Learning to Love in the Wilderness of Adolescence
My daughters are currently navigating their teenage years (yes, I have the privilege of fathering two teenage daughters). My wife and I are very proud of them. They have made excellent decisions in life so far; and, they are both wonderful, loving people. Still, my wife and I are now trying to guide them through the wilderness that stretches between the confinement of childhood and the promise land of adulthood. They lack life experience and the related foresight to fully understand the potential consequences of their choices. And, they can be emotionally driven, impulsive, and just plain…well, you get the idea. It’s not that they are bad. They just want to “spread their wings” and test them out, assert their autonomy, and move toward that promised land of independent adulthood…even though they don’t fully understand the struggles involved in keeping that “promised land” flowing with milk and honey.
I have to tell you, sometimes I find it very frustrating. My wife and I, their parents, have more experience and more wisdom to share. If they would only listen to that wisdom, life would be so much easier! They could avoid so much pain. But, then again, maybe this journey through adolescence is more about my struggle than their struggle. Perhaps this trek through the wilderness is a time for God to teach me about relying more on Him and adding depth to a lifestyle of true love. Consider just these few examples:
· I share “great words of wisdom based on years of experience” and get a “less than enthusiastic response,” to say the least. I help other families deal with adolescent angst. I know the developmental issues, the striving for autonomy and the search for identity. Certainly I should know what my own daughters need to grow up healthy and strong. From the back of my head, a still small voice reminds me that “love is not puffed up.” Love is humble. Those who love do not think too highly of themselves or their wisdom. Love accepts influence from others, listens to understand, and trusts in the ability and wisdom of others to learn and grow. So, I wander through the wilderness of adolescence, humbly trusting that God will protect, that our earlier teachings will guide, and that our loving presence will stimulate continued growth.
· Most adolescents, my daughters included, don’t seem to understand the great opportunity to learn from a parent’s mistakes and avoid the pain related to those mistakes. Instead, they want to make independent choices, suffer the same consequences, and experience the same pain. I can feel the anger boiling up inside me when they won’t accept a word of advice or turn my mistake into their learning… and then that still small voice whispers in my ear, “Love is not easily provoked.” In the wilderness of adolescence I’m learning that love practices self-control. Love remains in full possession of feelings, gives a blessing for an insult and practices kindness in the face of rudeness.
· I grow impatient waiting for my daughters to learn from the first and mostly insignificant consequences of some decision, to pull out of the downward spiral before they crash and burn. I even encourage them to pull out by pointing out the dangers. But, they keep trying to fix it. They want to make it right in their own way, with their own effort, by their own power. I find myself impatiently pacing the floor and worrying when I hear that “still small voice” speaks up again, saying, “Love is patient.” Love suffers long and is kind. How do I practice patience in dealing with an adolescent who grumbles about rules and limitation put in place for their own good? It is so difficult to practice patience as our adolescent walks a tightrope between potential disaster and fun? But “love is patient”…and “love hopes all things.” So, I practice patiently waiting in trust and confidence, believing that the seeds of wisdom that my wife and I planted will soon begin to sprout and trusting that their common sense will mature and take shape through the pruning that the simple consequences provide.
· That voice continues to speak in my ear, “Love believes all things.” It believes the best about our children. Love believes that they act with the best of intentions, not with the intent of hurting us or pushing us away indefinitely. “Love endures all things.” It remains present, through the good times and the bad. Love abides and tarries with kindness, even amidst frustration. Love perseveres even under trials.
Yes, I am learning many things as we wander through the wilderness of adolescence, the greatest of which is love. I make mistakes; we all do. But love covers a multitude of mistakes…and sins. So, I invite those of you with adolescents to join me in learning how to love more deeply as we trek through the wilderness of adolescents. Bathed in prayer and listening to that “still small voice,” we can move toward that promise land of adulthood together. If you have any ideas to share, please do. Share your wisdom in the comment section below.