3 Easy Ways to Impact a Middle Schooler’s Identity and Faith

** The following article was copied from www.justaphase.com.

11, 12, 13. These are the awkward years. You remember right? Greasy hair, frizzy hair, don’t care. Weight gain and weight loss. You feel like an adult but everyone treats you like a kid.

Life for a middle schooler is rough. Forget trying to figure out who you are in Christ. Preteens are hanging onto the struggle bus for dear life.

Of course you now know that middle school drama, like everything else, won’t matter in a few short years. With the right approach you can help preteens focus on things that really count.

What is a Middle Schooler, Anyway?

The next time you take in an all-star performance from a middle schooler—complete with tears, of course—consider this: behind those emotions is a brain hard at work analyzing, processing and planning the next move.

What we’re talking about is a duality of sorts—the middle schooler you see and the middle schooler you don’t see.

The Middle Schooler You See 

    • He’s growing like a weed and eating all of your groceries.
    • She’s happy one moment and crying the next.
    • He’s embarrassed easily and often by you.
    • She knows everything.
    • He lies and argues more than ever before.
    • She wants to be with her friends. Always with her friends.

The Middle Schooler You Don’t See

    • He loves to learn and be challenged.
    • She wants to know if you care.
    • He needs to talk about his feelings, even when his face says otherwise.
    • She wrestles with decisions big and small.
    • He’s starting to view the world through the eyes of others.
    • She longs for non-parental adult influence.

When it comes to helping these complex creatures understand who they are in Christ, you have to remember the middle schooler you don’t see. The engineer inside needs to know that God can do anything. That He can overcome impossible odds to rebuild what is broken, bring stability, restore peace, resolve doubt, give hope, and redeem everyone—including themselves.

Read More: A Dynamic View of God: Helping Kids Connect with God at Every Phase

Impact Their Identity and Faith

Make some big assumptions.

You wanna shock a preteen? Treat him like he’s made in the image of God. Tell him he’s smart enough, strong enough and important enough to take on a new responsibility or make a big decision. Give him a chance to prove you right.

Because of how God created us, we all have the potential to lead, believe, imagine, love, care, relate, trust, reason and improve. When middle schools understand they are made in the image of God, they begin to look at the world and themselves in a whole new way.

Connect the dots.

Engineers use both physics and design to solve problems. A middle schooler’s brain works the same way. They’re looking at more than a decade of learning to try and find ways that everything fits together.

This is your chance to show them how the overarching narrative of scripture connects not only from Genesis to Revelation but to their very own life as well.

Read More about the Brain of Middler Schoolers: Important Mental Changes That Happen at Every Phase

Encourage questions.

The time has come for you to make a big decision. Will you be shocked by hard questions, touchy subjects and doubt? Or will you make room for the process that a middle schooler must go through?

Middle schoolers are smart. They may notice, for instance, that a loving and all-powerful God allows good people to die. They will wrestle with doctrine and faith and cultural norms. This is okay and normal.

You won’t always have the answers but you can affirm their journey. Help middle schoolers anchor themselves to what is constant by sharing stories about your faith and pointing them back to Jesus.

You know who they are in Christ—a child of God, alive, free and set apart—but, really, the goal is for each middle schooler to understand and embrace this truth for himself. Help middle schoolers reach this truth by making some big assumptions, connecting the dots and encouraging questions.

Children Need a Crisis of Faith

** The following article was copied from desiringgod.org.

My wife and I have five children. Our oldest two have exited childhood and are adventuring into the uncharted territory of their young adulthood. Our younger three are navigating the tricky waters of adolescence. As parents, we have the sacred, marvelous, daunting, and sometimes painful privilege of sharing in all these unique life-journeys.

As a rule, I am slow to offer parenting advice. We are still too much in the thick of it to be qualified experts. Most of the time we’re looking to receive, not dispense, counsel.

And one wonderful new source of counsel we’ve discovered is our (now) adult children. Their experiences of childhood and adolescence, and the good and not-so-good ways we parented them, are still fresh. But there’s sufficient distance for them to maturely reflect on their experiences and enough trust between us (thank you, God!) for them to share with us honestly. It’s precious and humbling when your child matures into your counselor.

WHERE IT ALL BEGINS FOR CHILDREN

Recently, my wife was sharing with one of our adult children some of the spiritual wrestlings and questions of their younger siblings. Our adult child replied, “That’s where it all begins.”

This was the wise reply of one whose wisdom was hard won. They spoke from experience, having endured difficult and sometimes dark seasons of profound spiritual struggles during their own adolescence. And they discovered in these seasons what nearly all saints discover sooner or later: the Light of the world shines brightest in the darkness — in our own darkness (John 1:5). Coming to really see, savor, treasure, and trust Jesus Christ almost always begins in a crisis.

