It is 2010. I am standing in the middle of my teenage daughter’s messy room. She seems to order things visually by piles and is emotionally attached to the most unsuspecting scrap of paper. The mess has gotten so deep that she is paralyzed, not knowing where to begin cleaning up. That’s why I am standing here. I move to the shelf at the head of her bed and start picking up one thing at a time, asking her about it. There are candy wrappers, jewelry, trinkets given to her by friends, makeup and papers, all mixed together. I assign her to put things away as I pull things off the shelf. Eventually, I pick up a sheet of paper. It is a list entitled “Things I am Grateful For”. “What’s this?” I ask. She takes it and responds nonchalantly, “Oh, that. That’s just a list I was making when I was having an especially hard time. I do that sometimes.” And, just like that, in the midst of candy wrappers and lip gloss, I get a glimpse into the soul of my daughter. It’s a place I don’t always have the privilege of seeing. And I am reassured, as well as a bit daunted.
In the teen years, our kids are processing life in new ways. The simplicity of childhood is gradually replaced by the complexity of growing into adulthood. Our kids are deciding how they will think and how they will live. And they are watching us. What surprised me about finding that list is that it so closely mirrored one of my own practices. When I am anxious, when I am lonely or sad, when life feels hard, I work on my own gratitude list. It helps me to refocus my thoughts on the ways that I am cared for by our Creator. It reminds me of his promises to continue to be present with me and care for me. In our family, we’ve tried to learn to freely share how we are struggling and growing. As parents, we’ve tried to lead in this honesty and vulnerability. So, at some point, our daughter probably heard me share my struggle and my gratitude practice. She probably saw me journalling as she ventured sleepily to the bathroom some morning. And when she was having a hard time, she decided to try the same thing.
What challenges me is that my kids are watching. What will stick with them most is what I do, rather than what I say. We are all stretching and growing, on the journey to learn to be more like Jesus as we take on the challenges of life. In the process, I make mistakes and so do they. Neither one of us has an explicit road map for this new territory of following Jesus in this stage of life as the unique people that we are. I’ve never been here before, and neither have they. But they are watching. What am I demonstrating about how to navigate and be formed in the way of Jesus? Paul has this encouragement for us as parents:
“Don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master.” (Eph 6:4)
I like the image this creates. My family and I, walking hand in hand on the journey to discover the way of the Master. We’re in this together. And as we walk, we can be honest about the questions we have for the journey, open about the strategies we try as we progress on the journey, and we can help one another when the journey is hard or we fall down. We don’t always have to get it right, but we can keep getting back on course. And in the middle of messy rooms, we can keep talking about how we’re trying to be faithful and we can learn from each other as we go.
As a parent, what practices help you on your journey? What challenges do you face on your journey? Are there any new practices you would like to try? Try sharing both a challenge you face and a practice that is helping you to journey in the way of the Master in the midst of that challenge with your family. Can you invite your kids to share what challenges they are facing right now?
Creator, you have given us a beautiful life, full of challenges and opportunities. Teach us to walk hand in hand in your way as we navigate this life. We want to walk with honesty, vulnerability, grace and courage. Help us to be faithful to the way you have called us to.
Lisa Scandrette is an author and educator who is passionate about caring for individuals and creating a more peaceful world. She facilitates workshops and provides administrative support for ReIMAGINE and is the CoAuthor of “Belonging and Becoming: Creating at Thriving Family Culture” and “FREE: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most.”