“Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law.”
~ Deuteronomy 32:46
I met Rebecca for the first time when she came to our Heartlight campus. As we talked, I saw a bright, funny teenage girl, with a lot of mixed feelings about her parents, faith, and God. She told me:
I grew up in a Christian home. We were typical Southern Baptists, and I was taught from an early age what I could, and could not do. I accepted Christ at a very young age, but I really didn’t know what I was doing. Asking Jesus into my heart was something I felt I had to do to please my parents. And I tried to live, what I thought, was a “good” Christian life. I brought my Bible to school with every day, wore a cross around my neck, and preached to all my friends. I was pretty ridiculous about it.
It wasn’t until I was at a Christian camp, that I was able to clear away the fog and some of the cultural brainwashing. There was a boy at camp who asked me a lot of probing questions, and really got me thinking about the existence of God, and whether the Bible was accurate and true. Those had been nagging questions in my head for a long time. You see, many of the Christians I knew were extremely rude. If someone believed differently, those Christians treated them like garbage.
My parents act this way a lot. There was a lot of judgment at my house. They would say stuff like, “Don’t do that, or you’ll burn in hell.” They’d also use the Bible against me, to make me feel horrible about what I did or said. My dad wasn’t around that much, and when he was, he was really confrontational. My mother, on the other hand, would just make snide comments all the time about me. I finally had enough and admitted what I already knew; God didn’t exist, and Christianity was bogus. Hey, I respect people’s right to have a faith in any god they choose, but personally, I think the whole thing is a fraud.
If I could tell parents one thing about their kids, it would be this: Accept us. You don’t have to condone or support everything we do. I know I have made choices my parents don’t approve of. But be sensitive, and not judgmental. I would probably have a better outlook on Christianity if I had a better experience at home.
Rebecca’s story is common among teens today. 85% of teenagers leave the church after high school. They’re not finding another church. They’re not switching youth groups. They’re leaving church altogether. That is a sobering thought. But it doesn’t have to continue this way. While the spiritual lives of our teens are ultimately in God’s hand, as parents we can prepare the soil so that God can plant the seeds of a lasting faith.
It is tough to imagine that in a strong, Christian home, kids would question our faith. In the back of our minds, it’s tempting to think that faith can be passed down the generational line. Of course we know that our teens have to make a personal choice, but don’t sons and daughters get an extra lift from having Christian parents?
Though we may secretly hope so, it doesn’t work that way. We have to remember that faith cannot be inherited. Our relationship with God doesn’t transfer over to our kids. They have to want and develop it themselves. So there’s nothing wrong with telling your son or daughter, “Don’t take my faith. Discover it for yourself.” You might think a phrase like that would push kids away from the faith, instead of toward it. However, when it comes to teenagers, telling them to investigate the issues of faith for themselves is liberating. Kids instinctively want to please their parents and, like Rebecca, that may be the reason they accept Christ in the first place. But following Jesus to please mom or dad makes for a pretty shallow faith. Instead, tell your teen that you want them to make a personal decision. You’ll be disappointed if they choose not to follow God, but you will love them no matter what! Attitudes like that open the door for kids to pursue God for themselves, rather than to fulfill our expectations.
Part of the struggle parents have in leading their teens towards faith is maneuvering the questions. What do you do when your teen asks, “Why does a good God allow people to suffer?” or “Why should we believe what the Bible says?” Many times, parents believe that asking questions is a sign their child is slipping from grace. But that’s not always the case. We all have questions, especially when we’re young and navigating complex issues. God doesn’t mind honest questions, and neither should we. And if we can’t answer our teen’s problems, it’s the perfect opportunity to be honest! Admit it, and make sure they look it up on their own. Say, “Hey, that’s a really good question. Honestly, I would like to know myself. Why don’t you look for the answer in the Bible and let me know what you find?” Kids will have questions about God, Jesus, the Bible, morality, and other faith-related topics. Instead of evading or scolding teens for their inquiries, use it as an opportunity to push them towards a God who has the solutions to every problem.
The most important aspect of infusing your parenting with faith is to live it out in front of your kids. Do you know the number one response that non-believers give when asked why they don’t follow God? “To many hypocrites!” We all know that nobody is perfect, and we all fall short in many ways. But if we’re not consistently trying to live our faith authentically, then we are in danger of becoming the hypocrites that turn people (including our kids) away from the Lord.
Our kids are watching us all the time. They can see when we react in anger, fudge on our taxes, lie to family members, or treat other people with disrespect. But they also notice when we show love, pursue peace, develop self-control, and walk in integrity. Our lives often speak louder than our words ever could.
If you’ve messed up in the past, admit that to your children, and let them know God is still working on you. George MacDonald once wrote, “Do not judge this path by how I walk it.” Let’s remind our kids the same thing. Don’t judge Christianity by how others practice it, but by the merits of truth itself.
Lastly, don’t forget to allow God to work. The Lord has a different timetable then we do. If you’ve been praying for with a prodigal son or daughter, don’t give up! Know that God has not given up on you or your child. Though Rebecca might have turned her back on God for the time being, her story is far from over. God is still writing her biography. And He is still working in the life of your struggling teen.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas. For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website. It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Go to www.heartlightministries.org. Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173. Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.