And this has unnerving implications for Christian parents: if our children are going to see the Light, they very likely must endure darkness. Which means we will endure it with them, and experience a powerlessness over the outcome we find hard to bear.

As parents, we spend a lot of time and energy trying to protect our children from the forces of evil and sin in the world, which we should. And we try hard to point them to the gospel so they escape the horrible slavery of their own sin, which we should. We comfort, reassure, and counsel; we admonish, reprove, and rebuke, which we should.

But all the efforts we pour into protecting and teaching our children can make us susceptible to the deception, even if we know better, that if we do our job right, our children will sail from young childhood into adulthood on untroubled seas, arriving with a robust faith in Christ. We forget that this wasn’t even Christ’s own experience in “parenting” his disciples. It was on the troubled sea, not on tranquil waters, where the disciples began to grasp what faith really means (Luke 8:22–25).

Our children may have to ride on a violent sea, one we fear will swallow them, before they really learn to fear and trust Christ. As parents, then, we must prayerfully prepare for when those sea billows roll, because it will be a scary ride for us too.

FAITHFULLY PARENTING

While I’m reluctant to give parenting advice, my wife and I have ridden enough waves with our children to share some lessons, not as an expert on parenting through a child’s faith crisis, but as a fellow sojourner sharing from my experience — my own faith crises, as well as my children’s.

1. EXPECT YOUR CHILD TO EXPERIENCE A FAITH CRISIS.

Actually, do more than expect it; pray for it. By “faith crisis,” I don’t mean the loss of faith — a period of apostasy — though for some that may be what a crisis looks like. What I mean is whatever event(s) God knows is needed to call forth real faith in our child — a season or set of circumstances when they are faced with a crisis that forces them to exercise their own faith and experience for themselves that God exists and is the rewarder of those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6). Praying for our child’s faith crisis sounds strange, I know. But if we want our child’s deepest joy, we will pray for the testing of their faith (James 1:2–4).

2. EXPECT YOUR CHILD’S CRISIS WILL BE DIFFERENT FROM YOURS.

God has taught you to walk by faith, and not by sight, in particular ways. But it’s likely that he will deal differently with your child. They may struggle in ways and over issues and questions you haven’t. The unfamiliar may seem frightening. But it’s not unfamiliar to God.

3. EXPECT TO FEEL SOMEWHAT HELPLESS.

There comes a point when God decides to use means quite apart from us to teach our children to trust him. He doesn’t typically inform us in advance when he begins. We just rather suddenly find ourselves on the periphery of our child’s struggles, not allowed the same access or influence we used to have (or thought we had). We’re unsure where this car is going, and it’s not in our power to steer it. We must resist panicking or the urge to try to seize the wheel, both of which only tend to make things worse. Such a moment often becomes a faith crisis for us too, where we must learn to trust God with our children in whole new ways.

4. SEEK TO BE A SAFE PLACE IN A CRISIS.

During one point of crisis, one of my children confided that they didn’t feel safe discussing with me certain theological questions they were wrestling through. Their dad was a ministry co-founder and bi-vocational pastor at our church. It felt like there was only one acceptable place to land.

Since then, I have tried to share with all my children more of my own faith journey, crises and all, that brought me to where I now am. And I’m seeking to be more explicit with my children that, while I hold my theological convictions sincerely, I do not expect them to uncritically adopt them from me, or necessarily arrive quickly in adolescence where it’s taken me years, and plenty of testing, to reach.

We can’t always control whether we are perceived as a safe place to our children, but as much as possible, we must seek to be a safe place for them to discuss hard questions and to be in process without judgment. It’s not easy for an invested parent. But we must strive to be (especially) quick to hear and slow to speak.

5. DO NOT MISTAKE A CHAPTER FOR THE STORY.

We must try to keep our child’s faith crisis in perspective — no matter how long. We are not God. We do not have foreknowledge. We must not assume we know how the story will end. Most biblical characters had life chapters that looked like their train was going off the rails at some point.

6. AIM FOR FAITHFULNESS.

We are not the authors of our children’s story. Neither are they. God is the Author. God does not call us to determine the outcome of our children’s faith. He calls us to “dwell in the land [of parenting] and befriend faithfulness” (Psalm 37:3). Our aim is to follow Jesus faithfully, speak what he gives us to say faithfully, and to love the children God gives us as well as we can, come what may.

7. PRAY WITHOUT CEASING.

Part of faithfulness is not to cease praying for our children to be “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3) and filled with the knowledge of God’s will with all spiritual wisdom and insight (Colossians 1:9).

8. TRUST GOD.

This is the beginning and the end of parenting our children, whether on stormy waves or still waters. We want our children to reach maturity in Christ. “For this [we] toil, struggling with all [God’s] energy that he powerfully works within [us]” (Colossians 1:29). But we do not trust ultimately in our toil; we trust ultimately in God’s power. And when our children endure various crises of faith, we “wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).

