My ten-year-old daughter told me she feels like she has heard about God all her life but he feels far away from her. I am trying not to panic as a mom. I know I have felt that way too before. But I am not sure how to guide her without lecturing her. Would you require her to do a quiet time or just let her do if she wants to?
The feelings of panic (and I know them well!) often arise in these moments when we feel helpless to change our child’s heart. We feel that way because it is true! Salvation belongs to the Lord (Ps. 3:8). We cannot open the eyes of our children’s hearts or give them a heart of flesh for a heart of stone, but we must turn our panic into prayer that God would do what only he can do.
But there is a lot that we can—and should—do to parent our children in the ways of the Lord, and the God who gave us this mothering job in the first place has also given us wisdom in his Word for how to do it.
First of all, as I often remind my girls, we must parent in faith. We must parent with confidence in the steadfast love and faithfulness of the Lord, his power and desire to save (he saved us, after all!), the wisdom of His Word to guide us, and the ever-present help of the Holy Spirit.
You may already be doing this, but I would encourage you to keep talking to your daughter about how she feels. Tell her you have felt this way too. Encourage her that God often makes us aware of a lack of his presence so that we might seek his presence. God is at work! You can pray with her and ask that God would grant her salvation and assurance. Stories from you or your husband or grandparents, friends, etc. can be a real comfort so she does not feel strange or alone.
Then I would encourage you to help her develop a habit of reading the Bible and praying every day. There is an unhealthy skittishness parents often feel about making their children do what they don’t want to do. We worry: if we push the Bible on them, will we push them away? Maybe we had a bad experience growing up, or this just smells like legalism to us. Isn’t it better to pray, encourage, and wait for God to do his work?
I would counter that leading a child to God’s Word is doing God’s work. It is what he commands us to do (Deut. 6:4-9) and it is the means He most often uses to bring a child to Himself. I am no exception. In many ways, it is the habits of my childhood, set in place by my parents, that most profoundly shape my life to this day. Growing up, my parents required us to go to church three times a week. Sunday morning. Sunday evening. Wednesday night. No exceptions. These were not, as my husband always refers to Sundays “my favorite days of the week.” I was bored silly at church. I couldn’t wait to get back to school on Monday morning and be with my friends. But my parents didn’t consult my feelings on the matter. I was going to church whether I wanted to be there or not. And it was in one of these church services that God first opened my eyes to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
One other example comes to mind. As a young girl I had to memorize 200 Bible verses to get into a summer camp I really wanted to attend. I didn’t care about the verses, but I cared about camp and so I completed the assignment. My motives may have been totally wrong, but these Scriptures embedded in my mind and heart have encouraged and comforted me throughout my Christian life.
All that to say, I would encourage you to help your daughter develop a habit of having quiet times. Even if she doesn’t want to. Even if she’s bored silly. By placing God’s Word in front of her every day, you are laying the kindling under which our gracious God may light the spark of his presence. Tell her you are doing this because you love her. We make our children brush their teeth and eat their peas, not because they like it, but because we know it is best for them. How much more the reading of God’s Word?
And do whatever you can to make it easy and exciting. Buy her a new journal where she can write down her questions and thoughts; use a solid Bible study book or program (several of my grandkids use these Bible reading notes from the Good Book Company and the ESV Seek and Find Bible is a great option for children); have a time each day at breakfast or dinner where the kids can ask Mom and Dad questions from their daily Bible reading (stump the parent!); give them a challenge to memorize or read for a reward.
Finally, don’t underestimate the effect of your genuine passion for the Lord on your daughter. As she sees you read your Bible every day, talk about Scripture, live out your faith (not flawlessly but faithfully), she will be indelibly impressed by the work of the Spirit that she sees in you.
I’ll leave you with these bracing words from JC Ryle. As you lead your daughter in faith toward God, may you see much fruit in her life.
