Tuesday, February 2, 2016
I haven't attempted the first two, but I'm nearly finished with the third. I began the madness 11 years ago when I had lots of hair. I will finish in 2018 as bald as a baby's belly. That's not a coincidence. Being a parent of teens is a little like being President of the United States. Each day is filled with unexpected decisions we have to make. Should I let him go to the concert? Should I let him drive to his girlfriend's house on this rainy night? Should I let him get his buttocks pierced? I suppose it's hard being President, but at least he has a cabinet of experts to help him make these decisions.
Now, before I paint too negative a picture of this daunting task, I have to say that I love teenagers and I have loved parenting three of them. I love the spontaneity, the goofiness, the passion, the moments of greatness rising to the surface. I love guiding discussions around the table and seeing them wrestle with expressing their thoughts. I love watching sports together and debating who the best teams are. I love seeing them develop into young men with tremendous gifts and quirky personalities. My boys have made me laugh until I cried, filled our house with activity and life, been my friends, companions, and occasionally even my teachers. They've taught me about fashion, music, culture, and unbeknownst to them, how to pray really, really hard.
It isn't just my kids that I've learned from. I have been in youth ministry for over 25 years. I've worked with all types of kids--shy, boisterous, awkward, confident, athletes, nerds, band geeks, IB academics, musicians, rednecks, preppies, cheerleaders, artists, and some who have absolutely no idea what they are. Many of them have a tremendous understanding of spiritual things, and others have no clue. I enjoy them all. But I'll admit that there have been many times when I've felt like a total failure. The student I thought was walking with God made another bad decision. The one who seemed so excited to be involved suddenly disappeared from our ministry. It's heartbreaking work, not for the faint of heart. Just like parenting.
So with all that said, I would like to offer a list of 10 THINGS TO AVOID WHILE PARENTING TEENS. I don't mean to make you feel bad for the mistakes you've made, especially since I write from personal experience, but I hope I can prevent others from repeating them. I'm starting with 5 today because this is a blog, not War and Peace, and you have something else to do, I'm sure.
10) AVOID PUNISHING YOUR TEEN BY INTERRUPTING THEIR INVOLVEMENT IN CHURCH. "My kid got in trouble, so I'm not letting them come to youth group." When we make mistakes, the first thing the devil wants to do is separate us from God. Conversely, the first thing God wants is for us to come to him. I know youth group is largely a social event for kids. Sometimes we have to take something that hurts. But to remove time with God's people as a punishment gives a dangerous subliminal message. God is only to be approached when we are worthy. Church is an activity no more valuable than any other. The spiritual message and the presence of the Holy Spirit at our youth ministry are not effective. A better option is to let one of the youth leaders know what's going on so that someone besides you can have an honest conversation and pray with your kid.
9) AVOID FREAKING OUT OVER YOUR TEEN'S MISTAKES. In 25 years of youth ministry, I've heard just about everything. Are you shocked to learn that some of our teens have been caught stealing, had sex, gotten pregnant, cheated on exams, forgotten to turn in their homework, been depressed, cut themselves, lied to parents, snuck out of the house, posted something inappropriate online, looked at porn, gotten in a fight, gotten drunk, been kicked out of school, taken drugs, sold drugs, grown drugs in the backyard garden? When it's our kid, it's panic city for most of us. But it's important to remember that teenagers make serious mistakes (didn't you?), and though we don't wish for it to happen, it will. Freaking out about it doesn't help. Being too embarrassed to ask the youth pastor or youth leader for prayer doesn't help. I tell parents and teens that there is nothing they can tell me that would shock me. (Well, almost nothing. If your teen has a dead body hidden in the basement, I might be a wee bit surprised.) But honestly, I've heard it all. As sad as it makes us, it's also an opportunity to put our trust in the grace of God and let the Holy Spirit do an incredible thing. That's what God does--makes beauty out of ashes. Stay calm, and pray.
8) AVOID COMPLAINING ABOUT YOUR TEEN TO OTHERS, ESPECIALLY ON SOCIAL MEDIA. This is one that should go without saying, but unfortunately I've seen it happen--parents venting about their teen to other parents, occasionally even online. I get it--we all need to vent sometimes. That's okay. My wife and I vent about our kids--and yours--on occasion. Venting with a trusted friend who keeps her mouth shut might be a better outlet than posting your frustration to 1100 Facebook 'friends.' Kids get bombarded with negativity all the time. Parents should encourage their teens at every opportunity and speak well of them to others. One of the things we try to celebrate in our youth ministry is the unique contribution each kid brings to the table as image bearers of their Heavenly Father. Every kid is made in the image of God, even when it seems from their mistakes that they are more like us. Look for the good in your teen and talk about that instead.
