A few years ago we took a portion of the front lawn and dug up the grass, tilled the ground and planted seeds and bulbs with the hope and expectation that flowers would grow. After planting we did not just sit back, watch and wait for flowers to pop out of the ground. Even after the initial preparation was done we still needed to water and sometimes feed the plants to make them go from tiny little seed or bulb to the beautiful shape that God planned out for that little seed. Those who garden know that we also needed to be constantly weeding, removing from the garden those things that would interfere with our plans for the garden through the actions of the birds or wind that would overwhelm or destroy the plants if left unattended. Why is it that cotton candy bushes don’t spread naturally but poison ivy does anyway? Even if we just stand still, choose to take some time off to attend to other things and not do what we need to do to tend to the garden and let it just be, it is always the weeds that benefit. Standing still in the garden is an invitation for disaster.
The Christian life is a lot like a garden. Either we are going forward and headed toward blooming, the production of fruit of the Spirit in our lives, or we are going backwards and being threatened with being overtaken by weeds. As a parent, the same principle applies as we are either tending to our children and teaching them every day to love and follow the Lord as Deuteronomy 6 contemplates or we are going backwards. The world is perfectly happy to come in and teach our kids if we choose not to do so.
This truth particularly needs to be understood in an area that the world tells us is one that we have no hope in — our kids between the age of 12 and 20, what the world calls teenagers with all of the baggage that comes along with that title. The world in the form of parenting experts, tv shows, movies and peers say that this will be the time of rebellion, disrespect and wildness on the part of your kids of that age. With all of the bodily changes going on, they are just hormone machines that cannot be controlled, just roll with it and give them space are the commonly offered words of advice. Let them spread their wings. What are you going to do, they are teenagers? The problem with this advice is that it makes up a title that is no where present in the Bible and was not present in history until relatively recently, as recently as 100 years ago these special flowers were fighting wars and taming frontiers. It also creates a self-fulfilling loop. I expect my kids based upon an arbitrary assigned title to act badly and as a result of cultural expectations think there is nothing I can do, so I do nothing and my child acts worse and worse. If we step back and give room to grow in our gardens without tending and wisdom, it is only weeds that will flourish.
Kids from the age of 12 to 20 are certainly going through an interesting and important time of life. They are young men and women learning to be men and women of God. They also have significant physical changes goes going on. But the years 1 to 12 are pretty drastic as well in the challenge and change department and yet you would not give your toddler room to flex his wings and experience things….at least without the expectation of rough consequences. A young man who turns 13 and is confused about his faith and place in the world is not any different from when he was 12 and had the same feelings. He is also no different from the man who hits 50 and has questions about his faith and suddenly searches his life for the first time for real significance. All need Jesus directed Holy Spirit filled leadership and discipleship, not room to sin.
We sometimes forget that our example for all things in life, Jesus went through the teen years. Do you think He was sullen, talked back to His parents and tried drugs for the first time? Of course He didn’t He was without sin. I was a terrible teenager, doing all the things that our culture says is normal during this time of searching and expression. I did it because I am a sinner, was not taught differently and got away with it. It was not because it was some magic compulsion accompanying my 13th birthday – I was just a little sinner. Sin is sin, weeds are weeds, they need to be plucked out at 13, 33 or 73.
The Bible is filled with directions for parents that deal with training their children and raising their children to follow the Lord. The goal as a parent is to teach the children to live under the authority of their parents so that when they get to manhood or womanhood they are prepared for living independently under the authority of God directly. Each phase of life involve obedience, self-control, joy, love, discipline, submission and all of the values that God expects from his adult children. Have you ever noticed that there are no exceptions present in the Bible for teenagers? They are not some specially carved out class in Ephesians 6:
Fathers,[c] do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.
It does not say except for teenagers. They need tending as much as our 2 year olds. It may be harder at times as they are maturing in abilities if not in spiritual maturity and the weeds may be scarier, but the fruit that God can bring forth through them is truly glorious. Just don’t give up — they need you desperately!
One last thing — I once asked a great set of parents who had three amazing God loving kids how they kept their kids on the right track through the teen years and into adulthood. The dad told me simply, “They are going to get to a point where they want to pull away and do their own thing in the teen years. You just don’t let them!”