WHERE IT ALL BEGINS

So much more can and should be said. I’m very aware that our children’s faith crises, and what has precipitated them, and how long they last, are as varied as people and experiences vary. I know as parents these can be frightening moments because, for some, a crisis results in the rejection rather than the realization of faith. But even then, it’s not the end of the story.

Parenting is not for the faint of heart. It’s for the heart of faith, the one for whom God is the strength of their heart (Psalm 73:26). He is the author and perfecter of our faith — and our children’s faith (Hebrews 12:2). As the great cloud of biblical and historical witnesses remind us (Hebrews 12:1), often, when a crisis hits, that’s where it all begins.

Us Four and No More

The following article was copied from www.d6family.com.

My husband and I both work full time in ministry. We are the proud parents of two teenagers. Often, as a family, we are pulled in different directions. Sports, jobs, theatre practice, music lessons, church events, and so on. We get caught up in all we have to do; all of the people that need us. When we start to feel busy or overwhelmed as a family, one of us will say “OK, us four, no more.” That means it is time to hit pause and spend time together as a family—just the four of us and no one else.

You can improve the quality of your family time by doing things together as a family every chance you get. The activities can be big or small, planned or spontaneous. It’s just about spending time together. If you are looking for ideas to create quality family time, here are a few activities you can try with your family.

Have a family devotional
Game night
Build a snowman
Pack a picnic
Go on a family bike ride
Fly a kite
Make a bird feeder
Watch old home movies
Hang out around the fire-pit
Read a book together
Pull out sleeping bags and have an indoor campout
Roast marshmallows in your fireplace and make s’mores
Throw ball in the back yard
Have a Nerf battle
Go ice skating
Shoot some hoops
Have a dance party
Pitch a tent in your back yard
Make a fort in your living room
Draw a family portrait
Paint a picture to hang in your home
Play hide and seek
Make homemade ice cream
Have an outdoor movie night
Go to Goodwill and pick out an outfit for each other to wear
Make play dough creations
Go on a hike
Play four square
Do a puzzle
Try Geocaching
Make a time capsule
Watch the sunset
Have a craft night
Look at family photo albums together
Make your own pizza night
Go swimming
Have a lip sync battle
Write letters to each other
Plant a garden
Make a meal for someone who is sick
Play charades
Play Frisbee together
Create sidewalk chalk masterpieces
Go stargazing
Make a craft from Pinterest together
Go bowling

Remember, these family time activities do not have to be complicated. Your children just want to spend time with you and make fun memories as a family.

How to Invite Others to Invest in the Lives of Your Kids

** The following article was copied from theparentcue.org.

“Mom, did you know that one time Ms. Sandra had a real live moose in her house?”

 “Hey mom, Miss Amy and Mr. Adam told me we are going to make snow globes when they come over next! Real snow globes!”  

“Mom, isn’t it so funny when Miss Jenilee always shouts ‘Holla!’ when she is excited? What does that even mean?”

These are some of the conversations I have with my children about their friendships with adults outside of our family. They are fun little stories and tid-bits that reflect real relationship and investment into their lives.

We are one of the few families in our area that is blessed to have extended family living nearby. It is a rarity in Washington DC where most people are transplants. Our kids have aunties and uncles and teenage cousins that treat them like royalty and slip them candy whenever we aren’t looking. But we also have this rich community of non-family members that have made connections with our kids. My husband and I often comment at the depth of our gratitude for the adults that have taken an interest in our kids. It is a great source of encouragement, as a parent, to have other people come to know and love our children and speak life into them. We value the investment and look for opportunities to cultivate it.

We have Mr. Adam and Ms. Amy, a sweet married couple excited to start a family of their own. In the meantime, they pour all sorts of love onto our kids, taking them on adventures to the zoo and the park and out to pizza. We had Ms. Sandra who moved to DC on temporary assignment with her husband and was missing her grandkids so badly that she adopted ours as her own. Many of the Bible stories that our kids know come from the skits she created with them or the pop-up art projects they did together. The younger staff and volunteers that we work with at our church ask our kids to jump in and serve alongside them on Sundays, invite themselves over to play Legos or Barbies, and show up at their school performances. They are like big sisters and brothers, and their biggest fans.

A couple of years ago, we hosted Chap Clark, co-author of the book Sticky Faith, to speak to parents at our church. As a long-time researcher of youth and family ministry, Chap shared that for years, youth ministers have used the 5:1 ratio as a goal in youth ministry—one adult for every five kids. But, he proposed, what if we flipped that and aimed to have five adults for every one child? He explained that 40-50% of church-going young people are stepping away from their faith because they haven’t had the opportunity to see an authentic faith lived out in the life of adults they trust and admire.

