The story goes that Jesus was invited to come over to a friend’s house to sit down, relax, and swap stories. One of the hostesses of the get-together was a lady by the name of Martha, and she was your typical type A personality. The morning of the party, Martha frantically cleaned, cooked, and prepared the house for Jesus and the other guests to arrive. Then she spent the whole time during the party washing used plates, wiping up spills, refreshing everyone’s drink—basically running around like a chicken with her head cut off!
But Martha’s sister Mary was quite different. She spent the morning excited to see Jesus. And when He came, she plopped down and listened to everything He had to say. As Martha scurried about the house, she noticed her sister Mary relaxing and enjoying herself. And this got under Martha’s skin BIG time. There was so much to be done that both sisters ought to be busy playing hostess, right? After awhile, Martha finally had it, and she demanded of Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me alone to do all the work? Tell her to help me.” (Luke 10:40)
Let’s be honest for a minute. We’ve all had our “Martha-moments.” Our modern life is busier than ever. Our schedule is so jam-packed with appointments, events, meetings, deadlines, goals, and pressing expectations that finding a quiet, uneventful evening is a rare luxury. And this lifestyle spills over to our families and our teens. Sometimes we’re so concerned with being “Parent-of-the-year,” that we don’t take the time to be a parent in the moment. We’re so busy teaching our teens the necessities of life, that we don’t hear what they are telling us.
To Martha’s flustered demands (and to our modern schedule) Jesus gave some much-needed advice. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about so many things … [but] only one thing is important. Mary has chosen the better thing, and it will never be taken away from her” (Luke 10: 41,42).
Now, there are some significant lessons we learn from this Bible story about how we use our time and energy. But allow to explore just one, as it applies to our families. Think about the passage as it relates to your child’s heart. We so often get so caught up in the ancillary issues of parenting, that we miss out on what truly matters—a loving relationship with a son or daughter.
Walk a Mile in Your Shoes
So how can we avoid missing the heart of our teen? It starts with putting yourself in their sneakers (or Uggs) and walking around a bit. At one of my recent parenting conferences, I had every parent pull out their cell phone. Then I said, “Text your teen and ask them, ‘do you think I expect you to be perfect?’” 95% of the teens texted mom and dad back with the answer, “Yes.”
No wonder doctors and therapists report that clinical anxiety is at an all-time high among teenagers. We may not say it aloud, but our actions and schedules may shout unreal expectations to our teens. We push them to work hard at band practice, football practice, church functions, school events, and whatever else we can cram into a 24-hour period. Our teens are infected by our frenetic pace of life! Now, there’s nothing wrong with your teen being involved in activities. I’m not knocking those things. But Mom and Dad, put yourself in your son’s place. With everything going on in his life, when does your teen have time to sit down and have a relaxing conversation with you? Could the perception be that you love him for what he can do, instead of loving him for who he is?
Make a pie chart of your time with your teen. How many minutes are spent correcting, versus how much time is spent listening? Is a big slice of your time spent in the car shuttling teens from activity to activity, or is more time spent at the dinner table or in the backyard talking? Having that visual evidence of your divided time may help you commit more energy to connecting with the heart of your teen.
Many kids are over-committed and under-nurtured. Their lives are filled with activities, but they’re missing out on valuable time with mom and dad. If your teen comes home tired and worn out, it’s time to intervene and help them slow down. Take a family vacation. Now, I know that many people will say, “Mark, I can’t afford a vacation!” But it’s possible you can’t afford not to! Both you and your busy teen need to take a breath, relax, and spend time making memories that last far longer than any trophies or GPA scores. Beyond the vacation, make your home a place of rest. Create an environment where kids can find respite, enjoyment, new experiences, and a sense of value for what matters most.
Here’s another exercise to try: If the last things you told your child today were the last words you ever spoke to him or her, would it be something your child would treasure? Or would your last words be a nagging remark, a sharp criticism, a judgmental reproach? Look, not everything we tell our kids will necessarily be upbeat. But let’s make sure the positives far outweigh the negatives. Compliment your child every day. Let her know she’s valuable to you. Tell your son he is not an intrusion in your life. Tell your daughter that talking with her is the best part of your day. My friend Chelsea has a powerful phrase she tells her children. She says, “Even on your messiest day, my life wouldn’t be as good without you.”
Affirmations like that speak right to your child’s heart. Those loving words from a mom or dad are a million times more valuable than expensive gifts or lavish lifestyles. We can spend so much time working hard to provide “the good life” for our children, that we forget to give them what they truly need; our time and our affection.
Reorganize Our Schedules
What does your busy schedule look like? Do you plan your calendar around what needs to happen outside your family, and give your kids the leftovers of your time? Or do you first pencil in your family, and divvy out the rest of your time to other projects? Make family your priority, and let other activities fall in behind. I realize that we’re all busy these days, and we carry the weight of a thousand different responsibilities. But your family needs your time more than they need anything else. And we’ll miss those good things with our kids if we spend all of our energy pursuing other goals. So quit serving on seven different school boards. Miss your Saturday morning golf game a couple times a month. You’ll have plenty of time for all those hobbies and interests when your kid is out of the house. Right now, your teen needs you more.
Here’s my challenge: find one block of time on your calendar that you can give to your kids. Maybe it’s a weekly date where you and your daughter can eat ice cream and watch a movie together. Or perhaps you can carve out a couple of hours a week to take a bike ride with your son. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s you and your child, away from the phone, e-mail, and anything else that would try to steal your attention.
You’ll never hear someone at the end of their life say, “I wish I had spent more time at the office” or “if only my child had more clarinet lessons.” But you might hear, “I wish I had spent more time with my family.” Don’t live with the regrets of wasted time. Throw off the need to be busy 24-7, and grab hold of what Jesus said were “the important things.” And that includes connecting with your teen’s heart.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 39 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids. He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy. His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,500 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.
You can find out more about Heartlight at www.HeartlightMinistries.org. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.
For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our Parenting Today’s Teens website at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org, It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.