Tag Archives: Teenagers

Freedom, Indulgence, Hard Knocks, and Wisdom

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Galatians 5:13-14 (NIV)

Among most of Wendy’s and my circle of close friends we happen to be the furthest down the path of life experience. As we enjoy being grandparents for the first time and watch our adult children embarking on their own adult journeys, most of our friends are somewhere between the stages of young children taxi service and sending children off to college for the first time. Just yesterday I was speaking with my friend who is experiencing the latter.

For young people who have lived in a secure home with engaged parents, going off to college is the first opportunity to experience real freedom. No one is looking over your shoulder. No one is reminding you of what you need to do. Plus, opportunities to experience the appetites of life in all their excesses tend to present themselves in abundance.

For many of us, the years of college and young adulthood are when we learn some crucial lessons on life’s road. Chief among them is answering the simple question: “What am I going to do with my freedom?” 

I don’t know a single individual who didn’t, at some point, use freedom to engage and indulge unhealthy appetites in one way or another during these years. Perhaps there are a few true saints out there. Most parents I know, however, like to conveniently white-wash their own young adult excesses as they place all sorts of appetite controls and lofty expectations on their children.

Along the journey I’ve come to the conclusion that each one of us must learn the hard lessons of how we’re going to use our freedom. It’s part of the journey. We all need to have our own wake-up moments like the Prodigal Son finding himself up to his knees in pig slop. We all need our personally induced wake-up calls when we find ourselves saying: “My own choices led me to this awful place. I think I need to make some changes.”

In today’s chapter of his letter to the believers of Galatia, Paul is addressing this same principle. Legalism is great for creating compulsory obedience to a defined set of rules, but it does nothing for helping us learn the crucial, spiritual maturity lessons of appetite control. It’s no coincidence that Paul’s list of behaviors that mark spiritual maturity include “self-control.”

This morning I find myself praying for our own adult children and our grandchild. The truth I’ve discovered is that the lessons of managing our appetites and developing mature self-control are ongoing throughout our life journeys. So, I’m praying for them in their own respective waypoints on this life journey.

I’m also saying prayers for our friends who are in the stages of raising willful children, teenagers testing their boundaries, and young adults experiencing freedom for the first time. I’m praying wisdom for all those parental decisions about rules, consequences, clamping down, and letting go. I’m also praying for the grace and wisdom of the Prodigal’s father, who knew that his Prodigal had to learn his own crucial lessons and experience the awful places we find ourselves when we use our freedom to indulge our appetites. The father didn’t track his son down. He didn’t send a rescue party. He didn’t deny his son life’s required coursework from the school of hard-knocks. The father sat patiently on the front-porch, said his prayers, kept his eye on the road out front, and waited for a much wiser son to come home.

Chapter-a-Day Acts 1

source: Michael M Kenny via Flickr

Jesus replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know.” Acts 1:7 (NLT)

One of the more difficult aspects of going through a divorce is the struggle to know when to speak, and when to be silent, with your children. This is especially true when they are teenagers. Seven years ago, as I walked that painful stretch of my own journey, I found two easy temptations with regard to talking to my girls.

First, I discovered the temptation to say too much because the breakdown of the marriage is affecting them so acutely and I wanted desperately want to provide some reason, understanding, and context. Second, I recognized the subtle, self-centered temptation within myself to want the girls to take, or at least to understand, my side of the story. What teenagers, in their stalwart belief that they are both fully mature and completely omniscient, fail to understand is that information without context, knowledge, wisdom, and discernment can become both a burden and a curse. It is said that ignorance is bliss, and sometimes that is true. Sometimes it is the very least appropriate for the situation. 

As children, we often feel that we have a need to know things. We will even go so far as to think that we have a right to know certain things. We live in a culture steeped in First Amendment rights and the Freedom of Information Act coupled with an almost instantaneous access to any piece of arcane trivial information you could desire. People even publicly post the most mundane and salacious facts about themselves on Facebook and Twitter. Television programming projects an endless hunt for the most juicy, private personal gossip about celebrities 24/7/365. It is no wonder that we feel so entitled to know so much about so many.

I found it interesting in today’s chapter that Jesus deflected some of his followers’ questions. Father God knows things we don’t know. He holds certain things close to the vest, and as His children we are all on a need-to-know basis. For some children, this seems terribly unfair, unjust and spurs fits of childish rage and rebellion. Personally, I find comfort in the fact that He’s got it under control and I can trust Him with that. Someday, when I’m ready and it’s appropriate, He’ll perhaps share some things with me. Perhaps by that time it won’t really matter. Until then, I can let it go and experience the freedom that comes from not having to know certain things.

Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 33

“This is God’s Message, the God who made earth, made it livable and lasting, known everywhere as God: ‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.'” Jeremiah 33:2-3 (MSG)

There comes a point in adolescence when my kids didn’t want my advice. I had plenty of things to say, and I think my experience and insight could have saved them some heartache or helped them succeed at this or that. But, I also know that unasked for parental advice is like an ever dripping faucet. Not only does it drive the hearer crazy, but any benefit goes straight down the drain. Besides, my daughters are quite capable, and I knew that they would do well.

So, I often kept my mouth shut. I tried to be strategic and discerning with when I chose to interject fatherly wisdom. Perhaps I gave too little, or maybe I still gave more than they wanted. You’d have to ask the girls. That’s the thing about parenting; There’s no instruction manual and you’re never going to get it perfect – never.

As they got older and on their own, the advice drought gave way to a gentle sprinkle, then to a steady rain with the occasional flash flood of questions for the ol’ man. I am sought after once more, which is a very cool and satisfying thing.

We often forget that God is not just God, He is our Father. And, unlike our flawed earthly examples, He is the perfect parent. He is not going to offer advice unasked for. He does not run off to a far country looking for the prodigal son to give him a nugget or two of fatherly advice. He watches over. He waits. He patiently stands by waiting for the phone to ring. Because when we call out to Him, He has marvelous things to tell us about things we could never have figured out on our own.