“By the strength which God provides” –1 Peter 4:11

I was a college freshman when I first met Earl. He was my supervisor at the Boys Club when I worked part-time. The club was located in a rough of Chicago. Earl was a committed Christian with a lovely wife and three beautiful young children. He was a wonderful youth worker. I looked up to him.

We only worked together for about a year. But, in the years since we would see each other at the national gathering of Boys Club workers. Each year we asked about each other’s families and children. Earl’s three children are about six or seven years older than mine.

My children were approaching the dreaded teens, and one year I asked, “Earl, what’s like having teenagers?” “Great!” he responded. “We’re having a ball!” “Really?” I said in disbelief. “Really, Fred, teenagers are a lot of fun. You’ll love it!” I began to grill my friend on how he and his wife are coping with dating, driving peer groups, and all of the other things that worry parents of re-teens. Sensing my anxiety, my good friend gave me some advice. Because I looked up to him, I took it to heart. I am grateful I did.

“Fred, let me tell you something.” He became quite serious. “The teen years are sometimes difficult, but they are also wonderful. Teenagers are among God’s most fascinating creatures. They are full of life. That life spills over into your own life. To watch them grow, mature, learn, stumble, get up, to gain a sense of who they are is one of life’s greatest joys. You have to work at it, but it’s great.”

“Most important, Fred,” he continued, “get rid of that sense of dread you seem to have. Start planting positive thoughts, positive predictions about what a great time the teen years will be for all of you. Your attitude and your faith in your children can make all the difference in the world. You’ll be less anxious and you’ll be able to genuinely enjoy your teenagers. God wants you to enjoy your children at every age.”

I went home determined to follow Earl’s advice. So far it’s worked! As I write our children are 15,17 and 19. (This article was written in 1987 — but Fred still believes it, having proved it by experience). We still have a way to go, but so far it’s been a ball living with teenagers! Earl was right. Teenagers are on the whole great fun and one of life’s greatest pleasures. I have shared Earl’s advice with many parents in the years since.

I have also thought a lot about these things. Earl and his wife were committed Christians. I think his advice can be backed up by scripture. The Apostle Peter exhorts us to love one another and press on “by the strength which God provides.” And to the Ephesians he triumphantly proclaims that God has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing (or gift) in Christ.” Do these statements not apply to parenting as well? Of course! Would God fail to provide the strength, the gifts, the blessing necessary to us parents? I do not think so.

Is this to say that Christian parents should have no trouble, no heartache in raising children, especially during the difficult teen years? No, we are humans. We fail. The teenagers fail. There are a lot of outside pressures on both teens and parents. We should expect some difficulties. Which one of us does not need to pray with King David, “Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways”? (Psalm 25:7.) Living with and parenting teens can be difficult, but God does give strength, wisdom, and grace to help us. The importance of prayer cannot be overlooked. We must ask for these things. Peter also tells us in this same passage that “love covers a multitude of sins.”

Yet, it is also true there are no guarantees, because God has made each of us to be “free agents.” He will not deny free will to our children no matter how much sometimes we would like for Him to. Some children rebel or fall into very difficult situations even when they have “the best” parents.

I saw my friend only a couple of years ago at a small gathering. His two oldest were gone from home, happily married and pursuing careers. Earl, a good speaker, gave the after-dinner talk. I listened in disbelief as he told of his youngest child’s chemical dependency! As he spoke he frequently fought back tears. It was obvious that the year and a half about which he spoke had been difficult years. But, God had remained faithful. Earl and his wife had received good counsel, they had prayed fervently, and God had given them strength, wisdom and grace.

Within just days of discovering their 16-year-old son’s problem, they acted decisively. They committed their son, against his will at first, to a reputable treatment center. They participated fully in the family counseling and education that was provided. They prayed and sought the prayerful and active support of fellow believers.

Earl fought the tears again toward the end of his talk. Tears of thanksgiving this time. Not only had his son maintained sobriety since his release from treatment, but also had become active in local prevention programs. Now 19, Earl’s son has thrown himself into helping others avoid the things he had suffered. He was being used by God to help chemically dependent teenagers and their parents. Earl could not have been more proud!

The teen years can be hard but God promises strength to do all things – even parent teenagers. Through the difficult times He will be with us. May we never fail to see His presence during the good times as well. He has blessed us with children. Pray not only that He delivers them (and us!) from the influence of the culture, but also from our own sense of fear and dread. With His guidance we can parent with confidence and experience the joy He intends for us.