One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up.
Life is filled with reasons to give up. A number of these reasons strike with full force during the years our children navigate adolescence. After years of love, investment, and sacrifice, parents of teen and middle schoolers discover that their past experiences are inadequate for the road ahead.
At the same moment when many of us are beginning to question the choices we have in life, our sweet, compliant, and agreeable children are doing the same. They question the choices we have made and those we continue to make. They no longer go along, but instead question our every decision. The more we struggle in life, the more they seem to lose respect for our lives. As our hearts crave family unity and relationship relief, they desire more distance and more independence. At a time when we hoped our children would prove the wisdom of our choices and establish us as proud parents, their decisions seem to run counter to everything we ever taught them.
We are at a crossroads. As parents of teenagers, God is calling us to make sure we do not give up on ourselves or our kids. This turmoil is here because our kids are searching for answers to the “Why” questions in life, and we are too.
The biggest question for us is: how can we love our kids without losing our minds? Our kids are discovering what it means to have a deep and personal relationship with God, and it’s our job to “close the gaps.” Many of us may be familiar with the ’60s and ’70s when the distance between adults and young people was described as the “generation gap.” Well, this gap is actually more than just a span of years… In fact, there are five gaps that must be closed if we are going to help our teen children discover God, without us losing our own sanity.
Five Gaps to Close
1. The Spiritual Gap
And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?
Matthew 16: 26
Every teen and middle schooler experiences a very real need for God. They become spiritually aware, and begin to feel the gap between what this world has to offer and what truly satisfies. This is one of the reasons they begin to seek answers to the Y-questions. They want to close this “spiritual gap,” and they want to be satisfied. Interestingly enough, there are a great many influences and influencers who will offer to fill the gap.
Our responsibility as parents is to make sure this “spiritual gap” is filled by God, because only God truly satisfies.
2. The Relational Gap
The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters,
but one who has insight draws them out.
Proverbs 20: 5
Closing the “spiritual gap” will require that we first close the “relational gap”, which appears between parents and their children during adolescence. This “relationship gap” exists because of the difference between how we see our children and how they see themselves. During the middle school and teenage years, our perceptions and their realities are different. It’s not that we’ve lost our minds, but that they have changed. When a child reaches adolescence they discover new aspects of themselves, which means that we as parents have to continually update ourselves. Additionally, the failure to update ourselves leaves a “relationship gap” between our child and us.
3. The Emotional Gap
As water reflects the face,
so one’s life reflects the heart.
Proverbs 27: 19
During our children’s adolescent years, we usually expect and see their physical changes. Dealing with these requires a significant amount of work and some adjustment. What we don’t always expect and rarely see are their emotional changes taking place. These emotional changes are often subtle and imperceptible because they take place in the heart.
Parents who have taken time in life to know, understand, and change their children’s hearts will find that investment paying huge dividends at this stage of parenting. And parents who have ignored their children’s heart conditions will find that their lack of experience leaves an “emotional gap” between them and their children. If we want to have a powerful influence on our child, then we must attend to our children’s emotional life and heart conditions immediately, because a small amount of change in this area goes a long way.
4. The Inspiration Gap
Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or they will not come to you.
Psalm 32: 9
It is one thing to raise a child, but quite another to win his or her heart. Sometimes we are so busy caring for our child’s every need that we can forget about the importance of inspiration. While we are doing the very real work of loving, guiding, and supporting our children, we cannot forget to inspire them.
Failure to inspire our middle school and teenage children will eventually lead us to asserting control, leaving an “inspiration gap.” While control may accomplish many things, it will never work when it comes to helping our children develop a deep personal relationship with God. When it comes to a relationship with God, they will have to be inspired.
5. The Conviction Gap
Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”
Luke 12: 1
The “Conviction Gap” is our fifth and final gap. The distance between what we claim to believe and how we actually live determines the size of the “conviction gap” in our lives. Closing this gap will be our greatest contribution to building genuine faith in the hearts of our children.
Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
2 In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
3 Children are a heritage from the Lord,
offspring a reward from him.
Psalm 127: 1-3