Learning Grace in Motherhood: Nurturing our Teens’ Relationship with the Lord
“Do you have everything you need?” I surveyed the room anxiously, wondering if there was anything else I could think of that she might not have considered packing.
“I think that’s everything. And if not, I can just drive home next weekend to get it.” She also seemed anxious. A mixture of “Please go so I can get this thing over with.” and “Please don’t leave too soon so I don’t have to start this thing right away.”
Our eldest daughter stood in her first ever dorm room, waiting for the dreaded moment when her family would leave, and her independent college student life would begin. I knew I would not see the same version of that little girl again once I left that room. Sure, I would see her again. Fortunately for her father and I, she chose the college closest to home, and at an hour away visitations would likely be frequent.
But college life changes everybody and the independence gained in just a short semester away from home would bring out the “best woman” in my girl. Not that we had not seen the best of her already. As a bright young student excelling at academics, we could not be prouder. She had earned her right to be in that dorm room, at that University. With an associate degree already in her hands and only two years standing between her and a bachelor’s degree, our girl had a great future ahead of her!
A Hopeful Pursuit
However, it was not of her academics we were most proud. She had excelled in the one thing we had most hoped to instill in her – even if we were not the ones who were particularly responsible for giving it to her: Our girl loved Jesus with her whole heart.
She pursued Jesus to find the love she had missed out on most of her childhood. She pursued Jesus to fill the voids left behind after her parents divorced and her dad and I married. She pursued Jesus more than friendships at school. And she pursued Jesus even more when she found the love of her life at just seventeen years of age.
While her dad and I did our best to help her get where she wanted to go in life, we were not the ones solely responsible for her relationship with the Lord. We had not even followed the Lord ourselves as closely as we should have during her younger years. As a mother and follower of Christ, I wanted to do the right thing by raising God-loving children. I knew the Proverb: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6 ESV)
When I became a mother, I set out on a mission to fulfill my role better than most people would have given me credit. I knew there were different ways to raise children well, and I knew there were different ways to raise them not so well. I knew I did not want to raise children who grew up to be adults who did not love the Lord. But, I also did not want to be that mother who did not raise her children in the ideal godly home I had always dreamed of creating for my family. For me, that was the definition of failure, as a mother and a follower of Christ. It was the one fear I held onto the most as I left my little girl at college that day. I wondered if what I had done was enough, or if I had failed her at the most important thing.
Navigating Rough Seas
As they approached middle school, some of the tasks we aspired to in training up our children got to be too hard for us to commit to every day. No matter how hard we would try to convince them all to sit down and learn about the Lord and His ways, every attempt at family devotions was met with arguing, yelling, fighting, and at the very least one slamming door (most often it was mine).
Raised in church most of our lives, my husband and I had left God to pursue our own happiness in adulthood, only returning to a more real and intimate relationship with Jesus upon our marriage to each other. We were just starting to learn to navigate our own relationships with the Lord. We did not feel qualified to help our teenagers figure out something we had not learned ourselves until our late twenties/early thirties.
Blended families are tough enough. Adding to that the conflict of raising children who lived in two separate homes with two separate families who served God differently, was a lot to ask. I myself was confused when my son began his process of confirmation, having never seen or experienced it before. Considering the pressures of remembering the differences between our religion and theirs, expecting our kids to learn two diverse methods of worship and function in two different ways of life, all seemed an unfair burden we would be placing on our children.
As husband and wife, and the parental authority under our roof, we knew there had to be a way to help nurture our teens’ relationship with the Lord – without laying down a whole bunch of rules for them to have to learn and a new way of life to become reacquainted with every time they came home. After all, the Bible was clear about faith versus law: “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16 ESV)
Strict rules and unrealistic expectations were not going to nurture a healthy relationship between our teenagers and Jesus Christ, or between our teenagers and us as their parents. Deciding not to fight against the already difficult pressures facing our blended family, we chose not to force our teenagers to adhere to a certain set of rules, based on our faith in God’s Word. We chose instead to offer grace where it was needed, and we prayed the Lord would fill in the rest.
Determined to do what we felt was best for our own family, and prepared to surrender to Christ and pick our battles with our kids, we set down only three basic rules that could be followed no matter whose home our teens were in through the week or on the weekends: 1) Love God 2) Be kind your siblings 3) Respect your parents. And as our youths grew into teenagers, the family’s Golden Rule became: “You are allowed to be mad, but you are not allowed to be mean.”
A Future So Bright
Our eldest girl is now engaged to be married, entering her final year of college, and moving into her first ever rental home. She has already successfully completed one mission trip over Spring Break. And we know from her excitement there will be many more in the years to come. She is passionately pursuing the Lord in her relationships with her soon-to-be husband, a whole new family to love and be loved by, and brothers and sisters in her new church home where she is humbly serving.
I can confidently declare that my girl has finally found the love and belonging she had always hoped to find one day. The Lord did exactly what I had hoped He would do: He has redeemed and restored that which was broken and/or missing in her life. Everything not provided by her parents was faithfully provided by the Lord.
I confess there were times when I thought that my children would never find the Lord, that it would be my fault if their souls were lost to the enemy. I confess that over the years I struggled with doubt over the decisions we made for our kids’ spiritual health, and I resented myself that I had not tried harder to force my teens into a more submissive response to the Word. I sometimes wondered if we had made the right choices in how we nurtured our kids’ spiritual health.
Navigating the teen years with a blended family was rough sailing, but I can now look back and say with certainty that the Lord helped to correct the mistakes of the past. He set right nearly everything that had gone astray. Where our teens had developed attitudes of indifference and lack of a desire to meet with the Lord in prayer or Bible study, He has restored their longing for righteous living and given them a love for both of their church families. They each have their own ways of loving God, and loving others, and they each pursue a “meaningful to them” relationship with Jesus that is all their own, rather than forced on them and inauthentic.
It is true that raising our blended family was a village effort, between us and their other parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. However, the most important factor in the future of my children was the plan God had for each of them before they ever went through their parents’ divorces and remarriages – before they were even born.
Through the years, over and over again, I turned to Scripture, believing it as much for my children as I believed it for myself and my own future. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV). Because I believe so firmly in the Lord’s plans for my own life, I can find the faith to believe in His plans for a brighter hope and future for my children.
As a mother I have learned more about my relationship with the Lord, and His relationship with my children, than I ever could have imagined while carrying out the everyday mundane tasks of diaper duty and late-night feedings. Watching from the front row seat as He molds and mends the broken hearts of my children to love Him anyway and find love despite the odds stacked against them has been the most rewarding part of my ministry as a parent.
With a year of college behind her, looking back at that first day, I could hardly have survived knowing what that girl of mine was going to face when she moved off to college. She spent most of her first year away from home without a roommate, completed her second semester stuck in quarantine and homeless without even a dorm room to call her own, and she had to rearrange her wedding plans to comply with the Governor’s Executive Orders for social distancing. And yes, it turns out that she did indeed have everything she needed the very first day we left her in that room.
Somehow, knowing that God has known all along what His plans were, and the way this year would go, makes it a little easier to believe that no matter the circumstances, or the mistakes made along the way, there is always grace for whatever we face when we face it all with Christ by our side.