So, Chap encouraged parents to invite adults with shared values to invest in the lives of their kids. I am often asked by other parents how to do this. Parents are eager to encourage these relationships but don’t know how to begin. Here are my best recommendations for how to get started.

Make an invitation already! Just start somewhere! Invite a college student to dinner. Share with that grandma from church that your daughter has been wanting to learn to sew, and ask if she might come over and teach her a few things. When you plan your son’s birthday party, ask a couple of teens or singles if they would come and help run games. Ask a newly married couple to take your kids to the movies, offering to cover the cost of tickets. Just start somewhere and see what happens!

Recognize it is not luck. My husband and I often hear that we are “lucky” to have these folks in our lives. We would never disregard that all of our rich relationships are a gift. But we were purposeful in allowing these friends to have space in our lives. It takes effort and intentionality to invite others into the life of your family. Make a plan and take intentional steps to help your kids make a connection.

Say yes when others take a step to engage. You might not realize it, but you may have passed up opportunities for relationship without intending to. When someone offers to babysit so you can get a night out, don’t hesitate to take them up on the offer.  If someone expresses an interest in something that interests your child, consider that a clue to an area in which they could connect. Remember that some people might have an interest in connecting with your family and might be dropping hints because they don’t know where to begin either.

Embrace the awkward. Yes, it will feel a bit funny at first. You are likely at different life stages than this person you are inviting in, so hunt a little for ways to connect. I sometimes feel lame inviting a young person over for movie night because surely they have better things to do on a Friday night. It can also be awkward or embarrassing to allow someone into your home and see the dirty dishes and the laundry piling up. Commit to pushing through the awkward stage to get to the fruit of real relationship.

Realize that relationship is a two way street. Parents have this bad habit of feeling sheepish if anyone extends help in our parenting journey. But, remember, you have something to share too. Family life offers a great comfort to someone who is single or an empty nester. Invite someone to share in your home-cooked meal. Be available to lend a listening ear about a job change or hurdles in a young marriage. Remember that you have something to give as well.

Be an investor yourself. Just because you are a parent yourself does not mean you are off the hook to be an influencer in the life of young people outside of your family. I attend plenty of musicals and sporting events to be a “super fan” for some young people in my life. Though it can feel like my hands are full with my own kids, I don’t want to miss the opportunity to make a connection with a young person who might share my interest in playing water sports, making silly videos, or decorating cookies.

Taking steps to invite healthy influencers into the lives of your children will ensure support and investment you trust. You will give them an opportunity to see an authentic faith lived out in the lives of someone they admire. And, as a bonus, you will show your kids that you believe they are worth knowing.

Building a Healthy Family System Seminar – Managing Conflict and Anger

“Great evening!  Thanks to everyone. Pat Nolan was knowledgable and approachable; we left with “at least one thing” (and so much more).  Mr. Sasser was helpful and fun.  Attendees were honest and open. Snacks were perfect.  Great night!  Much appreciated!”

 

On Sunday, April 8th Pat Nolan encouraged a group of parents in the area of managing conflict and anger in your home.  Below are several resources on this topic.

Seminar Notes – Building a Healthy Family System ~ on Anger

Audio of the Seminar

Parent Network Podcast Episode 11 with Pat Nolan – follow up to the seminar

 

     

 

 

 

 

 

5 Simple Ways to Help Teens Cope with Anxiety

** The following article was copied form www.theparentcue.org.

Spring can be a tough time in the world of a teenager. Yes, the flowers are blooming, the trees are getting greener and the air is filled with the sweet scent of spring flowers. But many high schoolers are experiencing the stress of finals, sitting for AP exams, taking or re-taking the SAT or ACT, navigating the college application process, and of course, preparing for prom. And if those tasks aren’t already anxiety provoking, let’s not underestimate the power of peer approval. School has become somewhat of a social minefield for teens, and acceptance from their peers is imperative.

And those are just a fraction of the stuff that concern teens this time of year.

Rising academic standards, increased competition for colleges, extracurricular activities, and bourgeoning romantic interests are all aspects of being a teen that can lead to feelings of failure and rejection… which can then open the doorway for anxiety.

Anxiety is a normal and unavoidable part of life, especially when experiencing something new or transitioning to a new stage in life. For teens, anxiety can show up in a number of ways: shortness of breath, picking of skin, feeling overwhelmed, or feelings of sudden panic are just a few. Anxiety can even show up in one’s thinking patterns such as in “what-if” thoughts about being judged or criticized, and persistent worries about the future.

