“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!” ~Psalm 111:10
We are raising, engaging, and actively discipling 3 teenagers currently in our home. This is such a sweet season full of laughter and craziness. I so thoroughly enjoy being with my teens, listening to their hearts, hearing their adventures, and learning more about them. But it is also filled with raw emotions – so many nights with the Lord pleading on their behalf that they will grow in their love for the Lord, that they will seek Him with all their heart, and that they will choose Him over all the distractions and temptations of this world.
Many friends ask me how we engage our kids in the process of discipline as they mature into their teens. I must say first that we don’t have a method that has been proven, we don’t have a magical 1,2,3 process that works for each kid in a month. But we have the Master, the source of all wisdom who is the perfect Parent. He must be all we need in this. And we certainly don’t have perfect kids – there have been many moments when I have reeled from choices they have made.
But as our children have grown into the early teen years, discipline has had to change. No longer is it appropriate to just say “No” as it was in the early years or even give a brief reason why for your answer. These are the years of questioning, of debate, of wrestling. Someone once shared with me that as infants and young children our little ones allow us to hold their hearts, and we have the amazing opportunity to caress and care for them. But as our children mature they naturally begin to pull their heart back and decide who will hold their heart. And I still want to be the one they choose. Somewhere between 8-12 years, my kids have all begun that painful pulling away from the sweet surrender of childhood where mommy is the best ever to a questioning and critical eye of mom. And finally in the teen years, they can see most of my faults, shortcomings, and complete uncoolness. So for them to expose their hearts now is great vulnerability and yet so necessary in order to be a voice that can speak over the voice of the world and speak Truth into their lives at a time when the decisions they make are big.
So how do I do that? How do I win the right to still hold their heart? I don’t know, I think many times I have had them take their hurt heart away from me because I have mishandled it. I have wounded them with harsh words or criticism. But I can testify to the healing that comes with repentance, with apology and humility, when I come to them, owning my sin and seeking their forgiveness.
When we consider the goal with our children, what we want for them long term, I know my heart’s desire is that Christ would dwell in their hearts through faith. So we have begun to convert the conversation from a dictation of behavior to a conversation about wisdom with our teenagers. Challenging them to line up what they desire to do or have with the wisdom of God and His word independent of me has been key to their growth. My youth pastor used to say a phrase “There’s good and there’s bad but that’s not our cue but rather what is the wise thing to do.” And that phrase lives in our home. The conversation around decisions, whether big or small, has to become centered on the question, “what is the wise thing for you to do according to God’s word?” Often our kids want us to make the decision for them or they don’t want any limitations placed on them, and many times I have wanted to just make the choice for them because it was obvious to me what was wise to do! But that never teaches them to engage with God and pursue wisdom for themselves.
To challenge our teens to pursue the wisdom of God — that is our goal. To line up their lives with what God says in His word takes away any arguments they may make regarding our invalid opinions and instead puts them in front of God himself and His Word. Then they need to make decisions about who they will follow in that moment. Wisdom takes practice, it takes seeking, it isn’t natural to us. Proverbs 2 is a great passage that shows the blessings for the wise, the ones who choose to pursue wisdom and incline their heart to Him.
Ephesians 6 gives me a great word picture in parenting for how we are to do spiritual battle for and with our kids that I try to always use as a guide. When our babies are little and they have no spiritual understanding, we are the warriors with our baby on our back wielding our shield and sword, holding the world and the enemy at bay. As they step into a walk with Jesus Christ, I need to show them their sword and begin to show them its weight, strength, and sharpness. They now stand directly behind me in battle, still protected but beginning to learn the battle. As they grow spiritually they need to move from directly behind me and my shield to beside me, with their own shield in front of them. The battles will increase in intensity as they grow, for the enemy now sees another warrior. My role is to train them in how to wield their weapon, trust their armor, and stand behind their shield. But if as a parent, I am still trying to lug my teen around on my back as I do battle for the both of us, I stunt them. I have to trust that the same Holy Spirit that leads me, the Word of God that is my sword and the shield of Faith that God gives and grows in me is also within them if they are saved. I do not want my teens leaving my home weak and wimpy as warriors! They need to battle, knowing I stand beside them and will assist with the lies the enemy slings because soon enough they will move on the battlefield and will be on their own. Their Sword needs to be sharpened and that comes with use. They need to trust that their shield of faith holds against anything the enemy would like to fire their way because the days are coming when doubt, fear, misgivings, and discouragement will assault them. So as they move out on the battlefield, my role as protector changes to intercessor and encourager asking, “What is the wise thing to do?”