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Gaining Understanding & Wisdom (Part 1)

by Mark Gregston

Proverbs 3:21-26 says “My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgment and discretion. They will be life for you and an ornament to grace your neck. Then you will go on your way safely and your foot will not stumble when you lie down, you will not be afraid when you lie down. Sleep will be sweet. Have no fear of sudden disaster of ruin that overtakes the wicked for the Lord will be at your side and keep your foot from being snared.” 

There are a couple of things in there that I think are important. One is understanding and wisdom. That’s important. The second part is you won’t be afraid, and your sleep will be sweet. I know there’s a lot of people thinking Who sleeps really? Isn’t that because you’re struggling with the child that may be spinning out of control? 

As you begin dealing with a struggling teen, I think what happens is you immediately realize the need for understanding and wisdom. Let’s consider a few of the basics that will be foundational. As you build or rebuild, your relationship with your teen, the first thing is you have to be facing the right direction. An old Chinese proverb tells us that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I would add that you might want to make sure you’re stepping in the right direction. Sadly, too many parents move in the wrong direction with their children, and they are exhausted. If you are already tired and feel abandoned by a child who is struggling, you certainly don’t want to get lost as well. 

As with any journey, a little bit of planning ensures that you’ll be headed in the right direction. The first priority is to make sure that your feet are along that path, loving your child, focusing on him or her and discerning what God might be doing and avoiding condemnation. I am aware that those are some easy things to say, but hard to do when your child is spinning out of control… To love your child, focus on them, discern what God might be doing and avoid condemnation.  

You know, during my years of involvement with Young Life, which is an organization that works with kids who are lost, I told gospel stories every week. One of the stories that always caught my attention in a very special way was the woman that was caught in adultery. It’s in John 8. I always wondered what Jesus was writing in the sand. When the crowd of religious leaders stood around her, condemning her and planning to stone her to death. You probably remember that when the Pharisees brought the young girl to Jesus, they told them that she’d been caught in adultery and the law required them to stone her. Then they ask him, what would you do? His response was to stoop down and write in the sand. Then He stood up and He said, he, who is without sin let him be the first to throw the stone. Jesus then stooped back down and began writing again.  

He wrote twice and her accusers dispersed after that. No one picked up a stone and hurled it. Every one of them walked away. And you know what? I think I know what Jesus wrote. I mean, we obviously don’t know for sure. But I bet he scribbled two simple and intriguing words. The first time He wrote in the sand and those two words were, what if, and those two words could hold anyone’s interest for just a minute. As He wrote the words capturing everyone’s attention, He stood up, stated his decision and returned to writing on the ground. 

I think the second time He stooped to write; I think he finished his question. What if this was your daughter? At His spoken words and his sand-scribbled words, the jaws of every father in the crowd dropped and they probably also dropped their pride as they shuffled away, struggling to hold back the tears welling up beneath their brows. People always ask me if that’s true. If these were really the words that Jesus wrote. They also ask if this woman was really a young girl. I don’t know the answer, but it’s my gut feeling. I’ve read this story hundreds of times, and I’ve witnessed common scenarios between fathers and daughters. Often young girls freeze when confronted and older girls run, and this girl stood there long enough for Jesus to share His liberating declaration. The Scripture also says that older men left the area first followed by the younger men. Some say that the older men left first because they recognize their own sinfulness. 

I wonder if it was also because many of them were also dads… and as the younger men followed, they may have asked what did He write back thereWhy are you so quietDid I just miss something? You bet they did. Seeing your child in a dramatic situation like that can get you facing in the right direction. It can move your heart towards someone in your family who is struggling. I know from personal experience, a painful, personal experience with my son. My son made a mistake after he got married to his college sweetheart, he fell in love with another girl. This other girl is wonderful, but the problem is he was already married. We welcomed his first wife into our family when they tied the knot. I loved my daughter-in-law. Adam’s decision to divorce closed the door to a lifetime with a daughter-in-law that every father would want. 

The entire experience was painful, and it hurt many, including me. It tempted me to judge and condemn my son. And I was shocked. This couldn’t be happening to me and my wife. I was angered that my son could pull such a stunt and infuriated over his timing. Did he not think about how this would impact our family or hers? Frankly, I was embarrassed at his choices. I performed the wedding and I spent quite a bit of time with her family. They loved my son and could say nothing wrong about him. We were all excited about this new union. So, when Adam betrayed their trust, the perfect son-in-law suddenly became a stranger who violated any integrity that he had shared with them before. 

Having a son offend so many people was a whole new experience for me. Never had I felt such pride, turned to shame and never had I felt the need to avoid people before. I never felt so confused by one of my own children’s actions. I felt hurt and violated in a way I rarely have ever experienced. I always told my son that there was nothing you can do to make me love you more and there’s nothing you can do to make me love you less. Now he put my words to test. I was amazed how lost that I felt. At the same time, I felt an overwhelming urge to pray for guidance, to seek wisdom and to see with the eyes of my heart. I quietly stayed somewhat misplaced for about six months, realizing as each day passed, that regardless of how much control I have over my own life, I really have no control over anybody else’s live; including my son. 

Instead of focusing on what I no longer had. I began asking God, how He might use me in the midst of this disaster. My son would continue to be my son as painful as it was. I needed to continue to be his dad. Our situation taught me a whole new way then that no family is immune from. Not mine, not yours, not your neighbor, there is no one else. I find it intriguing that immediately after the story of the woman caught in adultery Jesus said, I’m the Light of the worldhe that follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. I would say that a young woman’s dad was in the crowd and Jesus’ comment may have been directed right at him.  

That dad encountered his child’s sin and was living in the darkness that only a sinful child can bring. He needed the light, just like I did. My world is not impregnable, and neither is yours. This kind of situation can happen to you and might be happening to you right now, to those you love and to those you know, regardless of how much you believe otherwise. This side of heaven, no family or child is immune to struggle. 

When a child struggles and you accept that this can happen to your child, the way you look at things changes. Embracing the truth in this time is not an easy thing, but if you will, your perspective changes. You realize your child, or your family was never perfect. Your child’s adolescent years tend to bring out some hidden imperfections and the realization that things are not as right as you thought. It’ll help you move from judgment to compassion and from harshness to tenderness. Over the years, I’ve seen that when parents admit the problems that exist within their own families, they often change the way they handle situations. They react in a kinder and gentler and more compassionate way.  

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.