For Parents Whose Teens Are Breaking Their Hearts

"A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish son is a grief to his mother." Proverbs 10:1

The sobriety of this truth came to bear afresh upon my heart as I studied through Proverbs as a young parent.

John Kitchen, in his commentary on Proverbs, admits regarding this verse, "What capacity for pain we take on when we [first] hold our...child in our arms!"

Throughout our years in ministry, we’ve sat with dear Christian parents who are heartbroken over their wayward teens or adult children. I've heard them rehearse how they parented and try to pinpoint where they went wrong as if they were ultimately to blame for how their children turned out. I've seen them almost collapse under the grief of the foolishness of their son and/or daughter. 

Honestly, all of this sometimes makes me wonder why in the world we open up ourselves to the potential for such pain in parenting!
But love drives out fear. And these risks, the possibility of the heartbreaks, this sacrifice, is what biblical love is all about. It's following God's path faithfully and trusting him with each step. It's knowing a sword might pierce our souls, like it did Jesus' mother's, but going ahead with it nonetheless.  It's examining the high price tag on love, and gladly paying it all.

How can we know this?

Because we learn it from Jesus who is the fulfillment of the loving truth that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). We know how to love because we’ve been shown great love even though we’ve broken our heavenly Father's heart, caused him unimaginable pain, and grieved him by thousands of falls. Jesus loved us to the end of himself (John 13:1), while we were still sinners and completely undeserving (Romans 5:8), and covered the high cost of our sin (1 John 4:10).

This great love controls us (2 Corinthians 5:14) and compels us to love our teens, regardless of how they reciprocate our love for them and even his love for them. We follow Jesus who gave, even if we might not receive. In doing this, we try to keep a few things in mind.
1. No matter how faithful we are to train our children in the way they should go, we must humbly remember it is not guaranteed they will not depart from it. 

Literary genre is an important consideration as we interpret all of Scripture. When it comes to Proverbs, we should remember that they are wise sayings that are generally true in life. They are not promises. It's actually freeing to know Proverbs 22:6 isn't a set-in-stone guarantee. How many of us would be way too self-reliant if it were? Instead, we have to remain dependent on God to keep our kids from departing, and ask him to use our, hopefully diligent, but still feeble, failing, insufficient attempts at training them. We work hard, but pray hard, as well, since it all depends on God to make our work bear fruit in their lives.  And if it comes to this, "When the harvest time is over and I still see no fruit, I will wait for You." (emphasis mine)

And you, parents with wayward children, can be free too from scrutinizing your past parenting failures. I understand. I have a long list of regrets seventeen years into it. Our expectation is ultimately in God, not our training efforts. We all fall hopelessly short. We must wait for Him.
2. What our kids need most, we can't give them. They need a new heart. A regenerated heart. A new birth. We might give them a first birth, but only God can give them a second. So, again, we pray, and wait on God.
3. Seek out the encouraging perspective of parents with grown kids. "[The older] can urge the younger. . .to love. . .their children." (Titus 2:4)

Over the years, we’ve been encouraged to hear experienced parents remind us to parent in faith, not out of fear. I remember one who told us about her grown son and his wife becoming foster parents. She said when he was growing up she never would've dreamed he would do this important ministry. I thanked her for reminding me not to see my kids as the sum of their faults but to remember that nothing is too wonderful for the Lord! He knows the plans He has for them and is sufficient to equip them accordingly! Another mom told me how fervently she prayed for her daughter through her public school years and helped her navigate being the designated driver for her friends and confrontations with sexual temptations. God kept her daughter safe, in spite of the peer pressure and teasing.

Seasoned mom and grandmother, Carolyn Mahaney, provides this perspective in her book, Girl Talk:
"For every fearful peek into the future, I wish I had looked to Christ instead. For each imaginary trouble conjured up, I wish I had recalled the specific, unfailing faithfulness of God. In place of dismay and dread, I wish I had exhibited hope and joy. I wish I had approached mothering like the preacher Charles Spurgeon approached his job: 'forecasting victory, not foreboding defeat.'"
4. We need to listen to the encouraging perspective of grown children.

At a panel of preachers and religious scholars, each was asked to explain from a scholarly point of view why they held the belief that Scripture is without error. It was John Piper's turn and the summary of his answer was, "I believe the Bible is inerrant because my mom told me it was." Hearing this godly, grown man's admission to the power of his mother's influential teaching provided me with renewed commitment to keep telling my teens the Truth.

As you have the opportunity to talk to your teen(s) today, remind them how much you love them, (even with all the sacrifice, risk, and potential for personal pain love entails). Remind them that you love them enough to tell them ‘no’ when they’re doing wrong and to warn them repeatedly that the way of the transgressor is hard. Remind them that you love them enough to instruct them in wisdom's way - the way they should go - by directing them to the One in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Remind them that you love them enough to diligently seek to drive out the foolishness that has deep roots in their hearts. And then admit to them, that as much as you want to be the perfect picture of biblical love, you know that at best you are a poor reflection of the great love you’ve received. Then assure them that they can know perfect love. This is how: "Jesus Christ laid down his life for us." (1 John 3:16)