I’m bracing myself right now. Somehow, my daughter’s 12th birthday has catapulted us light years ahead into uncharted territory. We’re now planning her 13th birthday and the changes are coming too fast. Don’t get me wrong– I’m happy about it all, I just wish we could slow everything down a bit.
We’ve been researching how to help her celebrate and step confidently into this new chapter of life. In Stasi Eldredge’s book, “Becoming Myself,” she describes how some friends called their daughter into womanhood with a special ceremony attended by family and friends.
The short answer of course, is that there’s no guarantee. The more you try to co-opt her will, the more likely she is to resist it. But there are certainly some proven ways to cultivate good soil that make spiritual growth more likely.
Tending to soil is good imagery for parenting adolescence because it helps remind us of what we can and can’t do. We can spend a great deal of time, getting our hands dirty, carefully monitoring health, and creating a nutrient rich environment for growth. We can’t however, create growth itself.
What are some of the ways we can create healthy soil for our teenager’s spiritual growth?
Live a vibrant and authentic life of faith before their eyes
Give them a front row seat to your relationship with God. Share your areas of growth and your struggles (when appropriate). Let them see how important your faith is and how it’s not only changing you, but impacting the world around you. Bring them with you when you serve and pray for others. They need to see the vitality beyond the responsibility. Don’t fear failures in the right direction, God’s grace is sufficient. Just steer clear of hypocrisy, your child will see right through it and it’s far more damaging to his faith than if you were an atheist.
Help him connect to the Father and not just “say his prayers”
It’s the birthright of every child of God to hear his Father’s voice. We need to teach our children the lesson of Samuel–the posture of, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” Prayer is one of the most important areas where faith needs to be individualized. More than a great deal of knowledge or even high levels of service, a child’s ability to hear from the Lord is a great predictor of a faith that will stick.
Your family doesn’t shrink from hard questions
You don’t hide from the world or detach from difficult conversations. In fact, you initiate them at the dinner table. You ask good questions, share what you’re learning and how you respond to hard questions with grace and humility.
Be a learner
Teens can’t talk to know it all parents, so let him see that you’re a learner. Don’t be an alarmist when your child is expressing crazy thoughts. Keep your composure and make sure he feels heard, understood, and validated. It’s ok if you need to hyperventilate later.
You exercise discernment in exposing your child’s faith to testing
Jesus was ready when he went into the wilderness to be tempted. As parents, we need to guard our children’s influences carefully and discern the difference between a healthy stress test and simply setting them up for failure. Keep the end in mind and remember that you’re raising up an adult, not a child, but go carefully as you expose them to competing influences and temptations. Fear and naiveté are opposing errors in this dance. If your child’s faith is weak, limit damaging influences, and seek ways to shore it up. Open and honest dialogue is paramount here.
Live as a family on mission
This is really what I mean by “bringing them with you.” Read the Scriptures and pray together. Serve your community together. Let them find meaningful ways to contribute to God’s work in your church and city. We tend to minimize the effect of family on faith and exaggerate the influence of an hour at church.
I once thought that the time requirement of parenting decreases as a child gets older. Not true! We often underestimate our influence as parents and delegate our role too quickly and to too many people. Keep the word “disciple” in view when you discipline and it will help keep the end in mind.
Wesley Furlong is the founder and director of City of Refuge (refuge.life), a network for community transformation and the director of Church Development for the EVANA Network, an evangelical Anabaptist network of churches across North America.