A Journey to Hope

Pain is the pen that writes the song that calls us forth to dance. –Michael Card

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the season when we celebrate life and the goodness of God. We give gifts, attend parties, and make an effort to spend time with family.

If all is well, we feel happy. But for those of us facing the holidays with a struggling teen, this time of year may bring more pain than bliss. After all, it is difficult to be joyful when the negative atmosphere in our home is in stark contrast to the happy and celebratory nature of the season.

When you have a teen whose life is spinning out of control, you may ask yourself, “Where did we go wrong?” Or, “Will we survive this?” Or, “Will life ever be the same?” You may even begin to question your own sanity or wonder what demon or alien may have invaded your once happy and contented child.

If this sounds like you, allow me a moment to offer encouragement. I say this often, because it bears repeating often. As a parent you have probably done the best job you knew how. You most likely did a better job than your own parents. Fact is, even the most intelligent and godly people I know have had teens who struggle. That’s because there are often other factors at work that have nothing to do with your parenting skills, nor the level of love and care you provided your child. And these same factors are mostly out of your control.

Where Does Hope Begin?

So, where does a parent turn to find hope when things seem so bleak? Scripture gives us two fine examples of people who found a place to turn when everything seemed to be going wrong. In the stories of Job and King David we learn that that there is a pathway toward hope, even in the midst of despair. Both had honest conversations with God about their suffering, their sorrow, and their need for relief. Each sought to understand what God was doing in their life through their suffering. In the end, both found hope–not because He or they were able to solve their problem, or because their suffering ended, but because through it they also found a nearness to God.

For the frazzled parents of a troubled teen, the journey of hope entails a journey back to the presence of God, where you can know without a doubt that He is there, even when your life remains difficult and your teen continues to struggle.

Tell God Your Troubles

Let me to urge you to not despair and certainly not to quit. Instead, choose to have an honest conversation with God about your struggle. Ask Him your questions, and tell Him how you feel. Ask Him what you are supposed to learn from this struggle. Stop worrying about how it looks to everyone else, and rest assured that it’s not a problem to have a problem. Be okay with life not always making sense. Celebrate being needful of God’s care. Doesn’t scripture confirm that our Heavenly Father shines best when our life is a mess?

How Does That Help?

When you invite God’s presence to invade your life, then you no longer have to fix the problem yourself. You just have to hold on and trust that He sees it all. You can work through your struggle knowing that God is very near, that He loves both you and your child, and that He will use every single bit of your current dilemma for His good purposes.

Trust me. The pain you are feeling at this moment will eventually come to an end. In the meantime, a renewed hope will come from recognizing that this temporary suffering is a part of God’s plan, and that He is not only aware of the struggle, He is right there in the midst of the struggle. He hasn’t abandoned you and He hasn’t abandoned your teen, no matter what you or they have done.

May you find peace in knowing that God is in it, no matter what the outcome may be.  And for that, we can all be truly hopeful, and thankful. To that end, I pray that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!


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 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.


Creating a Thankful Home

Guest: Brenda Garrison

There’s no such thing as too much gratitude, but maybe the words “thank you” are in scarce supply in your home! On this special Thanksgiving edition of Parenting Today’s Teens, Mark Gregston offers helpful advice for shifting kids from entitlement to gratitude.


Adding “Thank You” to Your Teen’s Vocabulary

Thank You“Continue to live your lives in [Jesus], rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith… and overflowing with thankfulness.”  Colossians 2:6,7

Hanging on the wall of my office is one of my prized possessions.  It’s a plaque that I received back in 1975 during my first rookie days in youth ministry.  It was presented to me by one of the first groups of teens that I had counseled and supported.  The now yellowed and worn certificate simply says, “Thanks for caring.”

That plaque is a regular reminder that there is no such thing as too much gratitude.  But we seldom hear those encouraging words from our older kids, do we?  When was the last time you heard, “Hey, thanks Mom for helping me with this school project.  That meant a lot!”  Or, “Thanks so much for dinner, Dad.  It was delicious!”  We’re not fishing for insincere comments, but wouldn’t it be nice to hear “Thanks” once in a while?

