“I prayed for my band director tonight.” My 14-year-old son, Eli, tossed his saxophone in the back of the van and slid into the passenger seat.
My insides were exploding with curiosity, but I didn’t want to blow this moment by being overly excited, so I said, “Tell me more.”
“He was absent a lot this week, and tonight he told us that he’s been dealing with a lot of medical issues. During practice I kept thinking about what God wanted me to do, and I felt like I needed to pray for him. So I waited until most of the kids were gone before I went into his office and asked if that would be OK. I was surprised he said yes.”
“How did it go?”
“Pretty good. I prayed for God’s strength in his body and for peace over his mind for the next time he went to the doctor. You know, just whatever.” Eli shrugged.
I live for these moments! My most important goal as a parent is to introduce my kids to Jesus and then encourage them to embrace their faith, grow into mature believers and share that faith with others.
I was so proud that Eli had not only embraced his faith, but had allowed God to use him to show His unconditional love and compassion to someone else. Those moments don’t “just happen.” We need to be intentional with our teens as they move deeper into trusting God with their lives.
Encourage them to make faith their own — not just rely on yours
One night, when my daughter, Annika, was 15, she confessed that she was struggling with feeling judged by a friend. I listened as she laid out the story. As she verbally processed the situation, I prayed silently about how to respond. I came up blank. In all my “wisdom,” I couldn’t think of one thing to tell her that would make her feel better.
Then I realized this was a perfect opportunity for my daughter to spread her faith wings. I encouraged her to ask the Lord the same questions she was asking me. She gave me a funny look, but I reminded her that because she has a relationship with God, she could hear His voice. He sent His Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth (John 10:3, 16:13), and she had the same access to the Spirit’s direction as I did.
We prayed together, and I prompted her to ask the Lord some questions: “God, why am I feeling judged? Will You take this pain from me? Jesus, what do You like about me? Do I need to forgive anyone?”
As she prayed, she sensed nudges in her spirit that felt right. I reminded her that as she listened for God’s voice, she needed to back it up against Scripture, since we know that, according to Numbers 23:19, God will never contradict Himself. So as she told me what she’d heard from God, we compared what she’d sensed with His Word.
Annika cried tears of joy as God healed her heart, revealed His truth to her and encouraged her. Hearing from God gave her hope. Knowing He cared about her built anticipation and excitement for what He would do in — and through — her life.
As parents we don’t need to have all the answers, but we must be willing to step out of the way and let God step in. That doesn’t mean we never offer guidance, but as our teens become more independent, we want them to understand how to lean on God in their own faith, rather than relying on ours to help get them through difficult situations. As we move aside and encourage our teens to connect with God and listen to His leading, we can know that God will show up (though they may not hear Him as quickly as Annika did) and guide them better than we can.
Recognize every step of faith — even the little ones
My teens still have training wheels on their faith, so when I see them take a risk and exercise their beliefs, I take notice. I celebrate the small achievements that display they are building their own faith, not riding on the coattails of mine.
One summer, my then-13-year-old son, Isaac, was involved in a Bible study. The guys in the group encouraged one another to be bold in their faith. So when school started, Isaac decided to take his Bible with him. He knew it was risky to do at a public school, but he wanted to be brave.
I knew, though, that he was still nervous that other students — and possibly even teachers — would mock him for it. So, like encouraging a toddler to take his first steps, I cheered on my son’s desire to honor God.
Although nothing dramatic happened, that first step motivated him to be braver with something more challenging. Later that year, Isaac did a report on The Voice of the Martyrs, a ministry that serves the persecuted church. Isaac had the option of writing the assignment or giving a presentation. He felt God prompt him to choose the presentation, and asked my opinion. I encouraged him to be obedient to what he felt God telling him to do. I promised that I’d pray for him to continue to be bold.
Though Isaac was nervous on presentation day, he spoke in his classroom about those who were martyred in the name of Christ. Afterward, his peers praised him for sharing his faith and, of course, we applauded him at home.
I never want to miss any opportunity to celebrate my teens’ faith — especially when they express it to others. Whether it’s as simple as praying with someone or taking their Bible to school, encouraging our teens to embrace and then live out their faith means we celebrate their baby steps — and that in turn encourages them to take another step … and another and another. We rejoice in the small victories and cheer them on along the way, for someday they will run the race set before them (Hebrews 12:1).