Last year God gave us the gift of an encouraging friendship during a conference for Christian writers and speakers in California. Cheri Fletcher has walked the same road of parenting teens that we’re navigating ourselves. Her heart for young people is inspiring–she believes in their potential to go all-in with God. And, she has a unique insight into their hearts and the struggles they face. We’re thankful for her challenge to us as moms and dads to release our need for control and meet our kids with grace and compassion. As we love our kids like Jesus, they can follow him more freely than ever before.
I entered the high school that morning prepared to meet with four students for a mentor program, but I was first approached by a concerned mother. She asked if I would meet with her for a moment. After getting the students set up and started on that day’s assignment, I excused myself to speak with her.
These four high school students would soon be meeting with 60 students in grades seven and eight as leaders of a program I have branded as the “Spiritual Game Plan.” This intentional discipling program has a specific scope and sequence to help high school students experience God. At this private Christian school campus, I equip the teens with the Spiritual Game Plan so they can impact the lives of younger students who look up to them. I teach the high schoolers to take this role seriously.
That morning I met with the mom in an empty room. Her words are still as clear today as they were 8 years ago:
“Why do you feel the need to do this program? We send our kids to a private Christian school so that they are not faced with the issues that students who go to other schools are faced with.”
Having gone to private schools myself, I saw it differently. We had the exact same temptations, peer pressures and influences as my friends who attended non-Christian schools. But the assumption by adults was that we did not, so our struggles were never discussed.
I was sent off to high school with a list of do’s and don’ts from home. The school added to the list, but no one talked about why– it was just what the bad kids did. The adults in our lives often attempted to motivate us with destructive shame instead of encouraging guidance.
To answer that mom’s question, “Why do I feel the need?” I explained to this mother how lucky we are to have the opportunity to talk to the students about a spiritual game plan. We’re able to give them biblical plans to navigate the roads ahead. Who better to deliver the message to these young 7th and 8th grade kids than the students who were living it and who they looked up to? If it came from me or teachers, it would most likely be heard as a lecture or another list of do’s and don’ts.
The issue that this mother addressed is still common today, and I deal with a unique situation. Most of the students I work with have grown up in the church and have only attended church schools. Often parents believe that this will take care of their faith and spiritual growth. It does help and it adds to their foundation for sure, but there are students who believe that if they question their faith or don’t live up to a certain expectation, they are not a good Christian. They believe they’re unworthy of grace because they’re bad.
When I meet with students on campus and ask what they’re struggling with, here is what they share:
“I can’t find faith in my failures.”
“I’m scared to share my confusion.”
“Even though I attend Christian school and come from a Christian home, God seems blurry.”
“I’m ashamed of my struggles.”
“The world I’m told never to be a part of is crashing into the world I’m living in.”
Do we, as established homes of faith, allow room for our kids to fail or even question the beliefs that we hold? Let’s face it, having children can have its terrifying moments. We want so desperately for them to never face the same hurts or make the same or worse mistakes.
If they fail it can feel like we failed.
How does that fear come across to them? My fear unfortunately comes out in frustration. Some students have been compared to biblical examples of failures or have been berated by Bible verses. When kids come to me, it’s usually because they’re afraid to disappoint their parents. They’re scared of the reaction they will get.
The students tell me it would help if the parents would acknowledge that they, too, made mistakes. They want their parents to give guidance through grace.
Isaiah 32:8 tells us that “a noble man will make a noble plan so on noble deeds he can stand.” Having a noble plan is the key. Noble is a standard to what the plan needs to be. Is the plan honest, upright and virtuous? How does that plan give others the encouragement they need to set a noble plan as well? Asking them clarifying questions rather than condescending questions will help them process their situation. It often leads them to a better understanding, on their own:
Why were the choices made?
What did your teen hope would be the result of the choice they made?
How did the results differ from what they expected?
What struggles do they see coming toward them in the future?
Share the areas where you faced peer pressure and were tempted or mistreated, then work together to come up with a plan. This gives your teens a set of tools to use. It also opens up communication. It gives them a safe place to make a mistake or a place turn to before they do.
One teen told me if his parents could just see that he is not like them and stop comparing things he does to how they did it, he would feel safe to share his struggles. The grace God wants them to experience is first seen from you.
As a parent I have to work daily, even hourly, to turn my fears into faith. In her book Undone, Michele Cushatt gave me hope. She reminded me that even when our children choose things in life that are “contrary to our beliefs and values, my faith was in my ability to talk them out of their foolishness, to strong arm their choice and deliver ultimatums. To will them into becoming the children I wanted them to be.”
Our faith needs to be in the Father’s ability to redeem them, but they need us to show them they are just as worthy of that redemption as we are.
God knows the desires of our hearts to raise our kids with as little pain as possible. He knows how heavy our hearts can become as we try to do our best. He promises us in Matthew 11:28-30:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Learn from Him with a gentle and humble heart, and together we can train up our teens with compassion and let go of the control.
Cheri Fletcher lives in the greater Seattle area with her husband, Todd. They have three grown children and are new to empty-nesting. She has had a passion to teach Bible classes to churches and high school students and to mentor youth to be leaders since 2002.
Our children practice instruments, lines for plays, routines, and game plans so they can perform or play with confidence. Yet Cheri knows planning for the spiritual battles they will face is often taken too lightly. Working with youth and preparing them for that battle is a calling that she takes seriously. Understanding just how much God loves them and the purpose they have is at the heart of her work.
When Cheri is not volunteering on her church campus, you will probably see her on the road running with her friends. Get to know Cheri and “Unlock Your Purpose” at www.cherifletcher.com. She also looks forward to connecting with you on Facebook and Instagram.
Yes, Cheri! I love that you’re standing in the gap for teens who don’t know how to communicate their fears. The Christian community needs to be aware of these practical ways to respond to their kids. Love what you’re doing!