Sweet Tea. Where would I be without it?
Sweet Tea. Where would I be without it?
As a young woman, and into my adult years, I struggled from time to time with feelings of depression. Sometimes it was triggered by the trials of teenage life and sometimes it seemed to have no source at all.
My parents helped me through. They talked to me about the truths Mom mentioned in the last post. And they taught me how to fight with faith, and see the “way of escape” (1 Cor. 10:13) when tempted to despondency. Here are a few practical ways they helped me handle bad feelings that can help your teen too.
Get practical – Of course we must address the spiritual source of bad feelings, but we cannot ignore other factors. Does your son need more sleep? Could your daughter use help tracking her monthly cycle? Maybe they need a break from video games or social media. More time out doors or with family and friends might do a world of good. Or it could be they are bored and need a task or a project to fill their time. Practical changes can go a long way to minimize temptation.
Do the Next Thing – One of best ways to handle bad feelings is to refuse to give into them. When it comes to depression, this means compassionately but firmly helping your teen get out of bed, go somewhere, serve someone. Few things dispel bad feelings faster than simply doing the next thing. Whatever we can do to help our teen forget about how they feel, and focus on someone else for a little while, will strike a blow against depression.
“Try it,” challenges Elisabeth Elliot. “When, in the face of powerful temptation to do wrong, there is the swift, hard renunciation—I will not—it will be followed by the sudden loosing of the bonds of self, the yes to God that lets in sunlight, sets us singing and all freedom’s bells clanging for joy.”
Obey - Sometimes selfishness causes a teen to withdraw, and become lazy and morose. I remember I used to feel so tired after a long day of school and work that I would sit at the dinner table with my head in my hand, barely talking. My parents weren’t having any of that. If they could interact cheerfully at the dinner table, so could I. Of course, I had no idea yet what “tired” felt like, and I’m so grateful my parents did not indulge my selfishness.
Elisabeth Elliot again: “Obedience to God is always possible. It’s a deadly error to fall into the notion that when feelings are extremely strong we can do nothing but act on them.”
Persevere – Negative feelings don’t dissipate over night. We need to help our teens to persevere. Just because they don’t feel better right away doesn’t mean they aren’t on the right track, and it doesn’t mean they won’t feel better eventually. God is teaching them to endure, to be faithful, and to live by His Word and not by their feelings. These are valuable lessons in the Christian life. Remember, you are not only solving today’s bad feelings, you are teaching your teen how to handle bad feelings for the rest of their lives.
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” ~2 Corinthians 9:8
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7
“Not only will He never leave you—that’s the negative side of the promise—but He cares for you. He is not just there with you. He cares for you. His care is constant—not occasional or sporadic. His care is total—even the very hairs of your head are numbered. His care is sovereign—nothing can touch you that He does not allow. His care is infinitely wise and good so that again in the words of John Newton, ‘If it were possible for me to alter any part of his plan, I could only spoil it.’” ~ Jerry Bridges
Growing up means experiencing lots of negative emotions; and not understanding why or what you’re supposed to do with those feelings can make them all the more confusing.
Keep a close eye on your teenager’s emotions. As they enter puberty begin to watch for changes in their emotions, unexpected outbursts or unusual weepiness. Look for patterns. Pray for wisdom. Pray that God would use these negative emotions to draw your son or daughter to Himself.
Talking to our teens about where these feelings come from and how to deal with them can make all the difference. Here are a few thoughts:
Bad Feelings Work for Good – remember, feelings are a gift from God, even bad feelings. Just as physical pain reveals the source of a cut or disease, so bad feelings tell us something’s wrong. Sometimes they show us our need for repentance. Other times, bad feelings—from a difficult situation or seemingly nowhere at all—drive us to God in desperation and prayer. And that’s a good thing! Bad feelings alert us to problems, draw us to God, and position us for grace. This can give our teenagers hope and encouragement as they grapple with negative emotions. God uses bad emotions for good things in our lives.
