and I’d take rejection, heartbreak, and disillusionment 24/7 if it meant keeping them from experiencing it for one second. Because parenting isn’t for sissies. #apologetics #mamabearapologetics #parenting Click To Tweet
But that’s impossible. Our children will live their own lives—real lives—that will include beautiful and wonderful times as well as excruciating and faith-testing times. They have free will and will use it.
While I would never (ever) offer some one-size-fits-all formula for raising successful, Christ-following adults, I do have some tried and tested practices I’d love to present in case they might help you. I know that not all teens are the same, nor are all parents, and for that reason, I only present these as ideas and not as formulas. The last thing I would ever want is to add to anyone’s already heavy burden of raising teens, so please…if these won’t work for your situation right now, feel free to file them away.
1. Think the worst.
Believe it or not, thinking the worst about my children has been incredibly faith-bolstering for me. I know it sounds crazy, but please stick with me. Chances are you’ve heard of this strategy in the past. It was likely referred to as “playing the movie” or “beginning with the end in mind.” While I’ll bet the context applied mostly to dreaming bigger dreams or setting proper goals, I regularly practiced this to face down my worst parenting fears.
There were many times when I would feel palpable fear rising in me as I contemplated navigating high school water. I knew that I needed to take those thoughts captive and that living by fear was not the motive God desired for me. But there were a few intentional times when rather than deny the fear, I decided to just get in the car and go with it. Instead of refusing to entertain such horrible thoughts, I chose to go ahead and surrender to the imaginary doom and play out the worst-case scenario in my mind. It would look something like this:
What if my daughter comes in my room one night and tells me she’s pregnant, addicted to drugs, doesn’t believe in Jesus, can’t stand me, stole a million dollars, and is leaving town with an escaped convict? What in the world would I do?
Obviously, that’s an extreme example, but as I thought through every possible devastating scenario, I felt the pain and emotion of it like an actual punch in the gut. And I was forced to ask myself how I would handle it. What would I do? Would I throw my own faith out the window feeling betrayed by God? Would I lose my mind? Would I pack up and leave town? Or would I lean more heavily upon the truth of God’s Word? Would I trust that Jesus is not only my Savior, but hers? Would I believe that the Holy Spirit is my comforter? Would I keep an eternal mindset knowing that God is sovereign, that He is good, and that He has already defeated sin and death? Would God and His truth be enough for me?
Thinking through these scenarios became a Psalm 139:23 exercise for me: Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties.
I had to get honest with myself, my fears, and my faith. It gave me time to prepare my heart with Jesus and to remember, establish, and experience His sufficiency beforehand. It gave Him time to comfort me as I read His Word and experienced the assurance of the Holy Spirit—not that everything was always and only going to go my way…but that He would be there for me…and for my (His) children.
God has not promised us pain-free, tragedy-free parenting. But He has promised He will never leave us or forsake us. Occasionally thinking through the worst isn’t being a pessimist…it’s making a strategy for counterattack in a time of need. Occasionally thinking through the worst isn’t being a pessimist…it’s making a strategy for a counterattack in a time of need. #parenting Click To Tweet
While I’m thankful the worst-case scenarios I imagined never happened, there were most definitely heart-wrenching moments my husband and I navigated with all three of our kids. And though I would never say I sailed through like a perfect champ (can we say momentary amygdala hijack?), I was far, far more equipped to handle the situations with love, peace, and grace—which glorified God and provided a safe place for their hearts far more than my fleshly and fearful reaction would have been without the preparation.
2. Set Low Expectations.
What I’m encouraging here is that we set humble, biblical life expectations for our kids and model them. To be honest, I’ve been much better at this in more recent years, and I fully expect to grow in this area as I continue to sort through some of my own faulty assumptions. But it has become increasingly more important to me that my children (now adults) understand what true Christian living is and isn’t all about. I realize that painting the wrong picture now can be a set-up for massive disillusionment later.
Here’s an example you’ve likely heard spoken to teens repeatedly—especially new graduates: Class of 20__ you—yes, YOU—are going to be the generation that changes the world! You are our future. You are mountain-moving, kingdom heroes whose lives will be an inspiration to all.
Now, I honestly believe we mean the best when we tell them this. We want them to understand their great value and to be excited about the future. But what we’re really doing is setting them up for massive disappointment in God, others, and themselves—not because it’s a total lie, but because it’s not the whole truth.
