Category Archives: Love

Parents, when you want to throttle your teenager, love them instead

I’ve never been a parent. I don’t pretend to understand “what it’s like” to raise a child for 18 years and then let him go.

That said, I’ve spent a significant amount of time around quite a few teenagers from a variety of family backgrounds, investing deeply in their lives through a lot of time and effort. And I’ve observed lots of parents: those who seem to be making it through the teen years pretty okay and others who through no fault of their own really were left scratching their heads about what to do with this kid.

With that serving as my general disclaimer, I’d like to point out one thing I’ve observed successful parents of teens doing as a key factor in their parenting:  Their posture toward their son/daughter combines genuine, joyful love with strength, honesty, and courage.

Let me unpack that.

The most important growth in an adolescent is his/her understanding of what it means to be a truly independent person. She is transforming from “the child of [family]” to her own identity. It’s a struggle, fraught with much embarrassment and fear and the metamorphosis takes place in a fishbowl of attention from peers and adults. And the maturation process takes its time.

Teenagers express all the variety that we see in humanity, and some teens are more combative or manipulative or hurtful than others. I’ve cringed at some of the statements I’ve heard hurled at parents by their annoyed or angry adolescents. It can be a rough time as the home turns into an emotional war zone where words become weapons and nothing you can do seems to hit the right mark.

Nearly all kids will attack parental authority like a jackhammer, pounding in every example they can find of how anyone else’s parent is doing it better.

[See note at end of post for a few more thoughts in this vein.]

In the middle of this mess, what’s a parent to do?

I firmly believe that God “parents” us in ways that can inform how we parent (or mentor or teach) our kids. He’s God, so I’m not implying we can follow His methods exactly or to the same effect. But within our experience with God the Father we find clues for how to love our teens while also maintaining a healthy relationship that helps them grow and mature… without pulling out every last hair. (Bald is not a good look for most people.)

A few key thoughts:
1. God looks on His children with love, with joy, with acceptance. When He looks at me, He sees the righteousness of Christ. I am fully accepted and totally loved…. even when my behavior or attitude falls short of being anything like Christ’s.

This is Grace and it’s where we all must start: the love of God enables us to love others as we have been loved.

Your teenager will do dumb stuff and rebel and make you angrier than you ever thought possible while ripping out your feelings and stomping on them, reminding you that you aren’t welcome or needed or wanted. Awesome.

Imagine how our daily sinful actions look (and feel) to God our Redeemer, who patiently renews His mercies every morning. Great is His faithfulness in the midst of our failures and need.

What this means for parenting:  Your reaction to your teen must be grounded in a firm grasp of how much you are loved by God, even when you fail. This is the same “standard” you should apply to your parenting. Grace isn’t leniency; it’s a gift of exactly what we most need in the moment, whether encouragement or discipline or honesty. 

2. God’s redemptive love anchors His interactions with us. God doesn’t change His attitude toward me based on how I feel toward Him.

Romans 2 says it’s the goodness of God that leads us to repentance.  This posture of love is key to God’s work in drawing us to Himself. He can give us Grace because He sacrificed His own Son to reconcile us to Himself. He took the hit … so He can extend the relationship.

Even when He knew full well what a mess we are. His love is eyes-open, honest, in-spite-of-our-badness love.

Lesson for parents: Don’t let your moody, angry, difficult teen drag you into the same negative mindset. Your actions may have to be firm to enforce family rules or discipline, but your posture toward your child can and should be one of calm, assured love.

Delight in your teen. Choose to see that good and call it out (but not to “make a move” and prove how “nice” you are) and with genuine joy. God rejoices over us with singing (says Nehemiah); give your teen the same gift, even when she is driving you nuts.  Do this because you can love them as God first loved you.

Understand that I’m not saying, “Overlook their bad behavior.” I’m not saying you shouldn’t have frank conversations about what they’re doing that’s dangerous or unwise (though you probably won’t get far in convincing them to change). Maintain your rules. Exercise discipline. But above all, fight to keep your attitude toward your teen positive. It does matter.

3. God does not return us to the role of adversary, even when we have sinned. 

I hear a lot of parents (and teachers, in their contexts) ask, “But my kid is doing something wrong. I need to make sure they understand that I don’t approve. I need them to feel how bad they are!”

Look. I get it. I actually do. But feeling bad about sin? That’s the Holy Spirit’s job. He’s the one who convicts “of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 14). You can’t succeed in trying to do His job.

