Our teens are struggling. Christian or otherwise. How do we pray for them, really? Here’s an epiphany we stumbled upon that I believe changed our lives and the lives of our children. ♦
It’s clear that the Christian youth culture is dramatically changing from the days of us Baby-Boomers or even that of our children over the past 15 years. We don’t need another survey to tell us that Millennials are leaving the church. For the record, 59% who grew up in Christian churches end up walking away from the faith of their youth, says Barna Group’s 2016 research study.
Certainly not difficult to understand why. The general culture has become so secularized and even more boldly opposed to norms and principles long-established and honored across our nation and the world. Regardless of a politically liberal or conservative Christian perspective, parents of teens particularly are facing monumental struggles as they raise up their savvy young ones to be grounded children upholding their own Christian precepts and beliefs.
As parents we worry and fret and read books and watch TV talk shows and talk among ourselves, small groups, friends, and even meet with pastors and priests. Some of us are just happy to get their children through the teenage years alive and relatively healthy.
Actually, that was the case for my wife and I. Until we figured out the secret.
“Well, One Out of Three Ain’t Bad”
I’m chagrined to say that I used to quasi-jokingly boast that “Well, one out of three ain’t bad!” That is to say that only one of our 3 teenage children was keeping to the Christian faith of their upbringing. I used to merely accept that this was the way of the world and that there really wasn’t much we could do to buck the cultural trend.
Don’t misunderstand. My kids were good kids, you know the type. High-producers socially, academically and athletically. And they attended all the right church activities: Sunday school programs, small group gathering, choirs, winter ski-trips, summer camp week, mid-week cool-teen event with dark lights, food, music, and the deep 10-minute talk at the end that covered something spiritual. They did it all. And my wife and I thought we had them covered. Because after all, we went to a good church, and I taught Bible Study classes and she was a women’s Bible Study leader. I was even an elder.
In truth it was like trying to stay healthy while living on a fast-food diet with an occasional diet coke, celery sticks and a salad thrown in once in a while. The kids had one foot in the church world and the other in the real/secular world. My wife and I lived the same way only we had really good Christian adult credentials. We all blithely assumed that we could sustain spiritual health by going through these modern Christian motions.
Running into an Epiphany
So what actually turned our family around was the result of a marital communications problem, combined with worries and frets and fears about our teenage children. Like many men, I could listen to my wife talk while eating breakfast, reading the newspaper, listening to the radio or TV in the background, and tapping out a syncopated drum beat with my foot and free hand. It all made sense to me. This was not appreciated by my wife however, particularly when the subject matter of our conversations became more serious regarding the issues and concerns and challenges of our teenage children.
We decided to go on a morning run and talk while running. Jogging actually, just through the neighborhood for about 3 miles. Little did we realize that this would change our lives, and I believe, the trajectory of our family.
Praying on the Streets of Mountain View
This running together was perfect. Forty minutes, four times a week. She would talk, and I would listen. Then I would respond, and she would listen. No more distractions from my kinesthetic tendencies. She felt heard, and I was visually, auditorily, and physically stimulated.
We then decided to pray during these runs.
With eyes wide open we each would take turns praying while on these runs. Think about it. Most couples don’t spend 2 minutes praying together. We’d spend a good 20-25 minutes praying during these jogs. It changed our lives – certainly our communications with each other. There’s something about hearing her yearning heart call out to God in anguish over some issue in our life. Likewise there was something about me sharing a heartfelt petition to God about a concern or worry or stress over some personal or work issue. We each now learned and heard things differently about each other. And a mutual reach out to God was at the center of it.
Praying for Our Teens
We also began a very deliberate practice of praying for each of our teenage children during these runs. We prayed for their activities, sports, school work, college choices, friends, fears, their personal wins and losses. We also began praying for their hearts to turn deeply to God, to hunger for God’s Word, to be touched and be led by the Spirit of God away from harm and distraction and toward right actions, good influences and renewal.
We prayed for their future spouses and their future children, our future grandchildren. We shifted thinking away from praying that our sons should not be with non-Christian girlfriends; we began praying for the non-Christian girlfriends themselves. And asking God to have His will and way in all of our lives, rather than our own selfish human desires and perspectives.
Our daughter met and married a young Christian man in college whose parents prayed as we did. They now have 3 small children. Our sons married their high-school sweethearts, those non-Christian girlfriends, who have since blossomed into vibrant women of God, who along with their solid Christian husbands, our sons, are each raising 3 small children in their own Christ-following, prayer-centered homes.
I do believe the difference was simply the power of prayer. Devoted, humble, simple, non-fancy prayer that rose from our hearts out of aching necessity rather than programmed Christianity. God suffers fools. Thankfully. His goodness and patience and love, grace and mercy is beyond what we can fathom.
The good news is that it’s available to any and all of us!
Are you praying for your teens?
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. – 1 John 5:14-15