In the work of raising two children to live their lives as followers of Jesus, we have entered the important albeit irritating phase of teen angst, rejection, and challenge. We knew it was coming—with such intelligent and well-behaved children, how could we not?
The teen years are crucial for human growth and development, and for spiritual development as well. It is normal for teens to question and challenge the faith practices and beliefs of their parents, for without questioning and challenging they end up as adults with weak or uncertain religion convictions.
According to our fourteen-year-old son, this all boils down to his lack of experiences of connection to the faith. He has yet to have any extraordinary religious experiences that cannot be explained rationally. He prefers to rely upon empirical evidence rather than faith to make decisions. Also, he is a fairly skeptical person, having a difficult time believing things with little provable evidence. While our son does appreciate the Christian morals he has been taught, he struggles identifying with the belief part right now.
For our son, his lack of religious conviction is not about unanswered questions, nor lack of exposure to church, nor any negative experiences that makes him doubt or question God. He has been raised in church. As a double “PK” (pastor’s kid), he has spent more time than most in worship and service. He tolerates attending services, enjoys his youth group, politely a converses with fellow church members about their faith, and respectful of their faith convictions.
On the one hand, I am incredibly grateful that he hasn’t had any crisis or trauma leading him to trust and rely upon God. On the other hand, I know what a profound impact God has in my life. As my earthly father figures failed in their roles and died early in my life, I identify with God as my father in heaven. This heavenly father loves me and is there for me when earthly father figures are not. However, this is my experience of God, not my son’s. As parents we have been very careful not to promote or even allow any emotional manipulation to force our children into faith.
I rewrote the “Merton Prayer” for those of us attempting to grow Christians during the teen years.
Dear God, I’m doing the best I can with these children you have entrusted to me. But I have no idea what I am doing. I cannot predict the roadblocks to faith before them. I do not know if my efforts will lead them to meaningful relationship with you. At times, I too struggle with knowing your love and living your love in my own life. The fact that I am trying to grow Christians doesn’t mean that my efforts will lead to success. You have reminded me in scripture that while Paul planted, and Apollos watered, it is you who makes things grow. For whatever part I play in the growing of Christians I give you thanks for entrusting me, and I in turn, trust you to make them grow. Their faith in you is beyond my control. You are always with me, be always with them and help them to know your love and presence in all things. Amen.
Paul planted, Apollos watered, but God made it grow (1 Corinthians 3:6). This verse gives me great comfort that the planting and watering we have done matters. We cannot force faith to grow in our children, but we can do the good work of planting seeds of faith and watering hope and love when they dry, so that in partnership with God, when the time and conditions are right, God will enable faith to grow.