“I know that you cannot convert your child. I know well that they who are born again are born, not of the will of man, but of God. But I know also that God says expressly, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go’ and that he never laid a command on man which he would not give man grace to perform. And I know, too, that our duty is not to stand still and dispute, but to go forward and obey. It is just in the going forward that God will meet us. The path of obedience is the way in which He gives the blessing. We only have to do as the servants were commanded at the marriage feast in Cana, to fill the water-pots with water, that we may safely leave it to the Lord to turn that water into wine.” ~Ryle
Targeting our children’s hearts is a very important goal in gospel-centered parenting. Ultimately, I want my children to understand that their hearts are sinful and that they need a Savior. I also want to help my children discern the motives of their hearts—why they do what they do.
To this end, my husband and I provide regular instruction about the true state of their souls before a holy God. We also seek to teach them, primarily in more structured family times, about how sin works. Recently my husband, gave them a little Lying 101 lesson over breakfast: “We often lie because we want to look good, make others look bad, or stay out of trouble” he explained.
And in order to shepherd our children’s hearts, we watch them closely. We seek to discover and discern what motivates them, what makes them tick, what are their characteristic temptations and tendencies so we can parent them wisely.
But targeting the heart looks different, depending on the age and maturity each individual child. With our sons, Jack and Jude, who are 9 and 8 respectively, we are just beginning to spend more time talking about their hearts when they disobey or when an opportunity arises.
With our daughters Tori and Sophie (5 and 3) however, I don’t often spend a ton of time dialoguing and discussing their heart in moments of disobedience. Mostly that’s because when a fight breaks out and one of them is involved, there is lots of crying and wailing and I could ask penetrating questions about heart issues, but nobody would hear me.
But I also don’t expect them to always grasp “heart issues” at this young age. After all, as Jeremiah tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” I’m in my thirties and I still don’t always know why I do certain things! I can hardly expect my three-year-old to have it figured out by now.
A good long chat about heart issues may be wise parenting for a teenager or an older child, but what a three-year-old needs is consistent training and discipline. First they need to learn to obey. Heart issues, those will come in time.
So don’t become discouraged if your toddler doesn’t understand why he grabbed the toy or your five-year-old still doesn’t “obey from the heart.” This doesn’t mean you are failing as a mom. As long as you are lovingly and consistently training your little ones to obey and respect parental authority, you are fulfilling God’s commands.
One of my favorite parts of our morning routine is when CJ and I grab our coffee and sit for ten minutes on our tiny enclosed patio, listening to Albert Mohler’s podcast “The Briefing.” Each morning, Dr. Mohler provides biblical commentary on the latest news in politics and culture. I don’t know of another commentator who daily offers such an insightful, prescient, theological perspective on current events. The Briefing is informative and enlightening and equips me to think, pray about, and talk to others—especially non-Christians—about current events in a winsome and biblical manner. If I had teenagers at home The Briefing would be a mandatory part of their day—although Dr. Mohler is so engaging and interesting I doubt I would need to require it! Today Dr. Mohler provided 7 suggestions for watching the Presidential Debate, and I look forward to catching his program tomorrow to benefit from his biblical analysis.
Here at girltalk we are always excited to pass along great resources, and this is one of the best. I hope all the girltalk readers and their families will make The Briefing a part of their morning routine.
We thought we’d close out this week with encouragement from God’s Word for all moms to meditate on:
The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you. Psalm 102:28
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments! His offspring will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Psalm 112:1-2 Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Psalm 128:1-3 ? For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. ? Isaiah 44:3 ?
“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you. “O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted, behold… All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children. In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you…. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.” Isaiah 54:10-14; 17 ?
“This is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.” Isaiah 59:21 ?