The way you acknowledge and respond to a teen showing signs of anxiety is critical in helping them to foster a sense of competence. What can parents do to help teens manage high anxiety periods? Here are five simple strategies to consider:

1. SPENDING QUALITY TIME.

Adolescence is often characterized as a stage of waning parental influence as children begin to slowly distance themselves from the values of their parents. While there is truth to that theory, it does not tell the full story. Years of experience in education and mental health has taught me that while parent-teen relationships are not always peaceful, they can be pivotal. Teenagers need their parents and other loving adults to guide them as they develop and mature. There are studies that even suggest that teenagers need more quality time from parents than toddlers! Open communication and support can buffer some of the turbulence of adolescence. Making yourself available physically and emotionally—even when you feel pushed away—during stressful periods outweighs any previous conflicts. Impromptu conversations during family meals and while driving to the soccer field really matter. Over time, both parents and teens will balance the need for independence and closeness.

2. ENCOURAGING A TECH BREAK.

Due to the pervasiveness of technology in our society, teens—and adults—find it difficult to unplug. A student recently shared her experience with a one week “Social Media Detox” challenge posed by her English teacher. While the thought of giving up Instagram and Snapchat was initially terrifying, she observed how immensely freeing it eventually became. Most teens are connected to technology each day and more so for social reasons rather than academic ones. The challenge for parents is that it is nearly impossible to limit access to most forms of technology, and you may not even desire to. However, guidance and supervision is still important, even in the teen years. Focus on moderation rather than prevention. Participating in a self-imposed break can help to reduce the feelings of pressure in an already overwhelmed teen. For those reluctant to detox completely, offer up a compromise of deleting saved bookmarks from their internet browser, or turning off email notifications on their smart phones . . . at least for a weekend.

3. SHARING YOUR EXPERIENCES.

Adolescence is a time for identity formation. With the increasing pressures of academic achievement and fixations around appearance, it is no wonder that teen anxiety is on the rise. Despite mounting pressures, one comforting fact is that teens respond favorably to, and learn from anyone to whom they feel a personal connection. One parenting tip that I frequently offer is to reflect about a time when you faced a similar challenge as your teen is facing or experienced debilitating anxiety. Aim for a 10-15-minute conversation with your teen while in the car or when taking the dog for a walk. Before doing so, ask yourself the following: What did you wish your parents had done to help you? What would you have wanted to hear? What did they do that you valued and respected? Respond to your teen with empathy and share how you successfully managed the issue. Or, how maybe you weren’t so successful initially. Then allow your teen to explore his or her own thoughts and feelings related to what you’ve shared.

4. OFFERING PERSPECTIVES.

Journeying from childhood to adulthood is difficult. In just a few short years, teens go through a significant number of physical and emotional changes. Also, decisions such as where to apply to college or who to ask out for prom may seem exciting to onlookers but may trigger feelings of dread for a teenager. The reality of independence can be terrifying. Teens often feel the pressure to be all things to all people. Remind your teen that who they are is much more important than their SAT score or who they date. Encourage your teen to view their worries about their future as a normal and natural part of growing up. Parents can take concrete steps to help their teen better understand their unique experiences through journaling, reading short stories, and watching films that celebrate the adolescent journey. Yes, some choices about the future need to be made now, but it is okay to not know everything and to continue to explore. Offering perspective and repeatedly reminding your teen that they are fully accepted just for who they are, goes a long way towards enhancing self-esteem and decreasing anxiety.

5. GETTING PHYSICAL.

Teens need both challenge and involvement. The teens that I work with often describe anxiety as “. . . wanting to jump out of my skin.” Anxiety can be both mentally and physically draining. Teens are often short on energy because of too little physical activity. Balancing the pressure of a rigorous academic load with aerobic activity can alleviate stress and anxiety which can be stored in the body. Even if your teen isn’t particularly athletic, help him or her to find ways to slow down, have more fun, and seek a more balanced lifestyle. Bowling, skating, or simply reading a good book are great ways to decompress. Engaging in fun and relaxing activities such as art, dance, and music can elicit positive emotions and social bonding.

The emotional, mental, and physiological symptoms of anxiety can be very frightening and confusing for teens. The good news? Anxiety is very common and quite treatable. And, yes, it can also be overwhelming. If your teen is struggling, it may be helpful to speak with a family physician, school counselor, or a licensed therapist. Finding the right strategies for your teen, along with a healthy dose of patience and compassion can work wonders.

Parenting in the Power of the Gospel

** The following article was copied from core christianity.com.

All Christian parents desire the spiritual well-being of their children. We want our children to be Christians, to get saved, to know God; however we express it, we want our children to be part of the company of the redeemed. We yearn for the blessing of God’s covenant grace to be on our children. This longing to see one generation follow another in knowing God motivates the training and instruction of our children. Psalm 78:3-7 (ESV) captures it:

Things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and teach to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.

We declare God’s mighty acts to the next generation (Ps. 145) because we long for our children to know the grace we have known. We teach God’s ways so that our sons and our son’s sons will follow God (Deut. 6).