7. AVOID FREAKING OUT OVER YOUR TEEN'S DOUBTS AND QUESTIONS. It has been a long time since I was a teenager. It's impossible to remember what my brain was like back then. I mean, I used to think that I was never going to get over that girl dumping me for that kid I couldn't stand. I was absolutely certain that I was destined to spend my life alone in a Georgian Super Cave for Losers. All these years later, my wife of 27 years still thinks I'm hot. You see, the truth is that the teen years are developmentally tumultuous. The thirteen-year-old--a concrete thinker who has zero doubt that Jesus died for them and the Bible is 100% true--gradually becomes the 17-year-old--an abstract thinker who starts to wonder if Samson could really tie the tails of three hundred foxes together, and thus questions his salvation. Psychologist Jean Piaget identified assimilation and accommodation as key components of adolescent development. Teens are constantly learning new things and are forced to assimilate them into their existing belief system. When there's a conflict between new information and old, they are forced to make accommodations for the new belief. It's painful. It's normal. It's good. It's what helps us make our faith our own. So when your teen admits she is having doubts about her faith, don't freak out. I tell students all the time, "You haven't thought of anything that nobody ever thought before. There are reasonable answers worth searching out, and there are many things we cannot fully understand." Faith involves knowledge, mystery and wonder. It is never complete or static, and never should be.
6) AVOID OVERPROTECTING YOUR TEEN. When my son Tim was two-years-old, we awakened one morning to find him missing from the house. After a 60-second mad scramble, we discovered him outside, behind our car, nearly in the street, playing in the dirt. As a result, Tim spent the next 18 years of his life in a 4x4 dog kennel so that he would never do that again. All joking aside, some well-meaning parents, fearing the worst, do everything possible to shield their teens from danger, whether it be physical, social or spiritual. But over-protection is really parenting by fear instead of parenting by faith. Safety is NOT the ultimate goal. As our teenagers grow, we need to remove the harness and allow them to take some risks in search of independence. Our goal as parents is not to protect them, but to see them grow into independent, confident, even dangerous ambassadors for the kingdom of God. That means allowing them to interact with all kinds of people, to go on that mission trip or wilderness adventure, to develop a life outside of our family, to think differently than we think. Imagine if Mary, knowing Jesus was in danger, had never allowed him to leave the house? Playing it safe may seem like good parenting, but it might be hindering the kingdom of God.
Joe McGinnis of INGAUGE Parenting has an excellent diagram which is helpful to see how our role as parents changes as our kids grow up. It shows how we must transition into new roles as our kids grow and mature, moving from protector to teacher to model to coach to mentor. I find this very instructive.
So those are my first five Things to Avoid While Parenting Teens. Check back soon for five more. As you ponder mistakes, and all the others we've made along the way, please be encouraged that our mistakes are not the final answer on who our kids will turn out to be. Not only is God's grace sufficient for our teen's mistakes, but for ours as well.
Now I have to go see if my cat finished rotating my tires.
With encouragement and love,
Monday, January 25, 2016
Tim has the best rhythm in the family. The kid is so naturally rhythmic, I swear he could tap his head, rub his stomach, do an Irish jig with his left foot and the moonwalk with his right foot, all while carrying on a conversation defending Breaking Bad as the greatest moment in TV history.
Jon has this nice little dance he does. It involves his hips and his hands in a unique combination that would make Pee Wee Herman jealous. It's pretty much a family legend. Thomas can play the guitar or the piano without giving it a second thought and keep his tempo intact like a boss. Music flows from him like water from the tap.
Me? I can clap my hands and sing at the same time. This, by the way, is not a skill possessed by everyone. I've seen you in church.
Anyway, rhythm is a nice thing to have. I wish I had more of it. It's what I need in my life right now.
When I think of rhythm in a spiritual sense, I mean something a little different than imitating the Blue Man Group. I mean the balance of life and work, the discipline of prayer mixed with the spontaneity of play, the patterns of exercise, rest, Sabbath, productivity, creativity and relationships that give me the most joy and satisfaction. Rhythm means preparing for the normal but being ready for anything. Perfect rhythm brings perfect peace.
For me, this is simple to plan but difficult to master. I need a regular pattern to my life and work. I need my days to be structured but not overstuffed. I need time with people. I need time alone. I need to have a place to be, and I need to have nowhere to be. I need a harmonious schedule that provides time to think, pray, exercise, and create. When life does not allow for those things, due to circumstances under or beyond my control, I feel out of rhythm and out of sync. My heart suffers. My body suffers. My spirit suffers. When I have no rhythm, I have the blues.
This year has been pretty blue. It started off with a couple weeks of sickness. Then we got nailed by the snow which brought everything to a halt. It's nearly the end of January and I feel like I have gotten nothing done at work and regressed spiritually. My prayer life is pretty weak at the moment. I haven't exercised much. And the worst part is, I don't feel like doing any of it. I am out of rhythm with myself and out of sync with God. I need a spiritual pacemaker.
I don't know if you can relate to any of this. People are wired differently. Some are disciplined through whatever comes their way. My wife, for example, protects her prayer and exercise time like a bear protects her cub. It doesn't matter if she's sick, exhausted, or too busy to breathe, she's up before dawn every day and she says this is what keeps her sane. Others don't want any schedule at all -- they need to find something new to do every day. For me, I do best when there is mix of these things. I need routine, rest, and coffee. I need to be busy, but not too busy. I need lots of structure, but with moments of laughter and fun thrown in for good measure. A vacation to look forward to is always good as well.
So here's to starting 2016 over again. I'm planning to get back to the gym. I'm planning to get up at 6:00 to read my Bible and walk the dogs. I'm planning to keep Tuesday mornings free to write and create things for the best youth ministry anywhere. I'm planning to get away once a quarter to pray. And I'm planning to write a blog every other week. I like the rhythm of the tapping of the keys as I create something from a well-rested and inspired mind.
Here's to a better rhythm, starting now.