Reaching the Heart

When teenagers rebel against our rules and boundaries we are angry, hurt and we may even rave and rant at times, and feel a great deal of self pity. Our world is turned upside down, our happy existence thrown into disarray. We like to blame hormones, outside influences and contacts…but at the root of it is really a sinful heart. And it is not just the teen who has a sinful heart, but we do as well! I have been doing some reading and praying and again been made to see that we as parents are also very much a part of this, and when we feel humbled, we find we need to be humbled even some more!

Teenage years are often spoken of in a negative way, especially by the world around us, and parents see it as a time that they must just ‘survive’ and ‘get through’. This means that parents just want to control and regulate their teen’s behaviour, and if they seem to do the ‘right things’ they breathe a sigh of relief, as it all seems to be well. However, are we then just teaching our teenagers to comply to a set of rules and behaviours that are external, or are we also touching the heart? I’m not saying that we don’t need the rules and regulations as we all know that we need routines and order in our lives (after all, God himself is a God of order!). But we should be careful that these rules are not just external things to be kept. Our heart is at the core of our being; it’s not hormones that rule a teen, but his/her heart!

We are told in God’s word that we feel, think, desire and believe with our hearts. It’s kind of like the rudder on a boat: it may be small, but it’s very important in controlling and directing.

So if we know that it is the heart that directs the way we think and behave, then our parenting needs to be directed at the heart!

The example I read about was of an apple tree which is known to be an apple tree by its fruit. We can consider the analogy of the tree being the heart, and the fruit being the behaviour and consequences. Say the tree doesn’t produce good apples, so the owner takes a ladder and goes to nail some beautiful apples all over the tree. Now it looks like a good apple tree outwardly. But we all know that this isn’t true, for the apples will rot and fall off, because there is something more deeply wrong with the tree, perhaps right down in the root system!

Nailing beautiful apples to the tree won’t solve the problem, of course! And it’s similar with much of parenting today: people try to nail apples onto the tree: i.e they want things to look right on the outside … but are we reaching the heart by insisting on all the right outward behaviours?

We can read many great books on parenting and follow courses to assist us, and they may help us to control our child’s behaviour in many seemingly good ways. However, are we reaching the heart? And this doesn’t mean we should not do these ‘outward things’ perhaps, but do we also pray for our children’s hearts and do we take the opportunities to also look at our own hearts?

Often when our children make bad decisions or commit sins, we find ourselves angry and frustrated, or even annoyed that ‘again’ we have to deal with them; perhaps just when we were about to relax with a good book, send that email, read the newspaper, have a long shower etc. We often like ‘quick fix’ solutions, just to get it over with so that we can go back to whatever we were doing.

Perhaps we need to begin with our own hearts. Are we serving our own hearts? Putting ourselves first perhaps in some ways?

Realistically our children are not going to come to us, sit at our feet, and ask us to impart wisdom to them about living a life of service to God. Their lives and our lives are busy, and we often think they get so much of that at catechism, school and in church. So if we don’t have ‘sit down’ sessions where they ask us for wisdom, how can we impart wisdom to them from God’s Word? Well, we can use each opportunity that God puts on our path, most importantly our own example in our own lives! We need to reflect in our lives the principle that living for God is a wonderful way to live, the ONLY way! And I’m not saying that we don’t do that, but there are so many things in our lives that can easily become ritualistic and habitual and ‘going through the motions’. Do we really do all for the glory of God, or do we also crave some glory for ourselves, or put our comforts and enjoyment in the forefront sometimes?

When our children are young they are so much under our control: we determine where they will go and even which friends they may invite over, and we make many decisions for them. However, as they get older there comes a gentle ‘letting go’. Then they will make mistakes and they will cause us worry and hurt. They are learning about the dangers of sin and learning about who they are and where they are going. They can certainly make our lives very difficult and painful through the decisions they make, that’s for sure! We don’t like our lives being turned upside down and we’d much rather have an ‘easy life’! But that’s not always God’s way for us, and it’s not always what’s necessarily best for us. We too need pruning and refining in our lives. We may need to suffer in some ways, and we may certainly struggle to understand ‘why’, but we also need to think of what Christ went through for us…..our redemption cost Him His glory, and in fact His life! Wow, then our sufferings and hurts just don’t compare do they?

Parenting does require sacrifices….sometimes we may need to say no to an extra work commitment, or appointment or meeting if our family needs our attention. How many people in later years don’t lament that they ‘weren’t there enough’ for their families because they were too busy with work, meetings etc? Surely, “there is nothing that will rival the importance of God’s work in the formation of my children’s souls”. It may require times when we have to ‘put something aside’ in order to spend time with our families, or to be involved in their lives.

The humbling of our own hearts also involves recognizing that our hearts are equally sinful to those of our children! Rather than stand above our children, perhaps we need to stand beside them, acknowledging at times our own struggles with sin in our lives. We need Christ just as much as they do! And we shouldn’t underestimate Satan and his power either: remember he’s prowling like a ‘roaring lion’! He wants control of our hearts! This battle can be a fierce one, but we need to remember: God is stronger than Satan!
We certainly can’t do it alone; we fail, we give in to emotions like anger and hurt and we may even feel like ‘giving up’. We cannot change a heart; only God can do that. Neither can we put faith into a heart; only God can do that! No parenting strategies, books or parenting techniques can turn the heart. In fact if that were possible, we wouldn’t even need a saviour, so it’s ridiculous to expect that we can do it!

We don’t necessarily like this truth, because we like to be in control, to fix things and make our lives easier and more enjoyable. We don’t get the answers for perfect parenting, or the perfect strategies to get it ‘right’, instead we get a perfect Saviour! And we can’t do his work, only He can! How humbling! We can stand beside our teens, acknowledging that we too need this Saviour as much as they do. He is the one who touches, turns and guides the hearts of all of us!

“And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19).

Mariska den Boer
FRC Southern River

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