Moved by this passion, Christian parents also long for assurance that their children will grow up Christian. I have been asked hundreds of times all over the globe, “If I do all the things you teach in Shepherding a Child’s Heart, will my children grow up to be Christians? Doesn’t the Bible teach that if we raise them right, our children will walk in God’s ways? Doesn’t God’s covenant guarantee they will be saved?”

How can we think about these things? Why do some children raised in Christian homes grow up loving God, while others, sometimes from the same home, turn away? In answering this question, we must identify two issues that have an impact on the persons our children become: the shaping influences of their lives and the Godward orientation of their hearts.

Shaping Influences

Shaping influences are those events and circumstances in a child’s developmental years that prove to be catalysts for making him the person he is. There is a clear biblical warrant for acknowledging the lifelong implications of early childhood experience. The major passages dealing with family (Deut. 6, Eph. 6, and Col. 3) presuppose the importance of shaping influences they include your faithfulness as a parent, the consistency of correction and discipline in your home, your nurture, your teaching of Christian truth, your family times in God’s word, even the ways you demonstrate spiritual vitality before your children.

Your children interact with every shaping influence you provide on the basis of the Godward orientation of their hearts. Here is what I mean: your children are covenantal beings. Humanity is essentially religious; no one is truly neutral even our children worship either Jehovah or idols. All of us filter the experiences of life through a religious grid.

In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul reminds us that the truth of God revealed in creation leaves all mankind without excuse. All human beings respond to this revelation in creation; they either worship God or, in the words of Romans 1, they “exchange the truth for a lie and worship and serve created things.” Fallen humans refuse to acknowledge and submit to the things God has made plain in the creation. Paul further observes that when people know God in the creation and do not glorify him, they fall into futile thinking that leads to idolatry.

The Godward orientation of the heart ultimately determines how your children will respond to the truth you teach them. If they bow before idols rather than God, they will reject your best efforts at training them in his ways.

Proverbs 9:7-10 shows us that there are two different ways children respond to correction, rebuke, instruction, and teaching. One is the response of the wise or righteous child. He loves his instructor; he grows wiser; he increases in his learning. The other fellow the mocker, the wicked child responds with hatred, insults, and abuse. What accounts for the difference? “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Wisdom determines how a child responds to correction. Your children are never neutral in response to your parenting but always active. Whatever they do with God, whatever they determine to worship and serve, will determine how they respond to your parenting efforts. Two children from the same home may respond in very different ways to the same parenting style. That’s why it is not possible to provide a guarantee that if you get it right, children will respond with faith.

The desire for such assurances is easily understood. From the time your first child is born, you realize you will never have a happy day if your child is unhappy. The parents’ love creates a longing for their child to thrive and flourish. That desire takes on eternal significance when we think of our children’s immortality. The idea that they could go into eternity without God is unbearable for any believing parent. So we long for assurance that there is something we can do that will guarantee their everlasting joy and happiness in the presence of God.

I recall how sobering these thoughts were to me as a young father. I realized that as a fallen man I had passed on to my young children a nature that is fallen and corrupt, but I could not pass on to them the grace of forgiveness and new life in Christ. I remember thinking that each day as I taught my children the Scriptures I gave them the truth that would either be their salvation or increase their accountability before God, for to whom much is given much will be expected.

Child Salvation by (Parental) Works?

We cannot save our children. We don’t like to face that. We long for some guarantee, some assurance that if we do the right things they will turn out all right. But in some ways, it is a relief to face that reality. If you think of it, the idea that we must save them through our good works is a pressure no parent can bear. It hinges our children’s eternal destiny on our ability to perform.

We have to be able to represent God in all his glory, teach them adequately, be a vibrant example of true spirituality, and we have to do it all flawlessly or our children will be forever lost. The fact is that I failed as a parent. Too often my pride and self-righteousness got in the way. I personalized my children’s sins as if they were sins against me and not against God. I was inconsistent, sometimes capricious, too busy, too concerned about me, too blind to the idols of my heart.

What Are We to Do?

Then why bother? If I cannot be assured that good biblical parenting will produce saved children, why bother? Why work so hard at the parenting task? Why read books on parenting, why work so hard on the ways we structure family life and the effort we put into things like family worship, faithfulness in church, and careful, timely, appropriate discipline?

We do these things because it is our calling as God’s redeemed people. Ephesians 6:4 says we should bring up our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Deuteronomy 6 says that God’s words are to be upon our hearts and impressed diligently upon our children. We do these things out of love for God. It is our delight to obey God and to teach his ways to our children. His grace makes us delight in him and his law in our inmost being (Rom. 7:22).

Parents often ask, “What hope then is there for my kids, if I cannot get them into the Kingdom by my faithful parenting? What’s my hope?” Our hope is not our fidelity to the law of good parenting but to the power of the gospel. Our hope is the wonder of grace. Our hope is that God has placed our children in our home and has given us the one true answer for our kids’ most profound needs.

