Before I begin, I need to be honest with you. I’m still figuring out how to raise faithful teenagers. This is a somewhat scary thing to admit, since I am both a youth minister and a mom. When I returned to church sixteen years ago, first baby in her carrier, I was still figuring out my own faith. Through the unpredictable twists and turns of life, I find myself in the surprising position of being in seminary while parenting two (wonderful) teenage girls and leading 30+ youth at my church. Yet, I’m still figuring it out.
As a parent and a youth leader, I really want a tried and true formula for inspiring faith in children. I want to know how to answer all of their questions with answers that they’ll believe in for a lifetime. I want to know that I’ve kept my part of the promises made at their baptisms to nurture my own kids’ love of God. Sometimes, despite my best efforts, they are not interested. There isn’t a formula. I will never know all the answers. And, I cannot look into the future to see what my girls’ faith will look like. The other day, I was talking with a friend about the joys and challenges of raising faithful teens when I had a shocking thought: parents don’t have the power to make their kids faithful.
As I understand it, faith requires two things, neither one of which I’m in control of when it comes to my kids: divine grace and individual response. It is God who makes God’s grace available to everyone, including our children. What is grace? The Wesleyan definition of grace is the ability to “believe, love, and serve God, empowered by the Holy Spirit.” It is not us, but the Holy Spirit which has the power to reveal God’s love and grace in such a way that we want to respond. Because of free will, responding to God is a choice. Simply put, God’s grace is everywhere and teens choose to respond (or not). This is both humbling and freeing.
Parents, I think we may need to give up the idea that we have the power to make our children believe, love and serve God. That doesn’t mean, though, that shouldn’t nurture their faith. What is in our control? What are our responsibilities? I can think of at least three:
- To set a good example of loving God and neighbor by participating in worship, Bible study, and caring for others. We need to talk to our kids about how our faith inspires us to do what we do. Let them see and hear how God is important to us.
- To partner with God and our church community to support each child’s individual journey. We should encourage them to worship, pray and learn. We must remain open to questions and conversations, realizing that their response to God’s grace will unfold in its own time. Invest yourself in your faith community, seeking mentors for your own children, and being a mentor to others.
- The most important thing we can do for our teen’s faith is to pray. We pray that they experience God’s love and grace. We pray for them to respond to God. We pray for strength and wisdom as we help them navigate life’s challenges. We pray for the love and support of community of caring people on this parenting journey.
I’ve written a prayer to get us started:
Loving God, whose son, Jesus, did not send the children away but welcomed them instead, bless my daughters that they might know you, love you, and serve you, through Christ our Lord. Amen.