Bad Feelings Don’t Equal Truth – Our feelings—good and bad—are to help us glorify God, not replace God’s Word as the authority in our lives. Bad feelings may feel more true to a teenager than God’s Word but we need to help them understand that is a lie. Feelings don’t equal truth and we must not allow them to rule our lives. So if they feel depressed or anxious or fearful we can expose the lies which feed these feelings and point them to the truth of God’s Word. And just because they don’t feel like serving or obeying or entering into the family conversation doesn’t mean those feelings should be allowed to rule their lives.
Bad Feelings Have a Source– To help undercut the authority of bad feelings, demystify them by helping your children pinpoint their source(s). Is it that time of the month or are they overly tired? Did their bad feelings start with that comment someone made at school or with the announcement of that big test next week? What desires underlie their bad feelings—in other words, what would make their bad feelings go away? Teenagers are susceptible to strong cravings, and now is the time (not when they are a toddler!) to help them understand why they feel depressed.
More thoughts on helping teens handle bad feelings next week.
When my son Jack was a little tyke, one of his favorite activities was dragging my in-law’s Cavalier Spaniel, Bailey, around the yard on a leash.
Poor Bailey! You could tell he’d rather be snoozing on the rug, but what choice did he have? He was on the leash, and Jack was running in circles, so Bailey ran in circles.
Teenagers often act like Bailey on a leash: they follow their feelings around in circles when they should be holding the leash instead.
When children enter puberty they also enter a whole new emotional landscape. Their emotions are going crazy. Their desires are stronger. Their feelings of exhilaration are higher and their feelings of despair are lower. In other words, their emotions are draggin’ them ‘round and ‘round the backyard.
To apply Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “Oh the havoc that is wrought and the tragedy, the misery and the wretchedness that are to be found in the [family] simply because [teenagers] do not know how to handle their own feelings!”
We need to teach our teens to become feelings handlers instead of feelings followers.
For starters, we must explain that feelings are good not bad, normal not strange. Feelings are a gift from God. He made us to feel, and to feel strongly. Part of becoming an adult is experiencing deeper and more profound emotions. But growing into maturity also means learning how to handle our emotions not follow them. In other words, we need to help our teens understand which end of the leash their feelings belong.
Feelings must be led and guided by the truth, not drag us around in self-destructive circles. We are not to follow our feelings into foolishness. Proverbs tells us where “the way that seems right” (Prov. 14:12) to a teenager ends up and its not a pretty place.
So when out teenagers live from one exhilarating experience to another and refuse to leave their room in between, when they believe that their feelings for someone of the opposite sex are a sure sign he or she is “the one,” when they sulk at dinner or hang out with ungodly friends because they make them “feel good about themselves,” we need to help them understand their feelings have gotten the wrong end of the leash.
Humbly, and without condescension, with plenty of examples from our own life, we need to talk to our teens about the consequences of following their feelings. My mom never made us feel stupid or ashamed. She understood these feelings were normal. And she often used questions (instead of a lecture) to encourage us to consider where following our feelings would lead.
Most helpful of all, Mom taught us to interpret our feelings biblically. She encouraged us that the passion and energy of youth was a gift from God to propel us take godly risks of obedience and love in a hostile world, not rush headlong into foolishness. Our infatuations were pointers to the desires God one day would fulfill in marriage, and we must not spoil his good gift by awakening love before its proper time (Song of Sol. 8:4). And our negative feelings were not to be indulged, but were warnings from God to repent, a sign of his kindness and protection.
By engaging us in constant conversation about the importance of handling our feelings, my mom taught us to appreciate and deal with our changing emotions.
Goodbye training wheels. Hello mom freaking out.
“There is no man on the face of the earth who can satisfy the deepest longings of a woman’s heart—God made us in such a way that we can never be truly satisfied with anything or anyone less than Himself” ~Nancy Leigh DeMoss
Todays grocery shopping with 4 kids was slightly improved by the Nathan’s hot dog photo booth and free samples. Ok, especially the free samples.