It’s not impossible to train our kids to be grateful, but that does mean pushing back on an entitled generation.  Many teenagers today are growing up with the belief that the world owes them everything, from college to cars to jobs and a comfortable lifestyle.  No wonder kids aren’t developing a sense of gratitude!  But God’s Word tells us that our lives should be “overflowing with thankfulness.”  And as parents, we know that few things come handed to us on silver platters.  We can’t allow our children to grow up believing that they deserve all the good things of life.  Not just to hear a kind word occasionally, but for the health and maturity of our kids, we need to teach them to add “Thank you” to their vocabulary.

Gifts versus Obligation

Recently at the Heartlight campus, I was going about my daily errands, when one of the girls in our program stopped me.  “Hey, why haven’t you met with me this week?” she quizzed me.  “You need to meet with meet with me every week!

I said calmly, “Sweetie, I enjoy talking with you.  But I don’t have to meet with you every week.

Yes you do!” she shot back.

At this point, I realized I was talking with an entitled teen, so I gave her a principle that I have shared with many other kids and their parents.  “Honey, I owe you nothing, but I want to give you everything.”

It’s time to realize that our privileged kids may be creations of our own making.  I know with my own kids, I have crossed that dangerous line many times and given them things that I shouldn’t.  Though I thought I was loving my children, those extravagant gifts reinforced their perception that I was obligated to meet every one of their needs.  While I saw these good things as gifts, they saw them as rights.  This might sound harsh, but as parents, you do not owe your children anything!  Of course, if we love them, we will meet their needs of housing, clothes, food and basic necessities.  But you are not obligated to buy your teen a car, fund their college, or pay their phone bills.  By providing for every one of their needs and wants, we are actually robbing our kids of gratitude and the ability to take care of themselves.  Plus, why would a child ever leave the nest if every craving and desire has been met?

A bald eagle will intentionally make her nest more and more uncomfortable as time goes by to encourage her baby birds to fly the coop.  With our teens, we should be making their responsibilities a little tougher every year to foster independence and a sense of thankfulness for what they have and what they’ve accomplished.

Ease Versus Work

In these tough economic times, having a job and the means to support a family is a blessing.  Work is not a given; it’s a gift.  It’s an attitude that we should be instilling in our teens as they make their way out into the world.  Our society doesn’t owe us a career, a home, a car, a family.  These are things that we have to work for and earn.  That’s why developing a sense of gratitude starts with instilling a good work ethic in our teens.  Don’t shy away from assigning chores and responsibilities for your kids.  At the Heartlight campus I even make up work for my kids to accomplish.  Whether it’s raking pine needles, walking the horses, or cleaning up the rooms, I want to give my students the gift of work.  Using their hands and minds to achieve routine tasks provides them with a feeling of responsibility, independence and also community.  They get a feeling of contributing to the group and accomplishing something for themselves.  When I pay them for the chores they do, it reinforces the idea that work equals reward.

Mom and Dad, don’t feel that giving your teen work will hurt them or make you a bad parent.  It’s really the best gift you can give your kids, and one day, they will be grateful for it.

Demanding versus Modeling

I’ve mentioned the growing sense of entitlement in today’s teenagers, but I don’t exclude myself from the conversation.  Thankfulness is a characteristic that we all can grow in.  So instead of demanding gratitude from my family, I first work towards modeling it.  Let’s face it; parenting can be a thankless job.  No one is running up to give you a pat on the back every day.  But if you can show a thankful heart in your life, your kids will recognize it and eventually pick it up as well.

So stop complaining about your job.  Instead, let your family know how grateful you are to be working.  After dinner, thank your spouse for their work in the kitchen.  When your teen does a nice job cleaning out the garage, or washing the car, sincerely thank them for their hard work.  Keep your eyes open for opportunities to display gratitude in your life.

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, now is the best time to start thinking about how to add “Thank you” to your teenager’s vocabulary.  By refraining from meeting every one of their needs, giving them meaningful work and modeling gratitude, you can make sure that your teen has a long list of things to be thankful for this holiday!



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.