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Parenting Teens Who Are Struggling With Their Faith

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This is part five in my series of posts on the book Growing With. You can start from the beginning here or just hit the last post here. You can also pick up the book here if you’re interested.

I was a youth pastor for 30 years. All my kids grew up in the church and their mother and I made sure our kids knew they were loved by God and by us, no matter what. We did’t put any extra pressure on them to be any more than our kids. They weren’t pastor’s kids, they were Paul and Kim’s kids.

We are now, as the book says, “Faithing ” with our kids. I would not describe two of our three kids faith as being close with God. They are living the life THEY want to. I’ve seen this before in other’s preachers kids, but now it’s happening to us.

Faith wasn’t a noun to us as a family. Faith was, and is, action. I took my kids on service projects, mission trips, etc. We prayed over them and prayed with them, yet, here we are. But, I’m not angry at God or with my kids, I’m hopeful mixed with uncertainty.

I have to take the same advice I gave other parents for year, “Be patient, keep praying, and keep loving them.” If the kids of the parents were teens in our youth group, I was their biggest advocate. I could help them by being a bridge builder, design messages that would touch on relationships with family or take that student under my wing and work with them personally. My boys, currently, do not have that kind of community right now, but they’re not out of Gods reach.

I appreciate the honesty of the Growing With book. It doesn’t sugar coat how hard parenting can be. This line stuck out to me,

“We cannot “fill up” our kids in their early years and then hope there’s enough “in the tank” to make it the rest of their lives.”

Christian parents are fond of quoting Proverbs 22:6

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. ESV

And with good reason. This is a great promise. But like the earlier quote, we can’t fill kids up with Christian stuff and hope all that stuff is going to come back to them, someday. Parents still have to work at it. Parent still have to participate in the faith journey of their kids even if their kids faith journey is not heading in the right direction.

The church is a great community to grow in, but we can’t let the church be our babysitter. The church has its role in our kids lives, but the church programs don’t live with our kids, we do. It’s our responsibility to raise our kids, not the church’s or the culture.

My kids have not openly said to us, “we do not believe as you do” nor have they said that they do not believe in God or the Bible, but as the proverbs says,

Even children are known by the way they act, whether their conduct is pure, and whether it is right. NLT

So we can see where they are. It’s hard to parent kids who once embraced a vibrant faith and are now struggling with their beliefs. Our daughter is pretty progressive. We don’t get in too deep, but we keep an open mind and an open heart to receive what she is passionate about without arguing or trying to change her mind.

Growing With suggests that I reframe the inner fear of my kids “leaving the faith” or “leaving God” by offering that my kids are searching for faith, for God. I agree. I believe we all good through a testing period where the beliefs, programs, etc. we’re filled up with will go through a trial by fire.

My kids are in that process. The only way they will know what is true is if it is tested under difficult or trying circumstances. Cars are crashed over and over again, with crash test dummies to see how safe the car is for real humans. Sometimes, humans beings crash their lives and discover that faith is a valuable tool God has give them for living and even to avoid crashing in the future.

Growing With  is really helping me remember my responsibility to faith with my kids all the way through life. Let me offer what I’m doing during this time to keep my own sanity in tact as I wait for things to turn.

I’m keeping things warm

In my last post, I elaborated on what Growing With calls keeping our relationships warm. I text my kids and offer dinner and movie or to go to some event, my treat of course. This keeps the doors open just like keeping food on a stove hot for those who might be coming to dinner late. My kids aren’t in full faith mode yet, so I’ll keep the food and the relationship warm.

I’m praying fervently daily

This seems like a no brainer, but sometimes even thinking about my kids makes me melancholy and diverts my emotional energy from prayer to other negative emotions like anger or self pity.

James offers us this wisdom on prayer in James 5:16

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

I confess and repent for my part in bad parenting

As part of my prayer time, I reflect, with much chagrin, on parenting mistakes I’ve made. I take time to repent for words or actions that were not part of the plan of good or godly parenting. I have to own those things and let God change my heart and mind.

I pray with others

If I am at church, I go to the altar and pray with my brothers and sisters in Christ. There is no shame in admitting you need help or the prayers of others. This pray time is encouraging and knowing that other have my back gives me hope when I’m feeling discouraged.

It’s hard enough to have prodigal kids, but to walk through it alone is unbearable. If you don’t feel like you can go to the front for prayer, call people you trust to keep a confidence and ask them to pray with you. I call friends from out of town to pray because the don’t live around here and can’t gossip with people I know.

I let my emotions out

Sometimes I pray with holy anger against sin and a devil who wants to steal, kill and destroy my kids. Sometimes I weep for my kids. Sometimes I am still and let God do some heart surgery on me. All of these are offered in fervency. This emotion dump keeps me from having pent up emotions that may come out at the wrong time to the wrong people.

This journey with my kids is a marathon not a sprint. No matter how much I want things to be right, now, I have to be patient. I have to believe God is working in my kids even when I do not see it happening.

for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Philippians 2:13

Be encouraged, many a prodigal has come home but they come home in their own time, God’s time, not ours. Be patient, keep praying, keep loving, and keep faithing with your kids.

Next: Keeping Young Adults In Church Depends On What Your Church Values

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