You can attempt to educate their consciences, but you can’t (and shouldn’t) try to make them “feel guilty.”  Emotional manipulation is just as wrong a tactic for you as it is for them. Withholding your favor to punish them for their bad attitude is just revenge.

Love and honesty aren’t opposites. Love and discipline aren’t opposites. You work with your tools (natural consequences, discipline, discussion) and let God work with His. Your child is not your adversary. Don’t escalate the war (but don’t let yourself be a hostage either).

Takeaway: Be honest with your teen when they’ve done something wrong. But do not allow yourself to treat your son or daughter like he/she is your enemy. It won’t help.

Also, remember that your kid will grow to fit the mold you build for him/her. Want a rebellious teen? Make sure you assume that her actions are rebellious before you hear an explanation. Assume she’s only a liar. Make him feel as if his trajectory has been set, and it will be way easier to just live up to bad expectations than forge new ones.

God’s mercies are replenished every morning. So should yours.

4. God, in His mercy, often softens the impact of consequences on our lives. But for the most part, He allows us to experience the natural effect of our actions. 

Your best tool for allowing teens to understand the impact of their actions is getting out of the way of the natural consequences of their actions.

 

Teens are big enough to make big decisions that can carry life-long impact. They can get pregnant or become fathers; they can make mistakes that kill someone or themselves; they can destroy relationships or earn a criminal record or get themselves addicted to drugs.

I’m not saying “So let ’em!” Not saying that at all. Part of the Grace you bring into the life of your children is protection from the worst that foolishness can bring. Some problems demand radical intervention.

But parents, you need to come to grips with the reality that your hardest job is getting out of the way of Life as it slams into your child with all the force necessary to teach some of the hardest lessons. Failure is the best teacher when we’re willing to learn from it.

It’s hard to step aside and let your kid earn an F because she won’t do her homework despite all your efforts to intervene and help. That might mean she goes to community college for a couple years instead of your private liberal arts alma mater. But she needs to own her failure (and be offered a hand up to dig out of it once the lesson sinks in).

It sounds mean to say, “I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to earn and use your own money if you want to buy that.”  I see a lot of teens holding their parents hostage through guilt and emotional slash-n-burn tactics. Don’t fall for that. They can’t refuse to contribute AND complain about what they want but you won’t buy for them. A good lesson for all of life.

It’s impossible to monitor who your son is spending his time with or doing in his spare time.  You can guarantee that your kid has probably smoked it, tasted it, drank it, or kissed it. Model responsible (and enjoyable) adult behavior for your kids, and resist the urge to put a GPS tracker on his shoes. In my experience, when parents love their kids and are trying to be reasonably involved in their lives, “bad stuff” tends to come into the light before too long.  Be sure their sins will find them out. Hopefully before the damage is permanent.

Oh, and don’t be afraid to get absolutely livid if the occasion demands it. Like if your kid nearly hurt someone by being stupid. There are times when your anger – driven by your fear for their wellbeing and your better understanding of how this world works – can be very effective as a natural consequence. But it only works if your kids rarely see you angry.

A final word:

When the times of conflict hit — and they most certainly will hit every parent-teen relationship at some point — it doesn’t have to turn into a nuclear war.

What I’ve seen from the best parents I’ve known is patient, quiet, calm love combined with the courage to speak honestly and the wisdom to know when to say something and when to just be quiet.  These parents may weep or rage on the inside, but toward their children they are gracious, firm, and proactive. They refused to let their buttons get pushed.

And you know what? Around age 19 or maybe 21 or 24, every one of their kids has come to them with joy and deep gratitude for the gift of love and grace their parents gave them.

Really.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A few more notes about adolescents:

I’ve noticed that girls hit their most difficult years around age 15 while most boys really go head-to-head with their parents a year or two later. Of course, individual experiences vary; I’ve known 12 year olds who’ve zoomed straight into the worst of puberty while others pass through all 8 years with nary a fight. But the typical patterns are labeled that for a reason — you should expect to hit a few patches that are rougher than others. [Personally, I’m convinced the only reason 17 year old boys survive is because adults decide not to murder them. I’ve had to hold myself back a few times. lol]

Teens sometimes push the boundaries of this process by doing anything bad they could imagine (drugs, sex, theft or shoplifting, recklessness, sneaking out) altering with rank foolishness (usually non-malicious but often just plain dumb). Both boys and girls will lose all common sense in their quest to impress a crush.