Truth is, many of those wide-eyed grads will end up working office jobs—possibly sitting in a cubicle—for years. Others will spend their days changing poopy diapers, and the only mountain moving they’ll do will be in the laundry room. How will they handle it? Will they feel they’ve failed? That God doesn’t like them? That they aren’t good enough for the “big” things? Sadly…many do. Why? Because they weren’t prepared for the daily and the mundane—which (in my experience) require heroic faith and produce such sweet fruit. Sadly, many aren't prepared for the daily and the mundane—which (in my experience) require heroic faith and produce such sweet fruit. #parenting Click To Tweet
An honest journey through the New Testament tells the tale of Christ-followers who did some amazing things, no doubt. But…they suffered. Every single one suffered. They suffered physical beatings, persecution, and even death for their faith. And they were prepared for it. Jesus told them it would happen. He set them up for success by setting the bar right where it should be—not too high.
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:33.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:12
Remember the word that I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. John 15:20
We need to follow Christ’s own example when preparing our precious disciples. Of course, we don’t want them to feel hopeless dread for what’s to come, and they won’t if we share the true Good News. But they need to be ready to stay faithful to Christ even when:
- people betray them
- they don’t get their dream job
- temptations beset them
- healing doesn’t come until heaven
- doors don’t open
- marriage isn’t magical
- they never travel farther than the next town
And we need to let them know that some of the most mountain-moving moments will happen between their own ears…where no one will see but the One who matters most. That by daily surrendering their hearts and minds to Christ, the world right around them will be changed…by His love. Not merely by their own brilliance, but by The World-Changer who lives inside them.
3. Embrace Failures.
Of all the possible parenting journeys, my husband and I feel blessed to have had a fairly smooth one. We don’t take this for granted for one second, nor do we pride ourselves in being some super-parents. We are simply…thankful. Even so, all three of our children—at least once in their teen years—came to us to confess something they’d done for which they felt deeply burdened and ashamed. Every time it was disappointing and absolutely broke my heart. But there was a part of me that rejoiced because in those real and raw moments…my children really needed Jesus. They needed Him for their very own sin and brokenness. And they knew it.
The times when my children confessed their deepest regrets and failures are by far the most significant faith-building and relationships-strengthening moments I had with them. My husband and I were able to talk to them about the effects of unconfessed sin on the soul and the beautiful solution God has given us: confession. When they truly hated how they felt about their own sin, there was a real openness and true need for God’s remedy. Once they opened up and got it all out with us, we immediately encouraged them to go spend time alone in prayer telling God. Afterwards we talked about the relief that comes from bringing things into the light. They truly experienced the joy that comes from obeying 1 John 1:9 that says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The times when my children confessed their deepest regrets and failures are by far the most significant faith-building and relationships-strengthening moments I had with them. #parenting Click To Tweet
I’ve told my children on several occasions that the thing I want most for them is for them to have a real and growing relationship with God. Seeing them need Him and turn to Him in those low moments filled me with hope and godly joy. Though we never want to see our children hurting, we know from our own experience that those low times are often the very times we turn to Him with our whole heart.
I want to add this before I end…sometimes our teens don’t feel bad about their sin…yet. It might be years down the road when they are finally brought to their knees. But we can still hold on to the hope that those sins will be the very thing God will use one day to reveal Himself as Redeemer, Healer, and Forgiver. God’s longsuffering arm is strong.
One final significant “failure” I believe we can celebrate is when our children doubt God or something about His Word. I realize some might believe it’s wrong for Christians to doubt. But that’s not what the Bible tells us. Many heroes of the faith doubted. Even John the Baptist had a significant moment of doubt when he was in prison (read Luke 7:20-23).
If we will see their doubt as opportunities for finding answers rather than moments of defeat, our children’s questions will become real and relevant discipling moments. We can lead them to sound resources, help them think critically, and model for them what it looks like to love Jesus with our minds.[i] Truth is, Christianity can more than withstand the skeptical claims of this world. There is a wealth of evidence from science, philosophy, and history to tap into. Our children need a safe place to doubt. Why not let it be home? If we will see their doubt as opportunities for finding answers rather than moments of defeat, our children’s questions will become real and relevant discipling moments. #parenting Click To Tweet
To see more of Teasi’s writing, check out chapters 5 and 10 in the Mama Bear Apologetics Book, currently the most wished for book in Christian Apologetics! (C’mon y’all… stop wishing and just get it already!)
[i] For a list of apologetics and theology resources to get you started, see: http://www.teasicannon.com/resources or https://mamabearapologetics.com/resources/ or http://christianmomthoughts.com/resources/
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