Claire Hailwood reflects on the joy and challenge of teenagers who see life and faith from different angles
Both the teenagers I’m raising in my home attend church. One willingly. One more begrudgingly.
One loves all aspects of it. They have thrown themselves into team, midweek groups, socializing with others and saying yes to any and every opportunity there is. They have a relationship with Jesus that is their own, independently forged and special. They are naturally an enthusiast and everything happening internally shows itself externally so their faith journey has been no exception. At school they lead in CU and take any chance there is to share or speak about her faith. It’s joyous to behold.
The other teenager is totally different. Everything they feel is internalized. They’re like a treasure box who occasionally reveals the beauty of what’s happening inside. They come to church begrudgingly because of the time of the day it starts but also with great reservation about how to engage with integrity. They enjoy the social aspect when their friends attend but by nature they’re more introverted so the experience is also quite draining. They think deeply and we’re beginning to watch their faith journey emerge but it’s one that’s more questioning, more sceptical and at arm’s length. They’re appalled at the idea of being in or associated with CU at school or speaking about church let alone wondering aloud about her faith. It’s joyous to be alongside.
Both are joyous because their journeys feel authentic. My greatest desire for my children is that they would know God and follow Him so I’ll admit to sometimes wishing that number 2 teenager would act more like number 1. But I’ll admit something else – that’s entirely about me and not about her.
In reality I’m delighted that both are pursuing it in their own way. I’m wired more like number 1 so that’s how I express my faith now whereas number 2 is more like my husband. Our regular conversations remind me that actually what matters is not how it looks from the outside or whether it manifests how I’d want it to, but that it’s rooted in an authentic pursuit and enquiring of Jesus.
I’m reminded of my own journey. The pressure I felt to conform to my ‘parent’s faith’ meant that I actively didn’t respond to an invitation to follow Jesus when I had the opportunity to because my desire to be independent was greater. I was and continue to be determined that that pressure wouldn’t exist for my children. Yes we’ll create a framework, talk vision, model faith and adventure but also give safety and encouragement to explore, building patterns and rhythms to support. But pressure to do so in a particular way or on a set timeline? I’m trying hard not to!
I have to trust God to lead and guide – take responsibility for what is mine to and not for what isn’t.
At times we’ve had other teenagers in our home who we’re raising and love deeply who have chosen not to believe the same as we do, either actively deciding not to follow Jeuss, or believing different things to those we do in particular areas. As we have and continue to journey this road (imperfectly but hopefully with humility) here are three things I’m holding to
1. Acknowledge your own feelings
These may include grief, sadness, frustration, regret and more – that’s OK – but we must process it and not project from that place on to our children because that won’t help who we’re loving and raising. I want this to be fuel for my prayers not pressure to heap on any teenagers I get the privilege of raising.
2. Continue to pursue
I could choose to live a smaller life because of the decisions of my children that I wish were different, or I can choose to let that move me closer to God. I want to do the latter. When I have allowed the circumstances and decisions of our children to let it shape bolder prayers in me or let God change me first, I’ve often seen greater shift and change. That hasn’t always changed the situation but it often changes my perspective, and that can change everything.
3. Don’t give up
I think this could apply to pretty much every area of parenting. But in this area in particular, where so much of our hope and longing for our children rests, let’s choose to keep believing and praying the words from Philippians - being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6).