This school year, my family entered the world wide web of middle school. To be honest, it’s a place I’ve been dreading. Talk to anyone and they will say that middle school is essentially synonymous with awkwardness and growing pains of every kind – physical, social, emotional and intellectual. And attitude. Major attitude. Compound that with iPhones, internet and Snapchat, and it’s a downright recipe for disaster.
As far as I can tell, tweens and teenagers are basically enlarged toddlers. They eat nonstop. They throw fits. They have personal body issues.
But they are also highly malleable masterpieces in progress.
What we say to them and how we raise them matters.
I’ve been given the advice by many a seasoned parent to just “survive” these years the best you can and pray your child emerges on the other side intact, a little older, bigger and wiser.
But the Jesus girl in me (mixed with maybe a little naiveté) wants better than that.
Truth be told, I can relate to some of the insecurities of my middle school daughter. While I am more mature and able to (most days) work through them, I understand feeling snubbed by a group of females, feeling “less than” because of my appearance or capabilities, and feeling unsure of who I am.
I understand the battle for my worth and identity. But the difference is that I have years of experience on my side that have proven time and time again that my value cannot depend on my achievements or my friendships or the number of likes on my Instagram account.
My value can only depend on who Christ is and who He says that I am in Him. If I look to myself or the world for my worth, I will be confused, conflicted and sorely disappointed.
“This is what the Lord says: Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the Lord. They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness…” (Jeremiah 17:5-8).
Scripture is clear. If you place your confidence in the things and people of this world, you will come up empty. Your emotional and spiritual growth will not flourish but will actually be restricted from reaching its full potential.
Does your young adult ever come home saying or signaling that he or she feels unpopular, lost in a sea of students, or is struggling to keep his head above homework, activities and social issues?
When that happens, how do you respond? Do you launch into a positive speech about how amazing they are or distract them with food or grow overwhelmed and weary from having what feels like the same conversation yet again?
I am finding that the only way to counter the assault of adolescent hormones and the shifting sands of school and social drama is to saturate my children in the truth of God’s Word.
From doubter to leader
In the Old Testament story of Gideon, an angel of the Lord appears to the young man as he is hiding in a winepress and threshing wheat. Gideon is in the winepress (a weird place to thresh wheat) instead of the open fields, because he is scared of the opposition. Gideon wasn’t exactly the poster child for courage.
But the angel, who had been sent by God and spoke with all the authority of heaven, addresses Gideon like this:
“The Lord is with you, valiant warrior” (Judges 6:12).
I imagine Gideon looked behind him to see to whom the angel was speaking. When he didn’t see anyone else, he may have pointed to his chest and said, “Me? Really?”
Do you see how God parented Gideon in that moment? God spoke over Gideon what He knew he could be, not what he was. He didn’t say, “Why are you hiding? Pull yourself together!”
Instead, he assured Gideon that the Lord was with him, which is what made him a valiant warrior.
God was speaking confidence into Gideon’s heart, not because of who Gideon was but because of Who God is.
How Gideon actually replied, as quoted in Scripture was, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened?” referring to the oppression the Israelites were enduring from the Midianites.
If the Lord is with us. Gideon felt alone. He even states in the subsequent verse that that the Lord has “abandoned us and handed us over to Midian”. Do you hear the doubt and defeat in Gideon’s voice? His faith was at a low point. He felt forgotten, anxious and insignificant.
Maybe your child's "Midian" is math or baseball or ballet. Whatever it is, we all have those areas where we feel unsure and ill equipped.
Gideon didn’t automatically believe he was brave just because God said he was.
Our children (and okay, sometimes us too) are like this. They might dismiss what we say because, after all, we’re their parents and are supposed to think they’re amazing.
But when we speak God’s truth to them, His living and active Word, it is different. It is incontestable. It is prophetic and faith bolstering, even if like Gideon they don’t recognize it to be at the time.
One of the great promises of God is that His word does not return void. It always produces fruit (Isaiah 55:11).
Speak God's truth
Our job as parents is to cast a vision for our kids of the young woman or young man God is growing them to be – regardless if they look nothing like that person at the time.
Is your child impulsive? Speak self-control over his life.