And all of our teens are now awash in way more social media and text connectivity than we ever had to deal with. At least my landline had only one connection, so I could hold only one conversation at a time. And my parents yelled at me if I tied up the phone all night. Not so when everyone has their own personal phone-in-pocket and communications device. Star Trek might have foreseen personal communicators, but I never saw Kirk caught in the midst of conversations with Spock, McCoy, Uhura, and Scotty all at the same time, with Sulu and Chekov sending over random Snapchats of their drinking party below decks. You and I had a way to escape the prying eyes of our peers; our teens never ever ever stop talking with their peers. Never.

Find yourself some parents who’ve made it through, whose kids are in college or married and relatively okay, and talk to them. You need people in your life who can remind you that this is just a phase, that you’re going to make it through. 🙂

It’s about loving your neighbor: The Flag Controversy

For 2 days, South Carolina sits stunned at the news that a sullen 21 year old boy, hyped up on white supremacy nonsense and hoping to start a race war, spent an hour studying the Bible with a group of African Americans at a legendary AME church in Charleston before pulling out his gun and shooting 9 of them dead.

Stunned.

We all struggle to speak, because really, what can I say?

But I can add my voice to the rising tide of others who are willing to be so bold as to challenge the narrative that there isn’t a race problem in America, that this is all caused by angry black people or poor black people or good-for-nothing lazy welfare black people or [insert your other favorite slightly racist but still acceptable conservative statement here].

I can challenge the reality in my state of South Carolina that above our capital, on the grounds, flew one flag yesterday at full mast while all the others were at half: The Confederate flag. The flag that signified the South’s proud assertion that they were sovereign in 1860 and they are sovereign now over any federal mandate.

We could easily get bogged down in an argument over that sovereignty. I’ll leave that to the armchair historians.

But if you think that the value of the Confederate flag as a statement of sovereignty means anything in face of our American white/majority culture that glorifies violence in general as symbolized by the right to own weapons of violence, and refuses to relinquish power over what defines racism — well, here we must disagree.

The question of what SC needed to do with its flag was settled a decade ago with a compromise: remove the flag from the actual statehouse building but fly it on the grounds at the Confederate memorial instead.  Ok, that’s decent I suppose. I’m fine with history.

But the flag. That flag. It nearly throbs with the emotions attached to it by both sides: those who feel like their Southern culture and way of life are being ripped from them and must then clutch to the orange and blue symbol as a rallying cry to keep out anything that suggests we live in a different world. And by those who see in the flag a constant reminder of the lynchings (144 in South Carolina alone), the lunch-counter sit-ins, the beatings that accompanied the Civil Rights marches, the man who was shot dead by a Charleston police officer just two months ago.

Folks, the hate isn’t stopping. And our refusal (as those with power and privilege) to acknowledge this hate, to own it, to take responsibility for the backbreaking work of pushing against the capacity of the human heart to manufacture evil – that refusal is hurting us.

It’s a failure to love.

The Great Commandments are these: Love God (as hard as you can all the time with everything you have) and Love your neighbor as yourself.

Friends, our neighbors are the ones mourning the shots fired and the nine lives robbed from the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston on Wednesday.  And our neighbors are telling us that racial attitudes in South Carolina are not fine.

The Confederate flag is not a neutral symbol of fried chicken, biscuits, sweet tea, and big trucks. It’s a physical manifestation of our failure as Christians in South Carolina to give up our “love” for “Southern heritage” (whatever the hell that means) on behalf of actually carrying out our mandate to flood every corner of this dark earth with the Gospel: the Gospel that condemns racism and sexism and classism, the Gospel that enables us to love God and neighbor, the Gospel that recognizes sin and names it for what it is and roots it out. 

I’d like to share Dr. Anthony Bradley‘s outstanding commentary on South Carolina’s moment in the spotlight in the wake of this shooting, as the flag’s presence over the capital — padlocked to its pole so that no one can ever take it down, or even lower it to honor innocent people slain by racial hatred — has moved to the forefront.