God has put them in a family where they are confronted with their sin and the goodness of the One who came into the world to save sinners. Every day I am bringing grace to my children. I have the opportunity to model the grace of the gospel by honestly confessing my own failures and responding to their failures with gracious discipline and discipling. They daily hear the word of God. We know that faith comes by hearing.

Each week we gather where the church sings God’s praises, and they hear God’s people pray and listen to the word of God preached. They are confronted with the vibrant reality of the worshiping church, interpreting life through the lens of Scripture. Historically, God has used these means to bring people to faith, and so I pray week by week that God will, through these means, shine his light into their hearts, giving them the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6).

There was a mother whom I was privileged to serve in the church. She prayed for her son’s salvation. She prayed for fifty-eight years without giving way to unbelief, but she died without seeing him come to faith. Within several years of her death, however, God brought her son to see his need for grace and to embrace Christ and his saving grace. Her prayers were answered even though she did not live to see the answer.

This hope will seem insufficient to the one who is looking for performance guarantees. But this is a realistic hope that keeps me on my knees before God, beseeching him to do in and for my children what I cannot do myself. It keeps me humble in prayer, asking God to use the means he has appointed. It keeps me casting myself on his grace and mercy. It makes me a humble supplicant before the sovereign God of grace. My encouragement is not that I can get it right but that God is a willing, able, powerful Savior of sinners.

Avoid Arguing With Your Kids

** The following article was copied from theparentcue.org.

You can’t effectively discipline your teenager if you continually find yourself in the middle of an argument with him. When disciplining, conversations may become heated, so use good communication skills and agree to walk away until you’ve both calmed down. The best way to avoid an argument is by refusing to engage in one.

When she was younger, one of our daughters could win most arguments in our home. She was dynamic and articulate and could argue either side of an issue. Sometimes I think she would argue simply for the sake of arguing. There were times when she was just exhausting. One day a counselor friend of mine gave me two words of advice: quit arguing. He encouraged me to hold my ground and refuse to argue with my daughter.

Learning to resist arguing with a child who is pushing your buttons isn’t easy, but here are three sayings I’ve found are helpful to diffuse potential arguments with teens:

“I FEEL YOUR PAIN.”

If your child knows your expectations and they break them, or if they suffer consequences from their poor decisions, let them know you care and that you feel their pain. You have empowered your child to make healthy decisions, but when he doesn’t do that, you can show him empathy while holding him accountable. In a HomeWord parent podcast, John Rosemond shared what he told his own kids: “If I was your age, I’d feel the same way. The answer is still no, but you are doing a great job expressing yourself.”

“NEVERTHELESS.”

This might be the most important word in the English language to show our kids who really is the leader in your home. Yes, we do feel their pain and we are listening; nevertheless, the consequences are going to stay. Adapting John’s words to his kids, a parent might say, “I can understand how you feel, and I might have felt the same way when I was your age. Nevertheless…”

“LIFE ISN’T FAIR.”

The sooner your child understands that life isn’t fair, and that whining and complaining won’t get her what she wants, she will quit trying to play the ‘make-it-fair’ game. Whenever you can, let reality be the teacher for your kids. If whining and manipulating works for a child even some of the time, it is the parent who has to live with the consequences.

Here are some more wise words John Rosemond shared in one of our parent podcasts: “Parents should not agonize over what a child fails to do or does if the child is perfectly capable of agonizing over it himself.” [i]Whatever your teen’s age, it’s about time he learns the truth that life isn’t always fair, but it sure can be good.”

Overcoming Prodigal Paralysis

** The following article was copied from ncbaptist.org

Luke records the well-known parable of a father and his two sons. Jesus tells the story of the younger son asking his father for his share of the estate. Without hesitation, the father divided his property between the two boys. With his pockets full of money, the younger son leaves home to live a life consumed with selfish independence (Luke 15:11-13).

In his commentary on this passage, pastor and author David Guzik describes the family drama by saying, “The father clearly illustrates God’s love. His love allowed rebellion and in some sense respected human will. The father knew that the son made a foolish and greedy request, yet allowed him to go his course nonetheless.”

Unfortunately, far too many families are experiencing this parable firsthand in their own homes. Countless Christian parents suffer with emotions ranging from hurt and confusion to disbelief and shame. Thankfully, helpless, hopeless and disgrace are not words our Heavenly Father uses when it comes to prodigals. Here are a few thoughts to consider.

God understands prodigals
The Lord has had experience with prodigals for thousands of years. Prodigals like Adam and Eve, King David, the entire nation of Israel, and a host of others head up a long list. However, the prodigal lifestyle is no match for God’s grace. A prodigal has never stopped Him from loving and waiting on those who truly belong to Him. We can rest assured that the Lord cares deeply for every prodigal.

