2014 at 9:11 am | by Carolyn Mahaney
“In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. So what do you do? You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling. You may not feel tender, sympathetic, and eager to please, but in your actions you must BE tender, understanding, forgiving and helpful. And, if you do that, as time goes on you will not only get through the dry spells, but they will become less frequent and deep, and you will become more constant in your feelings. This is what can happen if you decide to love.” ~Timothy Keller
“[Our emotions] are the part of us most vulnerable to outside influences, and in this sense, they are the part of us most easily manipulated….Not only are our emotions easily influenced; they are highly influential. Once persuaded, they become the powerful persuaders, and here is their danger….Reason is cut down, obedience is thrown out, and for a while the rule of the emotions is as sovereign as it is violent.” Os Guinness
The author isn’t talking about teenagers, but he might as well be. I mean, in what period of life can children be more unreasonable or disobedient? When are emotions as sovereign as they are violent than during these critical years?
As parents we can sometimes be slow to recognize just how vulnerable and easily manipulated our teenagers’ emotions are. Puberty ushers them into a stage of life full of strange and strong emotions they never felt before.
But these fragile emotions, these susceptible sensations can become the ruling factor in decisions our teenagers make about their friends, their relationship with us, with the church, and most of all about God—all of which will have massive implications for the rest of their lives.
The stakes are high. Once persuaded, our children’s emotions become powerful persuaders, and so we as parents must persuade them first.
There is danger; and there is also opportunity, a chance to help our teenagers harness their emotions so that they become powerful persuaders toward godliness.
How can we prepare and protect our tween and teenage children through this emotional minefield so they come out safely and even stronger on the other side?
How can we guard and guide them into strong, God-glorifying emotions?
These are critical questions with biblical answers. So let’s consider the wisdom of God’s Word for our teenagers’ emotions.
Before we move on to tweens and teens, here’s a quick summary of our thoughts from the past few weeks on how to help our children handle their emotions.
Self-control is the priority in the toddler years. Behind a strong wall of self-control, godly emotions can flourish. Depending on the child, it may take years of vigorous and intense training before we see progress in emotional self-control. But if we persevere, the fruit in our child’s life will be abundant.
During the elementary years, we will probably need to continue to help our children reinforce their wall of self-control; but we can also begin to teach them how to express godly emotions such as cheerfulness, gratefulness, and passion for God. Through simple, intentional, plans, we can teach our children godly emotional habits that will serve them for the rest of their lives.
Simple steps, big goal. We want our children to learn to express their feelings in the way that God, our Creator, intended—to prepare them for a life of passionate worship and whole-hearted obedience in response to our Savior’s death and resurrection.
When I think back on my childhood, one of the things I’m most grateful for is how my parents taught me not only how to live, but also how to feel about living.
Obedience was required; cheerful obedience was praised to the sky.
Joy in God wasn’t just something my dad preached about on Sundays; it was the emotion all over his face when he came home from work, it was the way my mom washed the dishes.
Alongside cheerfulness (which we’ve already talked a bit about), my parents sought to cultivate feelings of thankfulness and passion for God in their children.
As I try to do the same for my own kids, here are a few things I remember.
(Note: When I showed this post to my mom, she protested: “This isn’t how I remember my mothering! I remember plenty of times when I wasn’t cheerful or thankful!” But this is exactly how I remember my parents’ example in our home, and my siblings agree. This can encourage us as moms. Children don’t focus on individual moments of mothering failure; they remember a way of life, however imperfect, that is growing toward godliness.)
“I give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart” (Ps. 9;1, emphasis mine) writes the psalmist. This, and nothing less, is what we want for our children. We can do this by calling them to thankfulness as a way of life.
Thanksgiving was not only a holiday tradition, it was a way of life in our home. I am hard pressed to remember a single meal or activity where Dad did not invite us all to join him in giving exuberant thanks to God for the blessings we were enjoying.
Some may think it disingenuous to call your children to express a thankfulness they don’t feel, but quite the opposite is true. You can’t express constant thankfulness to God without feeling it sooner or later. Try it and you’ll see.
I have vivid memories of my parents’ grief—not irritation or impatience, but genuine, godly, grief—over our complaining. In light of the many blessings you have received from God, how can you complain? Do you see how displeasing your attitude is to God?
These days, complaining is the stuff of sitcoms, but in our little world (which was, after all, the real one) it was a serious sin.
Passion for God
As children, we instinctively knew—as children always know—what our parents were passionate about. We knew they cared about glorifying God and serving the church more than anything. This is what they got excited about and what they were most concerned about. And their passion was contagious.
To help us catch a passion for God, my parents sought to fill our time with serving God and his church, the idea being, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34). Our activities were evaluated for their kingdom-building potential. So our world revolved around our family and our family revolved around the church and its mission.
My parents talked about their passion for God, talked about their longing for us to have a passion for God, encouraged us when we expressed passion for God and warned us when we expressed more passion for something else more than God.
If we as parents feel a growing passion for God, our children will learn to imitate us as we long to glorify him.
“The life of giving is not an empty life…it is the first step to encouragement, to clearing your mind, to being fulfilled. Scripture is very clear on this—if you seek to be full, give…When you empty yourself for others, God fills you up. But not so you can suddenly retire with your little packet of joy. God gives to us so that we may give. We give, He gives us more, with which to give more…Christ’s life given up for others is the centerpiece of our faith. Our lives given up for others is the centerpiece of our faithfulness. The glory is that, in both cases, death is not the end. Christ has died for us for all time. But the trail he blazed does not end in the grave. He tells us to follow, to imitate him.” ~Rachel Jankovic, Fit to Burst, pp. 13-18