Dr. Bradley is a scholar, a PCA minister, and one of the few minority voices within my denomination. The PCA just last week passed a basic statement of repentance for our tainted and murky racial past. Bradley is clearly a brave man to be willing to hang out with us here in all our whiteness and Presbyterianness. And he’s brave enough to say this on Facebook and elsewhere:

The video referenced in this post is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7m5kWC90a6I
The video referenced in this post is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7m5kWC90a6I

Calling out this paragraph as the heart of his argument, and it’s a point that may cost me some friends by repeating it:

The spirit of the Confedrate battle flag remains alive and well in South Carolina because conservative Republican evangelical Christians have yet to place “loving your neighborhood” ahead of a romantic idolatry of “states’ rights and the old south.” Until black people become more important than “the Southern way of life” by white Christians, who hold the state’s economic and political power, the community of discourse that produced this shooter could keep producing people who are just as evil.

I don’t *need* for famous people to agree with my point of view, but it’s nice when it happens. 🙂

To save myself from typing:

FB lori comment

A friend of mine teaches at a school in the Greenville area and one of her German students struggled to understand why the Confederate flag is even defensible given America’s yearlong carnival of racial violence and shootings:

Michele student

Of course, it’s hard to find a more eloquent commentator on American flaws than Jon Stewart….. I still can’t cope with the reality that he won’t be a voice for us much longer ….. he had this powerful statement last night in response to the shootings. And I’ll let this be the last word (you can also read this summary at WaPo if you don’t have time for the video):

Among many excellent points, Stewart says:

I heard someone on the news say “Tragedy has visited this church.” This wasn’t a tornado. This was a racist. This was a guy with a Rhodesia badge on his sweater. You know, so the idea that — you know, I hate to even use this pun, but this one is black and white. There’s no nuance here.

And we’re going to keep pretending like, “I don’t get it. What happened? This one guy lost his mind.” But we are steeped in that culture in this country and we refuse to recognize it, and I cannot believe how hard people are working to discount it.

Update, 11:30am:
This excellent article by a South Carolina native and minority woman is a gentle reminder that South Carolina life is complex and messy, just like life everywhere. I’ll post it here because her viewpoint is important and necessary if we are to move past condemnation into hope:

Social justice is complicated and the lack of it is fraught with local nuance. What I ask from my friends who will and should add to the public conversation on the Charleston shootings is that they consider this before they tweet generalized condemnation.

from “My Complicated Relationship with South Carolina”

Update, Saturday, 1:30pm:

One of the best articles I’ve read in a while, Osheta counsels us to stop talking and listen, setting a trajectory of response that is Gospel-rich. “I’m sorry” and “I’m listening.”

 I’m sorry tames the anger.  “I’m sorry” respects the pain. “I’m sorry” positions you as a friend and not adversary.

I’m listening because we’re called to be reconcilers.

from What I need you to say in response to the shooting in Charleston

Link: For God So Loved Caitlyn Jenner

Instead of trying to wade into the Caitlyn Jenner debate, I’m going to commend this blog post by Marty Duren, which was republished by the Washington Post. I think he expresses my opinion as well as I could, if not better.

An excerpt, but please read the whole thing.

“I do not know all the answers.

What I do know is insulting transgendered people by mocking them does not gain us a hearing for the gospel. Mockery is not a characteristic of Jesus….

The very essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ is no one is good enough to secure God’s love. And “no one” includes me and all those people I think I am better than, so let us stop pretending. Let us remember grace is not primarily a series of statements, but is the hand that finds us in the miry pit.”

For God so loved Caitlyn Jenner – The Washington Post.

Link: Long-Range Writing (Sometimes A Light)

“People—particularly women—need to hear that you can start late.”
~Ursula LeGuin

My friend Hannah wrote a great post on her blog about the long-range view of being a writer, She’s wrangling several kids, the full-time job of being a pastor’s wife, and a budding writing career. So yeah, I’m sure it gets discouraging.

You can read Hannah’s post on her blog, Sometimes A Light.
“Long-Range Writing”

What really struck me was this: As Hannah notes, we glorify youth in American culture. The Silicon Valley startup culture exacerbates the need to “accomplish something” by the time you’re 30. Maybe 35. At the latest.

I’m always thankful for my husband who’s been a beacon of common sense in my life since I first met him, challenging people to let go of dumb, popular ideas in favor of better, more thoughtful approaches.  I remember when we were still short of 30, he observed that most of us will hit our best stride in our 50s. By then, you’ve lived long enough to know something; you’ve gained experience that makes problem solving a little more efficient.  Sure, you aren’t spry and bouncy anymore…. but that’s the point.

Our consuming culture taunts us with the New and the Now so we throw away our good-but-familiar stuff to buy new-and-somehow-“needed” stuff.  We do the same with people.

