We all do it: young and old, childish and mature, rich and poor, fit and flabby. We all have thoughts about the “what if’s” of life. There is a lure to create our own personal fantasy “reality.” Fantasy seems to be an anchor element of our culture. This lure has its roots all the way back in the Garden of Eden, when Satan tempted Eve with the fantasy that she could be more and have more. There is often, in the back of our minds, a secret longing for a reality where we get what we want and are seen as the awesome, smart, popular, and/or talented person that we want to be known as to those around us. We do all we can to look cool - to be seen as “all put together.” The online world (whether gaming, social networking, or shopping) is built around feeding our fantasies of greatness. That is one key reason that the web is so compelling and captures our time, focus, and energy. We can be selective in what we divulge, and good feedback is cheap (and effective at winning more of our life’s investment). Fantasy can creep into the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the houses we live in, and the hobbies (and gear) we invest in.
Fantasy can even creep into the church we attend and the relationships we pursue.
Our teens often struggle with reality. In essence, reality is what is true. Reality is what is factual. When we break it down to essential and unchanging truth, we are then talking about God's truth. God's truth is eternal and unchanging. It flinches or gives way to no one. The culture continually seeks to give our teens a false reality through lies about what is real. Lies about God. Lies about his truth. Satan is behind this strategy. He always has been, since that day in the Garden of Eden. He is good at what he does. That fact coupled with youthful ignorance and our teen's easily deceived sinful heart results in bad thinking.
Tucked into one of the most common Scriptures on parenting is a foundational truth that is often overlooked. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Usually we either focus on “the way he should go,” or on “when he is old he will come back to God (so don’t worry about his choices as a teenager). Sometimes we focus on the “train up” procedures themselves. Whatever our focus as we attempt to interpret and apply this verse, many of those whose children “turned out” read this verse and have feelings of smugness at their success. Others whose children didn’t “turn out” ponder this verse with feelings of guilt or shame. Those who are facing a teen in rebellion sometimes cling to this verse in the hopes that they will someday come back to God.
Rather than get hung up on how this verse makes us feel, or whether this proverb is meant to be a concrete truth or a general principle, I would like to zero in on one key element of the training spoken of in this verse, the trainer and his training. The subject of the training is elementary. It is training in righteousness. That most certainly is “the way he should go.” But what that training looks like is seldom pondered, and thus seldom practiced.
Around 25 years ago I heard a sermon that stuck with me through many years of dealing with struggling teens. It was from Hebrews 11, the “hall of faith” chapter. The gist of it was that People are people, God is God and Miracles are miracles. God who is God can take People who are just people and do a miracle so that when people see it all they can say is Praise God that is a miracle. This thought has encouraged me over and over as I worked with teens who were teens. Perhaps you’ll take some time to study through the thoughts below and be encouraged in your family’s situation.
Remember that No matter who you are dealing with, God is able to work in them both to “will and to do his good pleasure.” He can take your weaknesses and theirs and show his power through them and do exceedingly and abundantly above all you ask or think in order to use the situation for his purposes, bless your lives and get glory for himself.
Even with examples laid out before us it is still difficult at times to know exactly what to do and say to get our teens to listen and really hear Truth. Though it may be possible to force a person to physically hear, the most powerful impact (influence) on a person’s thinking requires some kind of connection or relationship. Proverbs 20:5 teaches that people of understanding will “draw out” the deep things going on in the hearts of others.
When a teen lies to you, you have a few options, including ignore it, yell at him, or lay down consequences. There may be times when each of those options seem appropriate. I find that a fourth response is best in the long run.
Identify with his motivations and connect him with Truth. I think it is healthy to admit that none of us are very far away from any particular sin. Many times it is very difficult for teens to accept correction or responsibility for their actions when it is so easy to point the finger at some flaw in their parent, or pastor, or sibling (or whoever is applying the pressure at the moment). Biblically the key to solving strife (relational conflict) is humility and truth. That is well stated in Ephesians 4:15 as truth wrapped in love. Wrapping truth in love provokes thinking about motivations of the heart, at least in-part, because when acting in humility and love we take attacking and offending out of the picture and join with them in the discussion of truth. Biblical truth becomes the light in the situation and does the work of revealing the heart. As a parent I am then freed up to love and help them (sometimes with consequences) learn how to implement truth in their actions.
Mark Massey is director of Victory Academy for Boys, Amberg, Wisconsin. Take a look at VictoryAcademyForBoys.org