by Mark Gregston of Parenting Today’s Teens
Road construction can be frustrating. What was once a four-lane highway becomes a one-lane pit stop, as maintenance crews tear up the asphalt. With jack-hammers, dump trucks, back-hoes, cranes, and sometimes shovels and picks, groups of men in hardhats slash and hack and break apart the familiar and comfortable road you’re used to traveling on. While the construction is happening, you’re involuntarily resigned to idling in your car, seething.
But it’s not like this break in your commute came out of nowhere. For miles back, the road crews had placed a sequence of orange cones, gigantic markers, and bright flashing signs that declared “Men at Work!”
Mom and Dad, can I suggest that God puts up those same signs in the life of your teen? I know that sometimes we feel stuck watching our teenage son or daughter make mistakes, wander off the path, and cause delays and distractions that make coming and going incredibly difficult. All we can see is the chaos and destruction in our kid’s lives. And we may have missed all the signs reading “God at Work here!”
Demolition Can Bring About Transformation
Maybe your daughter came home high after an all-night party. Perhaps your eighteen-year-old calls you to come bail him out from the county jail. When our teens blow it badly, often as parents we focus on the devastation that bad decisions bring. But many times demolition brings transformation. I know that this is true in my own life. And I believe it can be true in yours. See, God cannot build something new into someone’s life without starting from the ground up. And this may mean He is going to allow some events that will bring us right down to our very foundation.
I had one student who, as a result of a party lifestyle and rebellion, got pregnant when she was sixteen. Caught in her mistakes, she was forced to have a difficult conversation with her parents, and reevaluate her decisions. With the support of her family, the young lady did the right thing; gave up her beautiful child for adoption, got serious counseling, and is now a growing and mature adult. I asked her thoughts on that tough time in her life some years later, and she said, “Mark, getting pregnant was the best thing that could have happened to me. It was a wake-up call, and for the first time in my life I had to deal with my mistakes and learn responsibility. And giving up that baby was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. So now I want my next baby to be the result of a happy marriage.”
I could tell many more stories about former students who have written me letters and e-mails to say that their DUI was the best thing that happened to them, or that running away from home changed their lives. It was not because these events were good things at the time, but looking back, they gained a new perspective about the struggles they faced, and how their choices shaped their futures. Those trials and troubles gave them a reason to find help, and served as a reminder of the consequences of their actions. What seemed devastating at the time, actually cleared the way for a new life.
Look for the Big Picture
Understand that what is happening in the life of your child right now is not the whole story. God is forming a “bigger picture” which includes many more people than just you or your child. And the scope of that picture goes far beyond the pain of the here and now. I know that it’s hard to look at the bigger perspective when you hurt for your child now. But there’s a lot more going on than you can see from your current vantage point of concern for your child. It doesn’t mean your struggle is any less difficult, but remembering the big picture can give you hope for the future. Use this difficult time as an opportunity to deepen your relationship with your child, and you’ll shorten the amount of time that your child remains in a state of disarray. Galatians 6:9 encourages us “not [to] become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
When we see our teen make a mistake, engage in reckless behavior, and start walking down a dangerous road, we normally panic and try desperately to “fix” our kid. But that is just not possible. You can fix the boundaries, fix the consequences, and maybe even change the environment, but you’ll never fix your child. Only God can change your child’s heart. Instead, focus on what you can fix in your parenting, and get out of God’s way as He does what He needs to do in the life of your teen.
God’s plan for your child isn’t going to change just because you do not see it. The best thing you can do is try to understand what He’s doing as he works in the life of your teen. That understanding comes through prayer; prayer to understand His will and prayers of submission accepting whatever God needs to do both in your life, and the life of your child. The older I get, the more I understand that prayer is meant to help us get in line with and understand God’s perfect will, versus trying to influence or change it.
Hopefully you can already see how God has worked in your own past, and maybe you have even seen glimpses of God’s plan for your future. But often, it’s most difficult to believe that God is involved in what is happening today.
So, pray. And keep a daily diary; it will help you maintain perspective. Look for ways that God is working in your teen’s life, and record those; being sure to thank Him as you see His hand at work. Trust God to finish the work He has begun in your teen. Depend on His promises to remain true. God, the Creator, is fully capable of fashioning a new life and a new relationship between you and your child out of the wreckage we see. He’ll amaze you, as he does me, as He creates abundant life and perfection out of dust and confusion.
Don’t Give Up Hope
I remember a particular father who brought his daughter into the residential program here at Heartlight. His eyes filled with tears as he spoke to me about the struggles and the problems that his daughter was experiencing. Frankly, it was one of the worst stories of a troubled teenager that I had heard in quite awhile. My heart ached for this hurting father as he looked for a bit of encouragement.
“Just tell me that there is hope in this,” he told me.
I remember distinctly looking him in the eye and saying with complete confidence, “There’s always hope.” This wasn’t a worn-out cliché I was dragging out. The reason I could tell this dad there is hope even in the mess he sees is based on the character of our Heavenly Father who promises to finish what He starts. God is not going to leave the job half-done. What God starts, He completes. And that includes your teen! “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living,” says Psalm 27:13.
Even though they’re a lot older now, I can remember the first kids I counseled when I started this ministry. There were times when I thought, These kids are hopeless! There’s absolutely no way they can turn it around! But these same kids are now healthy, happy adults with strong marriages and good families. The time that their parents, the Heartlight team, and most importantly, God, worked and invested into their lives brought about a healthy and improved future. After countless examples, I’ve learned that though the outlook might seem bleak and hopeless, there is always hope, because God is still at work!