“Believer, here is encouragement. Are you praying for some beloved one? Oh, do not give up praying, for Christ is “mighty to save.” You are powerless to reclaim the rebel, but your Lord is Almighty…. The best proof of which lies in the fact that He has saved you.” Charles Spurgeon (January 14 Morning and Evening)
At the Sovereign Grace Pastors Conference last week we received exceptional teaching from God’s Word. As a mom, I was particularly encouraged by Jared Mellinger’s sermon on Psalm 78. In 2008, Jared succeeded Dave Harvey as the senior pastor of Covenant Fellowship Church, but as a teenager he slept through his father’s sermons and openly rebelled against his parents. God’s grace pursued this rebellious young man and he told a little of his story in his conference message.
In light of this week’s topic, we thought all mothers would be encouraged to hear the long version of Jared’s testimony, which he shared with his church last year. It was Jared’s hope, and it’s ours as well, that his story would inspire, “increased confidence in the unstoppable power of the grace of God.”
We also wanted to recommend several other resources that may serve those with difficult teens:
1. Get Outta My Face! by Rick Horne. Paul Tripp writes of this book: “Here is the wisdom of a man who has experienced the courage and hope that transforming grace can give to you and that hard teenager God has placed in your life.”
I’ve been a mother to four teenagers now—three are adults and one is still a teen. I’ve had hundreds (probably thousands) of conversations with my kids. Most of these have been meaningful and memorable talks. But, like all sinful parents and teens, we’ve had difficult conversations as well; and over the years (I hope!) I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes.
The following is a list of seven “reminders” that have served me in those challenging conversations. These are not rules, but guidelines drawn from Scripture that have helped me as I seek to navigate these talks in a God-glorifying way. I’ve included key quotes and verses that have inspired these thoughts.
In prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit, may I encourage you to…
1) Communicate humbly with your teen.
“Teens will quickly detect Mom’s, Dad’s genuineness by their humility. Let us recall that we are weak people speaking to other weak people, who simply happen to be younger than us.” Rick Horne
“The most helpful thing to remember is that your teenager is more like you than unlike you…. There are very few struggles in the life of my teenager that I don’t recognize in my own heart as well…. Come [to the conversation] as a fellow sinner.” Paul David Tripp
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23
2) Postpone talking if you’re angry.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:24-26 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:19-20
3) Postpone talking if your teen is angry.
“There are times when serious injury is done by urging the claims of religion. Your child is angry. His flushed cheeks and violent motions show the sinful irritation of his mind. Shall the mother now converse with him upon the wickedness of these feelings and God’s displeasure? No! It is unseasonable.” John S.C. Abbott The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out. Proverbs 17:14
4) Don’t talk too long.
“Guard against long and tedious conversations on religious subjects. The mind of a child cannot be fixed for any great length of time upon one subject without exhaustion. Every word that is uttered, after there are manifestations of weariness, will do more harm than good.” John S.C. Abbott
“Listen, don’t lecture. You can usually say all you need to say in about 2 minutes and 30 seconds before you start repeating yourself.” Kenneth Maresco
When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. Proverbs 10:19
5) Correct only what you must; overlook what you can.
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. John 16:12
Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. Proverbs 19:11
6) Acknowledge your own sin.
“Even if you are only 10 percent to blame for a given conflict, Jesus’ words from Matthew 7 apply to you as much as if you had been 90 percent to blame. You need to acknowledge 100 percent of your 10 percent. The point of Jesus’ teaching is that the first and most important thing for you to realize in any conflict is how your own blindness and sin contributed to the problem.” Rick Horne Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:3-5
7) Don’t let the conversation end until you have encouraged your teen.
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Hebrews 3:13
Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul. Proverbs 16:24
If you are the mother of a rebellious child, the great pastor Charles Spurgeon has some encouraging counsel for you:
“Children are a precious gift from God, but much anxiety comes with them. In all cases, the Word of God gives us one receipt for the curing of all their ills, ‘Bring him unto me…Never must we cease to pray until they cease to breathe. No case is hopeless while Jesus lives. The Lord sometimes suffers his people to be driven into a corner that they may experimentally know how necessary He is to them. Ungodly children, when they show us our own powerlessness against the depravity of their hearts, drive us to flee to the strong for strength, and this is a great blessing to us. Whatever our morning’s need may be, let it like a strong current bear us to the ocean of divine love. Jesus can soon remove our sorrow, he delights to comfort us. Let us hasten to Him while He waits to meet us.” (Morning and Evening, September 17)
Are you “driven in a corner” today by an ungodly child? Then may I encourage you to “flee to the strong for strength”? Jesus delights to comfort you, to give you hope, and to hear your prayers.
