This is a guest post by Kristen Hatton.
The fear in the room was palpable. I had just spoken to a group of moms and girls on the primary topic of social media under a gospel-centered framework. Some of the girls were in high school but most were only at the cusp of their teen years. Therefore, the majority of the moms were also just beginning their trek into parenting teens.
After the girls were ushered into a separate room for their own follow-up discussion with a youth leader, I was left to field questions from the moms. But you know how one person’s anxiety can get a whole group riled up? That’s what happened. It didn’t seem to matter that my entire presentation pointed them to see the heart as the real problem behind social media and all other external sinful teen behavior, and therefore what we must focus on. The questions exposed the mothers’ desperation for law-driven, quick fix solutions to avoid problematic issues all together. So it seemed nothing I said could calm these anxious hearts and redirect them back to the gospel. Instead fear pervaded, as did a sense of hopelessness.
I get it. Raising kids in today’s culture is hard. Especially raising kids who love the Lord.
However, it is far from hopeless.
Parenting Trials as Opportunities
Years ago when my husband was a newly ordained pastor, he led a group of parents of teens through Paul Tripp’s book Age of Opportunity. At the time, we were parents to just a toddler and a baby. Even so, I listened in and the idea of parenting being an opportunity resonated with me.
It is an opportunity. Not just with teenagers but from the toddler years to the tweens, teens, and beyond. Since that time, the opportunities for us have been endless...and endlessly hard! But good. In fact, it has been in the hardest times and the times I feared most—the dreaded trials, temptations, and struggles of my children—that I honestly look back on with thanksgiving for the way God used those hardships to shape and grow us.
When Parenting Trials Hit Home
I can recall one trial in particular I would not want to relive, but I would also not undo the good that came from it. When my daughter was in high school she battled an eating disorder, a struggle that stemmed largely from how she saw herself compared to others. Social media was the primary avenue for the comparison (thus the reason for my talk to those fear-filled mothers), but not the heart of the problem.
Her struggle was initially hard for me to understand. Of course I’m biased, but she was (still is) gorgeous, smart, funny, had lots of friends, was involved in many extra-curricular activities, and above all she was raised in a stable family where the gospel and its implications were taught and talked about all the time. So how she could possibly view herself so wrongly? But as you know, combating the lies of Satan with the truth of the gospel is far easier said than done. Cognitively, she knew who Jesus was for her and yet the deceiver still got into her head.
As her mom I wanted nothing more than for her to rest in his truth. But I could not control, change, or fix anything (though I certainly tried). What I didn’t expect is that through my daughter’s eating disorder recovery, God had me in mind as much as he did her. After all, one person’s sin and struggles is never just about him/her. God has a way of using other people’s issues for our own sanctification, or growth and good, and to his glory!
Trials for Our Transformation
Had life remained problem-free, I would have never believed that—deep down—the notion I really held to was that God is good as long as he works according to my plan, my way, my timetable. But in my daughter’s long, one-step forward, two-steps back journey, I was forced to face my idols of control, comfort, and ease, just as she had to reckon with hers. It’s never easy to see our sin, but seeing our sin is good because until we do, we don’t know how much we need a Savior.
So with the struggle, pain, and worry also came the opportunity to grow in my own need of grace and dependence on God for all things. Never before had I prayed with such fervency for my child. I felt teary all the time, and was humbly made aware that only God could change my daughter. But as her mom walking through this struggle with her, I had limitless opportunities for heart-level conversation that have brought us closer in a way it seems only adversity does.
So those things we fear and try at all costs to avoid, I get. No parent wants to wade through difficult issues with their kids. But sometimes the unavoidable things are God’s grace to us and our child. Sometimes they are the very things he uses to draw us more to himself, and lead us to greater compassion and grace for others.
Having been brought to a helpless and hopeless state in parenting is exactly what I needed to begin grasping that “when I am weak, then I am strong.” For his grace is sufficient for me, and his power made perfect in my weakness.
Therefore, what do I fear?
When trials and tears become opportunities of ministry and transformation with our kids, it is good.
Kristen Hatton is the author of Face Time: Your Identity in a Selfie World for teen girls and the teen devotional Get Your Story Straight. A third book, The Gospel-Centered Life in Exodus for Students, will be published in July 2018. Kristen is also a blogger and speaker. In addition to her own blog, she contributes frequently to the Rooted Ministry blog and enCourage women’s blog. She resides in Edmond, Oklahoma, with her pastor husband, and they have three teenagers. To learn more, visit www.kristenhatton.com