We all need to hear the truth, so eloquently stated by Ursula LeGuin, that you can “start late.”  It’s never too late to recognize the Big Thing That Matters, and go do it.

We Zombify Those We Want to Hate

“As Christians, we can’t preach about the cross as a life-giving moment, while continuing to participate in the same dehumanizing, degrading, and justifying of violence that allowed Rome to nail our Savior to the cross.

That doesn’t mean we should ignore crimes when they occur or cease to hold people accountable for their actions. But as Christians, regardless of the circumstances, we are to love both neighbor and enemy alike, not strip them of their humanity and justify their oppression whenever we see fit.”

– See more at: http://theamericanjesus.net/2014/12/10/thugs-illegals-king-jews/#.dpuf

Grace = In it for the long haul

Yeah, I’m using all this “long haul” language lately to imply a connection.

See, a wise woman once told me “Grace always costs the giver.

You can’t actually love someone and not invest something of yourself that you’ll never get back. That’s going to affect your time, your attention, your wallet.

Because Love believes/hopes/endures all things, it’s going to be taken advantage of. You’re going to be out there someday, pouring yourself into some human being, and suddenly realize you’re getting screwed. Totally screwed. And your reaction – at that moment – will show you whether you truly understand that love will always cost something to give.

In fact, I think the way we handle God’s love toward us is Exhibit A for “love is willing to be made a fool of for the sake of the one being loved.”  We don’t have a Savior who gets partway into the mess and then backs out because “this is too much.”  Jesus loved us before we loved Him. He went to the Cross when we were still filthy.

Even now, I’m an unappreciative saved-sinner.  I take God for granted all the time. I forget His good deeds in past days. I doubt His word. I accuse Him of being unfair, not listening, uncaring, uninvolved.  Basically, I gobble up the love of God because I know He’s not going to stop giving it…. so I gorge on His Grace. It’s pretty ugly.

What makes us think our human efforts to live the Gospel with our hands and feet will be any less….frustrating?

At the end of the day, you’re asked to love God as hard as you can all the time with everything you’ve got, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. That’s it. *coughs* impossible *coughs*

Please love God with your time. It takes a lot of time to bring a kid who’s education is deficient up to par, and you probably have enough education in your back pocket to make a difference if you’d spend a little time reading or tutoring or working algebra problems or in a classroom as a helper. Or go volunteer at hospice. Or a shelter. Or change the oil in a single mom’s car.

With your money. Like, skip the Starbucks and donate it to someone who actually needs $4 because otherwise they won’t have lunch today. (Preaching to myself on this one – I waste money on unnecessary coffee.)

And if you’re one of the blessed ones who can afford your mortgage payment and your cars and health insurance and money for your kids to play 3 sports…. I’ve got some people in mind that you could help get into a house or get a car or find an apartment. 🙂

With your attention — because there are so many people around you who, right now, need some attention from you — a kind word, an invitation for their kid to come play with yours so a single parent gets a break, an encouragement to someone who’s trudging. Kids especially benefit so much from having adult mentors. But don’t forget that the entire structure of the Church is supposed to be organized by mentoring relationships (see Titus 2).

With open-hearted, un-judgmental love. The Holy Spirit can take care of His job all by Himself. I’ve rarely ever run into someone doing “something wrong” (genuinely, biblically wrong – not just breaking cultural taboos) who didn’t already realize they were sinning. People don’t need you to tell them they’re wrong. They need you to offer a hand up so they can get stable enough that change even seems possible.

Listen 10x more than you speak. Grace works through acts of quiet service, through the gift of just the right thing at just the right moment (after all, “grace” just means “gift”).

Love people when you’re too frustrated to want to do it any more, when you have to grit your teeth and keep going.

Love people when it’s hella inconvenient. Because if it’s not inconveniencing you somehow, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Love people when they break your stuff or use up your resources or keep calling when you’re tired of hearing from them already.

Love people even when you figure this is going to be a bad idea because you’re going to “lose” in the end or get taken advantage of or even swindled.

Love people when they walk away from you — you don’t have to “clutch” people. Let the  Spirit do His work. People know real love when they see it, and they’ll be back….eventually.

Love the person in front of you. It’s not like you got to go to some foreign land to get the job done.

I don’t know how to revel in the Grace that costs me something to give. Maybe that’s what I’m supposed to be learning….