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Don't take it Personally - Issue 205
June 17, 2011
Hi there! ....

This week we’ve been getting ready for a Character First Seminar that we are organising here in town. Jess is leading a team of young people (her brothers, sister and a few friends) with running the kids club. So this week she has been finalising hands on activities, and the lessons she wants to teach (they are working with Self Control and Gratefulness). Nomi has been busy preparing a few stories that she is going to tell. The boys haven’t had any real prep to do – they just have to be available to help on the day. I love seeing my family involved in these types of projects - not only does it give scope for their individual gifts and talents, it also stretches them. There is always something more to learn and this project has given Jess and I an opportunity to talk about being kind to yourself when you take on such a big project – to take breaks, to delegate, and to be satisfied with your best effort.

Meanwhile Daniel is into magic tricks. He has found a couple of books at the library, and has been practicing. He’s managed to pull off one or two “wow – how did you do that!” Once again when we give our children the freedom to investigate things that interest them, they learn so much.

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Don't take it Personally

One piece of advice that I remember hearing before I had teens was “don’t take their questions personally”. Little did I know how important that would be.

We all know that teenagers will start to sift through the stuff we’ve told them, even the stuff they’ve seemed to have believed beforehand. They start to question and play around with ideas to find out what they believe for themselves. This is very important for them to do – they cannot live off their parent’s beliefs, faith, or values – they have to have their own. One of the defining moments in my last year of school was a devotion led by the school chaplain; he talked about how Isaac had to dig his own wells – regardless of what his father had done before. This challenged me that I needed to dig into God for myself; I couldn’t just get by on my father’s back. I had to decide for myself. This is why the questioning in teens start.

When my kids start questioning things, even though I’ve heard this advice not to take it personally, everything wells up inside me and screams “how can you possibly…?” Then I take a deep breath and remind myself that maybe they don’t actually believe what they are saying, they are just sifting through stuff. They are just questioning. I cannot hold them ransom to their questions. They have a right to ask questions.

They also have a right to reasonable answers. If I am all tied up with my emotions of “I can’t believe they don’t believe etc” then I won’t be able to give them a reasonable answer. I won’t be able to defend my beliefs, my choices, and my values. They want good answers. They don’t want to waft around with indecision, they want to believe something. I cannot afford to let my emotions, doubts, fears get in the way of giving them good, solid, answers.

I’m reminded of the scripture that says we are to have an answer at all times:

Preach the word;
be ready in season and out of season;
reprove, rebuke, and exhort,
with complete patience and teaching.
2 Tim 4:2

Now this may seem at odds to me not getting emotionally involved but I want to explain how this Scripture has helped me in these times of questioning.

  1. Preach – this does not mean to give a lecture, to stand up front and go on and on. No, to preach means to proclaim God’s word. Regardless of my children’s questions I have to stay true to God’s word, they need to hear it as they sort through their beliefs and values. The thing I need to remember is not, will I declare God’s word at these times, but how.
  2. Be ready in season and out – my children’s hearts are too precious for me to not be available. I have to be ready to talk to them – ready emotionally and ready with my time management. People say toddler years are the hardest but really we need to be ready, 100% regardless of the age of our children. Their needs change with growing up, we still need to be available.
  3. Reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching – how easy it is to reprove and rebuke but this will not win them over. No, our words need to be with complete patience. This is hard! But it is so necessary. I have found myself having to excuse myself, with a promise of coming back, if I have lost that patience.
  4. The other truth in this last phrase of this verse, is that we are to continue to teach. Teaching is not just what we say as we teach by our actions and example as well as our words. We cannot back off from teaching (either by words or actions) the truth just because they are questioning it. But remember the complete patience this applies to our teaching as well.

Overall, the thing we need to remember is that our relationship with our children needs to stay our utmost priority. We will gain nothing, and certainly not their heart, if we alienate them at this stage – they need us, after all they are directing their questions to us! How quickly we can turn them away by judgemental and harsh words. Patience should indeed guide us. Another verse that comes to mind is:

The wise say very little,
and those with understanding stay calm.

We need to understand what is really going on here – and don’t over-react. This verse seems to be in conflict with the 2 Timothy verse where it says to speak out. The key here is balance and sensitivity. Not only do we need to speak out in truth (as per 2 Timothy 4:2) we also need to listen – listen with our hearts. This is being wise. Scripture often expresses two things that seem at odds with each other, but when we think about it there will be a time to exhort and there will be a time to listen. This verse reminds us that if we approach our children’s questioning with wisdom and understanding, then we will remain calm (as opposed to over reacting).

Just this week I had such a conversation with Josh. He started to question something and the idea was abhorrent to me – maybe that is a bit strong but you get the idea! I couldn’t believe he was thinking that way. But as we talked about it I started to understand that he was just questioning something and he was running it past me. I would have done him a disservice to ignore it, or react to it. He was coming from a different premise than I would and yet his heart is to learn from his parents. He wants me to share with him my perspective. We were able to talk this through – it was a matter of rebuking and exhorting (which is teaching) and yes, I did need patience because it frustrated me that he missed it on this one. But the end result was that he was exposed to some truths that he hadn’t considered. Our conversation changed his thinking. He may not have come to a conclusion just yet, but he is now thinking in line with the Bible and he has something to pray about instead of making a decision based on the wisdom of man.

When our children begin to question things – our family beliefs and practices especially – the thing we need to remember is that they aren’t necessarily challenging us but rather tying to see what they believe for themselves. This is a good thing, not only because they start to think and believe for themselves, but because we can also begin to see what they believe, where they are at. So this week, I encourage you to listen to your teens – listen to what is really going on in their hearts. Are they really rejecting something you hold dear, or are they just questioning it. Don’t take it personally, but take the opportunity with both hands and with patience find a way to talk through their questions and help them find answers. But most of all accept them for who they are and where they are at. They are on a learning journey; they are not out to get you!

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Until next week

Belinda Letchford
Living life with her kids in Australia!

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