Idolatory, Identity and Loving Teenagers

It’s been about one and a half years since we have walked over the parenting cliff known as “The Teenage Years.”  I don’t know if anyone else has experienced this, but most of my parenting life, a lot of the things I did, I did with an eye on “The Teenage Years.”  I would make sure they ate their vegetables – “In the teenage years, they will be rebellious if they don’t eat the seven peas instead of the four they want to eat.” (In truth, my children have barely ever had peas because I.hate.them.  I really do.  REALLY.  When I was a kid, my parents always set the timer for me to finish my peas.  I would intently watch the timer and would literally go back and forth in my mind if it was worse to eat the peas or be disciplined.  Usually I would eat them, but sometimes I decided it just wasn’t worth it.  Peas are gross. The incident that cemented this even furthur, was when my mom opened a bag of frozen peas and there was a little yellow sluggy thing frozen in the exact shape of a pea all curled up. So you see, my opinion of peas has not changed.  Perhaps, I have just changed yours also, but all that to say I still think they’re gross and always will, but I’m sure the 5 peas I ate on a regular basis made me who I am today.  The only good experience I ever had with peas was when Drew, our youngest, stuffed his nose with them and they popped out of his nostrils like a gumball dispenser, but that’s another story for another time)  Every time I would lose it and respond unkindly -“Oh no!  This will come back in ‘The Teenage Years’.”  If they didn’t make their beds in the morning or do their chores – “I have to get a handle on this or they will be complete gamers in “The Teenage Years.”  You see, I had this unhealthy healthy respect for “The Teenage Years.”  These examples were a little exaggerated, but you get the idea.  I was terrified of “The Teenage Years.” There were voices few and far between that would say things like, “Teenagers are so much fun!”, “The teenage years have been fantastic at our house!” etc.  I think that most of us would agree that the majority of what we hear about teenage years is rather negative.  I’m not going to lie.  Teenagers take A LOT more time.  They need to talk – a lot.  A lot, a lot a lot.  Did I say they need time and a lot of it?  It’s really hard to grow up.  Their whole life is changing both inside and out and it’s a lot for a person to handle.  Especially doing it in a world where all of their peers are also going through the same thing.  Just a side note really quickly for those parents who have not hit, “The Teenage Years” yet.  Obviously, we are not very far in our experience yet and we are not even close to done (we still have 12 more years of teenagers), but I think the teenage years we’ve had may possibly be my favorite parenting experience so far and I have enjoyed every stage (well, except newborns and 3 year olds).  I think that my experience with “The Teenage Years” has been better by far because of something God did in my life a couple of years ago.  If reading the above fears, you think I was a bit unhealthy or see yourself there, read on.  I know that I would not be enjoying these years the way I am without God having changed my perspective.  It’s not been without a few bumps, but that’s okay.  All of us have bumps and a lot of times those are the seasons we end up growing the most.

A few years ago, I was praying and asking God to show me how to love my kids unconditionally and to show me those things that would keep me from loving them completely.  Do you know what He showed me was in my heart?  Idolatory.  My kids were my idols and we find our identities in what we worship.  My identity was attached to how they were doing.  We see this all the time in the parents living vicariously through their children in some way whether it be sports, music, accomplishments or behavior.  We feel a sense of accomplishment when our kids are performing or when they make us feel good about ourselves, but what about when they mess up?  What about if they fail academically or in the sports arena or musically?  What about if the dreams we have for them aren’t quite matching up to what they’re becoming?  When our kids are our idols, our identity and sense of well-being is tied to them and we can’t love them unconditionally.  We just can’t.  It’s a love with strings attached.  When they do good, we feel good about ourselves and when they do bad, we feel bad about ourselves.  There is too much at stake when our identities are attached to them because when that is threatended, we feel threatened. Written out, this looks really ugly and it is.  I suspect that this one issue has destroyed many parent child relationships.  “I always hoped you’d follow this career path.”  “I really wanted you to hang with these types of friends.” “I hoped you’d be more involved in church.”  “I really hoped you’d make this sports team.” “I really wanted you to be into guitar.” “My picture of your sibling relationships is much different than I see.”  “I hoped you’d be more outgoing.” “I hoped you’d be more fun-loving.” “I hoped you’d be more spontaneous.” “I hoped you’d be a little more clean.” “I wish you’d be a little more efficient.” “I wish you weren’t so structured.” “I wish you were more structured.”  The list goes on and on.  This can be the case from the very young all the way to far into the adult years.  I still have friends that struggle with their parents unmet expectations of them.  This is not to say that we don’t guide them away from wrong friends, or encourage growth in areas or teach them to get along with siblings, but when our identity is not wrapped up in who they are, we are free to see more clearly and allow them to be who they are as well as give them room to grow.  We are even more free to help them in areas where they need to grow in a helpful rather than hurtful way.  When we find our identity in God, the ebbs and flows of teenage growth will not affect us so much and we will be able to see and respond as God would.  When our identity or well-being is touched, we are more likely to respond in anger, fear or withdrawal.  Our children need a response no doubt, but they need one filled with patience, love and engagement.

The thing that is so different about God’s love as opposed to human love is that God is free to love us unconditionally.  He doesn’t get His value from how we perform and doesn’t find His identity in who we are – thankfully.  Who He is is untouched by how I perform.  He is not threatened when I fail.  Instead, He is able to come with love and bring correction and healing to those broken and sinful places.  God doesn’t need us to fulfill something lacking in Him.  Heaven help us if He did because that would be an unattainable position for us to fill.  This is the same for our children.  They cannot and are not meant to fulfill something lacking in us and when we try to idolize them or make them our identity, that is what we do.  Some children’s identities even become being their parent’s identities.  This is where you get the kids who feel that their parents are impossible to please or oftentimes when children fail to ‘grow up.’  Unconditional love can be freely given when our identity is in the right place.  So many times we respond in fear, but fear causes us to respond in a lot of other ways, but not in love.  Identities in the wrong place result in dysfunctional relationships.  Let’s find our identities in God and help our children to find their identies in God.

First we find OUR identities in God.  We do this by asking Him to show us any places where we’re looking for our children to fulfill us.  He is more than able to do this and I am confident He will.  He is way more interested in our relationships being healthy than we even are.  This may be an involved process as He begins showing us and changing our hearts and our attitudes.  In my experience it’s a process and a road of transformation as He begins to reveal our true motives and hearts.  Second, we help our children find THEIR identities in God.  Oftentimes, WE want to be the answer, but what we need to do is teach them to go to God and let Him deal with their hearts.  When there is a problem, we show them His heart for them (because our identities are no longer wrapped up in who they are or are becoming 🙂 and then encourage them to go to Him personally.  Even though we’ve only been at this for a little bit, we have had ample opportunity to find our identities in God rather than performance and we have also seen God move and draw the hearts of the kids to Him, but we had to step out of the way.  We don’t want to be THEIR idol either and have them feel the need to live their lives to please us.  Let’s find our identity in the right place and teach our children to do the same and enjoy watching our children grow into the people that God made them to be.  There may be bumps and detours along the way, but we can show them God’s heart when our eyes are fixed on Him.

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