One of my favorite moments from Christmas break found my daughter and I in my little sunroom, paintbrushes in hand. She was trying out her new easel, and I was leaning against the loveseat, watercoloring. A happy surprise was how much she shared about what was going on at school. And one that will stick with me even longer? Her observation about how she was contributing to the problem, not just how other girls were mishandling things.
Maybe that sounds weird, to like that behavior. But as I type to you, I realize I want kids who voluntarily discard the blindness that naturally shrouds all of us. I want kids who, from constant practice, see the log in their eye. Who can step back from any situation and see how their sin is contributing and destroying–so they can make it right.
I know, I know. Confession can sound like, well, not that much fun. Maybe a bit like sniveling. Or depending on your background, something like Bless me, Father, for I have sinned rolls around in your head.
But what if it sounded more like handcuffs falling off?
THE KEY: To create a culture of frequent confession in our homes–to one another, and to God. This keeps our need for Jesus in front of our eyes, and gradually makes “have mercy on me” (Luke 8:13) a part of who we are. It breeds humility in us and our families, rather than the appearance or requirement of perfection and self-righteousness. And it welcomes grace, giving shame the boot.
Our kids are going to be under authority their entire lives. With the exception of a few horrid dictators of suffering countries, everyone on this planet is under authority of some kind. (Jesus is, too.) Offering our kids the gift of submission is one of those keys that opens doors for the rest of their lives.
He was barely in the front door, cheeks flushed from the bike ride home. He smelled like the cold and that faintest puff of little-boy sweat. “Mom! Guess what! We’re getting a new kid and his name is Toby and the teacher wants me to show him around and tell him all about the school!” He drew a breath, those Chiclet-sized adult teeth still, charmingly, just a bit too big for his eight-year-old mouth.
I grinned. Just a month ago, he’d been the new kid. Now my little guy was thrilled to be the one ushering in a new friend.
Of the many nuggets I’ve gleaned from my father-in-law, perhaps one I am most grateful for is his response to my husband’s teen years.
A lot of people find merit in Mark Twain’s quip: When a boy turns 13, put him in a barrel and feed him through a knot hole. When he turns 16, plug up the hole.
But my father-in-law wasn’t one of them. Those tornadic years of my not-yet-husband’s were a signal to pull out the outdoor gear, summit as many of Colorado’s fourteeners as they could knock out, and tack on some decent kayaking, cycling, and snow caving along the way. My father-in-law saw the rippling strength of the teen years as a chance to explore manhood together.
As people have forecast heartbreak for these years of parenting—and I realize my portion will come—my husband and I loved our six years of youth ministry. It was a little like working with wet cement, these textured, gravelly years of becoming. We could hold gut-level conversations about real, heartrending issues. Our faith offers unmatched answers to the question marks looming in the teen mind: unfathomable meaning and purpose for their lives, far beyond themselves.
On many of the Wednesdays of 2017, I’ll be helping my friend Barbara Rainey, on everthinehome.com. We’re exploring what she calls “prayer lessons”: ideas to pray for ourselves, our most critical relationships, our communities. This week’s post, God of My Heartbreak: Teaching Teens to Pray, offers ideas to come alongside teens in prayer.
I hope it encourages you today, wherever this finds you.
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Yeah, I bet you were wondering what I was going to write in this one. (I was, too.)
It’s hard enough for adults to get the idea behind fasting, I think. But I like how John Piper phrases it: Fasting is about demonstrating a hunger for God. It’s like saying, God, I want you this much. Remember how man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God? Fasting—much like its sister discipline, simplicity–is like putting down the bag of Cheetos in our lives that mutes our soul’s shouting to be filled. (My refugee students could likely out-fast me any day, simply because they’ve lived life without being constantly satiated.) Kids aren’t likely to understand this easily, so let’s put it this way.
What it is
THE KEY: Fasting is a sweet offering to God of choosing against something we really like for a little while, so we can be satisfied by Him rather than all the pleasures in our lives.
God made those pleasures as good gifts! But He never means them to get more important than Him. Fasting helps us step away from them a bit, to spend time thinking of Him and praying more.
We keep it quiet, because fasting isn’t about making us look all spiritual. It’s about our private walk with Him, like a special secret between the two of us.
Last week, I heard from my sister in Thailand some of the heartbreaking moments they’ve been struggling through in their community of refugees. An 11-year-old girl sent to possibly “work” in Bangkok with her mother. A stabbing. A man depriving his family of enough money to buy food. And I thought, my kids and I should pray.
Then I thought of our prayers the last several weeks: Mostly stuff about…us.
Of course it’s good to teach our children to seek God for all their needs. But at that moment I thought, I want to up the ante on teaching my kids to cry out to God for other people.
Spiritual disciplines are hard to practically teach kids. I, particularly, am Madame Non in my house—I’m driving/correcting the schooling, the chores, the attitudes, the dirty underwear cast 14 inches from the hamper.
I also don’t need more stuff to do. The good news: The goal isn’t to do all of these; or even to “do.” It’s about setting ourselves up to receive God’s grace–like a football player positioning himself for the catch. Pick one of these, and knead it into life (I think of it like adding flour to dough, a little at a time). I believe in what Richard Foster writes:
Really glad you're here. Welcome to a lingering conversation--about a head-turning, undeserved kindness that's turned my life on its head. This site's about Jesus in a pair of well-worn Levi's: faith walking around in our sneakers, scuffing up against real life and real people.
I hope you'll find some questions worth asking, conversations worth engaging, compassion that's compelling, and practical ideas to knead genuine love into relationships. (...With a side of slightly irreverent humor.)
After five and a half years in Uganda, my family and I have recently returned to the U.S., where we continue to work on behalf of the poor. I write and love on my family from Colorado.