Last year we started The FAM Club to encourage fasting and prayer for members of our family, and we wrote several posts that I hope will remind you of the fruitfulness of persevering prayer:
“A foolish son is a sorrow to his mother” it says in Proverbs. Some of you know all too well the truth of these words. If you have a wayward son or daughter your sorrow may have many shades and sides:
You may feel grief—grief over the foolish choices that bring consequences to your child, pain to others, and reproach to God’s name.
You may know fear—fear of the future and what will happen to your child and to your family. Will they ever turn from their sins? Will they ever trust in God? Will our relationship ever be restored?
You may have regret—regret over discipline not given, sin unchecked, and regret over angry words spoken and unloving actions taken.
You may feel shame—shame before other parents (What do they think of me now?) and even shame before God (Is He disappointed in me?).
Certainly, there is a place for sadness and self-examination. But we can’t get stuck there. We must not wallow in our deficiencies. We must not think that success or failure depends entirely upon our parenting, because it doesn’t. We must resist the temptation to make our children’s behavior all about us. We must turn our gaze to God.
You see, excessive self-focus reveals what we believe in. It reveals pride. As moms we can be proud when our children are doing well, by taking credit for their good behavior and receiving the praise of others as if it was due to us. But did you know we can also be proud when our children are doing poorly? If we believe their foolish choices are solely the result of our failures, or if we are consumed by fear of what others think about us, or if we rely on our words and methods to change their hearts, we prove we are leaning on ourselves, hoping in ourselves, wanting glory for ourselves, instead of trusting in God.
So if you know the sorrow of a wayward child may I encourage you—stop staring at your failures. Lift up your eyes and look to God. Receive his comfort in your grief, His joy for your fear, His forgiveness for your sin, His righteousness for your shame, His hope for your future.
If your teenager remains unresponsive to your leadership, may I encourage you to obtain the help of godly friends or pastors? My children knew that if they refused to respond to C.J. and me, we wouldn’t hesitate to ask others to counsel them. They have since told us that this was an incentive to repent. We must not be too proud to position our teenagers to receive all the help they need. And in addition to requesting counsel for our teenagers, we should seek evaluation of our parenting as well.
The mother of famous nineteenth-century pastor Charles Spurgeon was an example of a woman who aggressively sought to bring her children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Her son wrote of her:
“I cannot tell how much I owe to the solemn words of my good mother….I remember on one occasion her praying thus: ‘Now, Lord, if my children go on in their sins, it will not be from ignorance that they perish, and my soul must bear a swift witness against them at the day of judgment if they lay not hold of Christ.’”
May we as mothers all be able to pray as Mrs. Spurgeon prayed. May we be faithful to discipline our children and so help them avoid both the temporary and eternal consequences of sin.
But our discipline must spring from and not be separated from our tender love. In fact, the phrase “bring them up” in Ephesians 6 has a distinct relational component and could be translated “rear them tenderly.” We show loving discipline by refraining from harsh or angry correction and by not withholding our affections—regardless of the nature or frequency of our teenagers’ sins.
Bringing our children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord is hard work. God never said it would be otherwise. But he has promised to provide help and assistance to all who call on His name. This promise gives us the faith and courage to discipline our teenagers with the end in view. They may not thank us for it right now. They may not thank us for a long time. But one day they will.
The book of James closes with this stunning promise: “Whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:20). Let’s be ready and willing to perform this merciful service for the teenagers we love.