Practice tough love
Sometimes the prodigal lifestyle is messy. You may have to practice tough love and let your child sleep in the bed they have made. When their lifestyle has produced less than ideal fruit, you have to allow them to struggle or perhaps suffer the consequences of their choices. Their suffering may be what awakens them and brings them to their senses (Luke 15:17).

Leave the door open
The Bible is clear when it comes to our relationship with others. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18, NIV). Let your prodigal know that although you will not compromise your biblical beliefs or enable their lifestyle, your door is always open to them (Luke 15:20).

Be transparent
Do not allow Satan to deceive you into thinking that you are the only family dealing with a prodigal child. You are not alone! In your church, there are most likely several families agonizing over a similar situation. Therefore, share with fellow believers, trusted friends, extended family and church staff what is happening with your child. The Lord never wants us to live in isolation. You need the encouragement, wisdom and prayer of others.

With the increasing darkness overshadowing our world, many parents feel hopeless. They desperately want to know the answer to this most pressing question but are almost afraid to ask: “Is there any hope for my prodigal?”

Even in our growing anti-Christian culture, I will be the first to answer with a resounding, “Yes! There is hope!”

As long as the Godhead is in place, there is always hope for a prodigal and their family.

Surviving Parenthood

** The following article was copied from theparentcue.org

If you knew what was involved in parenting, would you still go back and choose to do it? I’ll be honest, most days I would say, “no.” I would say that I’m clearly not cut out for this. In fact, parenting isn’t in my strength-finder results. If I had a boss in this job, I would have already been fired. Parenting is just so hard. And because parenting is hard, it pushes us in ways we never thought. I can’t tell you how many people tell me that they never thought they were an angry person until they had kids. And because parenting is hard and pushes us in ways that we never imagined, it can be one of the loneliest seasons of life. It leaves you feeling like no one else can relate or understand what you are experiencing.

I often tell people that I am surviving parenthood. I think it’s a really great idea to imagine being able to thrive every day in parenting, but the truth is—I’m surviving. Everyone was fed and loved by the end of the day. Isn’t that winning? Maybe for me, it’s less about thriving and more about surviving well each day.

Here are a few things that help me survive parenting well.

FEED YOUR SOUL.

Now more than ever, you need to find ways to rest, relax, and restore your soul. We all recharge differently, but for me surviving well means that each day I need to experience something for me.

Sometimes that comes in the form of reading something like a magazine, blog, or book. I need to be inspired visually so Instagram or Pinterest can do that for me. I also recharge through music. Music has the ability to transport my mind and my mood. I can hear a certain song and remember exactly where I was when I heard it 25 years ago. When I cook dinner, it is a must to have a John Mayer playlist going in the background. If I need to boost my mood, a little pop needs to be playing. And if I need to feel at peace, worship music plays in the background. Sometimes for me, simply getting outside with music in my ears and walking does the trick.

There are so many ways to feed your soul — journaling, exercising, cooking, reading, listening to podcasts, watching something. Find whatever it is and incorporate it into your daily life.

BE INTENTIONAL ABOUT BUILDING YOUR TRIBE.

Let’s all say it together: I can’t do this alone. We were never created to do life alone much less raise human beings alone. Parenting is hard. For many of us with little kids, it’s a miracle that you made it out the door today. And if you were dressed in something other than workout clothes, then high fives all around. We need people to come alongside us to encourage us, to run with us, and to encourage us when we are ready to quit.

My tribe refers to each other as “mom on deck.” Sometimes we need to know there is a mom on deck who can pick your kid up from school or bring you food in the hospital or tuck your kid in when something unexpected comes up. It takes effort and intention to allow other people to come alongside you. If you don’t have someone, be the one who makes the effort. We all want to be pursued. but sometimes you need to be the one who extends an offer.
DON’T FORGET TO BE YOU.

You are a unique masterpiece created for good works. And just because you have children doesn’t mean that you have to stop being uniquely you. Remind yourself of what you enjoy. Who were you before you had children? Maybe you need to dedicate one hour a week to doing something creative like writing or photography or crafting or playing a sport. Don’t be a martyr for your children.

It would be a terrible thing for your children to see that being parent is about letting your dreams die. Instead, pursue your dreams so that your kids will see that being a parent doesn’t mean letting go of your dreams and ambitions.

A couple of years ago, started a podcast called Surviving Sarah. It’s a weekly show where I have conversations with different people to be a megaphone to who they are and what they do, but I also get to be a megaphone of encouragement for women who are surviving right where they are. And my daughters think I’m so cool because I’m on iTunes along with their favorite, Taylor Swift. But I love setting an example to them of imagining the life you want and then invite them along  while you pursue it.

Surviving parenthood is hard. It is not for the faint of heart. I am cheering you on as you feed that baby, change the 100th diaper, wipe snot, endure that epic tantrum and given another eye roll. You got this. You are a wonderfully unique masterpiece created for good works. And this job of parenting is a good work.