In some ways, the days of toting around toddlers feels like yesterday. I can clearly remember when my oldest was about eighteen months, the days when we’d get ready for a different outing each morning. Some mornings we’d have a playdate, other mornings we’d run to Target. But no matter where we were headed, my daughter would willingly allow me to strap her in the car while she’d inevitably ask, “Where are we going, Momma?”
Sweet girl. She didn’t even know where we were headed, but she excitedly followed simply because she was with Mom.
This doesn’t happen with teenagers.
Sometimes I wish I could just strap them in and make them go in my chosen direction, but alas. This isn’t the way life works.
Every teen in one way or another begins pushing boundaries to see what a slightly different path from Mom or Dad will be like. This is part of growing up, but each time we redirect as parents, it becomes abundantly clear that some teens are simply more compliant than others. And when a teen becomes obstinate or acts disobediently, it can be gut-wrenching for parents.
If you are a parent riding the tumultuous waves of teenage rebellion, be encouraged by our great God. He asks us to trust him with a child-like faith, even when we don’t quite know where we’re headed. And he does not leave us empty-handed; he has given us his perfect Word that guides and sustains amid difficult seasons of parenting.
Romans 8:38-39 reminds us of God’s unbreakable love. There is nothing in all of creation that can separate us from that love. Absolutely nothing. Christ affirmed it by giving his life for us, rising again, and defeating death itself. While we can’t emulate his love perfectly, we can follow Christ’s example when it comes to loving our children.
We don’t love our teens because they obey us all the time. And thank the Lord that is not his stipulation for us, his children. We love our children because they are precious to us, even when they mess up. We love because we’re called to love, even when it’s difficult to do so (John 15:12-13).
If your teen acts out in rebellion, love them. Of course, love is not always void of consequences; in fact, sometimes deep love requires discipline. But open your embrace and let them know they are loved from a well that never runs dry. This is what our Savior does for us each time we turn on our back on him because of the sin that dwells in our hearts, causing us to act out in disobedience.
Scripture makes utterly clear that when we cry out to God, he hears us. This is affirmed is in John 5:15: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”
God hears, so pray. Pray fervently first and foremost for your own heart. Pray that God will bend our sometimes stubborn will to align with his revealed will. Pray that God will provide the strength to trust beyond understanding even when we don’t understand his ways. Pray boldly that he might give you glimpses of the work he is doing in and through your child. And pray that you will delight in Jesus as his story for your teen unfolds. It may not be the story you would have written, but rest assured that what is penned for your child is done so perfectly by our loving savior.
Additionally, pray fervently for the heart of your teen. Pray every day that the Lord will draw your teen closer to himself, even if that means facing hardship. This is one of the most difficult prayers to offer to Jesus, but there is nothing more precious than knowing our children are walking closely with the Lord. So, pray that that when suffering comes, it will be used to open their eyes to the gospel of grace that they might see clearer than ever before the love and mercy of Jesus.
When you don’t have adequate words, pray fervently. When what you offer up to the Lord comes out in groans or cries, do it fervently. Our God is near, and he hears our eager requests.
Deuteronomy 6 includes clear instruction for parents seeking to cultivate a love for Jesus in their children: “These words that I command you shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise…”
Share the love of God with your teen at every opportunity the Lord provides. Our difficult conversations should not be without lessons that reveal God’s mercy and grace for sinners. And moments of redirection should be wrought with God’s loving standards.
For example, if a teen is caught breaking one of your rules, as you discipline, remind them that God calls us to submit not for “random” reasons, but because he loves unconditionally and knows that continually disobedience will lead to difficulty in this life (Ephesians 6:1-3). Or, if you notice a child immersing themselves in social media in an unhealthy way, when you redirect by limiting their time on it, explain how much you desire that they find their identity in Christ first and foremost (2 Cor. 5:17) and not in others’ opinions and “likes.”
I know that it can sometimes seem futile to do this, but trust in God’s faithfulness that he will use your efforts, feeble as they may be, to plant seeds in your child that, by his grace, will one day grow into a flourishing faith in the Lord.
Consider sharing your burdens willingly with a few from your local church. This community functions as a spiritual family as we walk with one another through trying times and encourage each other in the Lord.
We tend to hide our parenting struggles from our church family because of our embarrassment or shame, but hiding invites in great loneliness when trudging through the rocky paths of teenage rebellion. You may even be surprised by how many older brothers and sisters can empathize with these parenting challenges. God has given us his church as his hands and feet in his physical absence; experience his tender love by welcoming some of these brothers and sisters along for the journey.
When teens rebel, whether it’s one poor choice or a season of trials, it can be incredibly dis-heartening. The temptation for a parent is to let anxiety rule by doubting God’s perfect sovereignty. But in the strength of Christ, there is grace to love the teen God has given you, to pray fervently knowing that God always hears, and to share readily the faithfulness of God amidst the struggle. The path may not always seem clear, but we can trust with unabashed surety that the Lord is leading the way.