“Better to be patient than powerful; better to have self-control than to conquer a city” (Proverbs 16:32).
Is your child anxious? Speak peace over her life.
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done” (Philippians 4:6).
Is your child impatient? Speak patience over his life.
“Finishing is better than starting. Patience is better than pride” (Ecclesiastes 7:8).
Is your child sassy or sarcastic? Speak kindness and respect over her life.
“Kind words are like honey. Sweet to the soul and healthy for the body” (Proverbs 16:24).
Like God did with Gideon, call out greatness in your children, whether they are two or 42.
Faithfully plant the seed of God’s Word in the soil of their hearts and let God grow the fruits of confidence, self- control, peace, respect and the likes.
“The Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in the strength you have and deliver Israel from the grasp of Midian. I am sending you!”
But again Gideon was unsure: “Please, Lord, how can I deliver Israel? Look, my family is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s family” (Judges 6:13-15).
Gideon had a lot of “ifs”, “buts” and “hows”.
But God replied, “I will be with you.”
See, Gideon was forgetting what we all forget when we start second guessing ourselves, feeling insecure and incapable of the task at hand: God will be with us.
It is God in us and with us that makes us Christ-confident, not our own capabilities.
Gideon was focusing on all his weaknesses instead of on the all-powerful strength of God.
God called Gideon valiant because God knew the job He was calling Gideon to do, and God would equip Gideon for the very characteristics he needed to fulfill his calling: faith, bravery and leadership.
Assure your kids that God will equip them for the very thing that He is calling them to be and do.
“For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10).
God has designed each of us and our children a certain way, to fulfill the good works He has prepared for us – all for His glory.
Know that your words matter to your children and, in many cases, will stick with them well into adulthood. Have a ready "truth vocabulary" for each of your kids, recognizing that they are different, unique and tailor made for the specific plan and purpose God has for them.
Be patient and persistent
After Gideon tests God three times to make sure the Lord is really on his side (don’t our children love to test us and push us to our limits), he finally believes God and believes in himself.
All during the testing and doubting and disbelieving, God is patient, consistent and faithful. He doesn't validate Gideon's doubts or give in to his fears. God continues to speak truth over Gideon and assure him that he is not alone.
But even as Gideon obeys the Lord and gathers his troops for battle, he is still afraid. With our children, rarely do we have an about-face turn from a fear or weakness they are working to conquer. Most times, it is conquered in stages, in painfully small baby steps of progress. This is how it was with Gideon, and God met him where he was every step of the way.
Finally, after a series of objections and tests, Gideon believes God, bows in reverent worship, and goes confidently into battle.
Isn’t that what we want for our children? For ourselves? More than good grades or a lead in the play or a certain position on the team, we want them to be confident through the power of God in them as they face their battles.
We so often can’t change the battleground for our kids, but we can help equip them with the right battle armor. We can speak God’s truth over them, raising up oaks of righteousness even while they are still acorns.
God’s presence is all we need. Let us be confident of Christ in us.
Christ-confident "cheat sheet":
Your Feelings vs. God’s Truth
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
"Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me.” (Psalm 25:4-5)
"I put my hope in You, Lord; You will answer, Lord my God.” (Psalm 38:15)
"Now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You.” (Psalm 39:7)
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)
"If you love Me, you will keep my commands.” (John 14:15)
"Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (Luke 11:28)
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” (Eph. 6:1)
"For the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from a snare.” (Prov. 3:26)
"The man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is indeed the Lord, is blessed.” (Jer. 17:7)
"When you are tempted, He will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (I Cor. 10:13)
"He lifts you out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He sets your feet on solid ground and steadies you as you walk.” (Psalm 40:2)
"He gives strength to the weary and strengthens the powerless … those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength.” (Isaiah 40:29, 31)
"Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mt. 11:28)
"Wait for the Lord; be strong and courageous. Wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14)
"Better to be patient than powerful; to have self-control than conquer a city.” (Prov. 16:32)
"Finishing is better than starting. Patience is better than pride.” (Ecclesiastes 7:8)
"Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” (Philippians 4:6)
"Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
"I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14)
"For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10)
"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood … God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” (I Peter 2:9)