Got a Teen? (Lean Hard)

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a fifty times, probably ten in the last two weeks:

God picked Sam for us and He picked us for Sam. 

So this match is a good match. A perfect match, in fact. Even if we struggle sometimes and butt heads. Even if we wouldn’t have picked each other. 

Our family is perfectly fit together. Because God’s ways are perfect and all he does is good.  Because God is always good

Leaning Hard

I’ve never doubted that. But, boy, how I’ve had to lean into that truth a lot lately.

Because disappointment and frustration and troubles of diverse parent-child types have disturbed our peace and bad, scrambled weeks have come around more often than either one of us would wish.

Parenting keeps teaching me- driving me, really- to lean hard on my sovereign, good God.

You more experienced moms out there- I hear you.

You’re nodding, now, and saying, “Just you wait. Keep leaning, sister. Keep right on leaning on the everlasting arms.”

I know it. I’ve been mom to a teen for not quite all of one day, but already I know you are right. I need God’s help. Letting said son have the last word takes epic resurrection power.

And while physical dependence equals immaturity or weakness, dependence on God marks the strongest of saints.

To a Different Drummer

Today Sam turned 13. The “teen-scene” is new to all of us. But Sam has never been our puppet on a string.  From day one- when I first held that stoic 6-month old in the the airport terminal- Sam has always been his own man.

Way back to that furry red, Elmo-basket hat, Sam has marched to his own (thanks, Dad) bagpipes-and-drums beat.

To this prone to bossing mama, God gave a strong son, who wouldn’t be overborne.  And while I might have wished for a kid who would play the sports and read the books and make the friends that I might pick for him, that’s not Sam.

Because Sam’s my beloved son- our A#1. And training him is a big means that God is using to shape me. To train me to cry out and pray when things don’t go my way.

And, for the record, nothing that pushes us to pray is a bad thing.

Humbled And Exposed

So I refuse to write-off or ride out these teen-age years. No, I want to exploit these years.

I want to be shaped by every ounce of Christ-conforming experience that these teenage years afford.

It won’t be easy. It’s not easy. When A#1 calls me out- my motives,  my computer use, my eating habits, my tone of voice- it’s humbling. Having our selfish ways exposed is hard.

In Age of Opportunitywhich I’d highly recommend for parents of teens- Paul David Tripp, nails this truth.

The tumult of the teen years is not the only about the attitudes and actions of teens, but the thoughts, desires, attitudes and actions of parents as well. The teen years are hard for us because they tend to bring out the worst in us.

Those years are hard for us because they expose the wrong thoughts and desires of our own hearts….These years are hard for us because they rip back the curtain and expose us. This is why trials are so difficult, yet so useful in God’s hands.

We don’t radically change in a moment of trial. No, trials expose what we have always been. Trials bare things to which we would have otherwise been blind.

And seeing those things, so we can change these things, is a good thing.

Rats in the Cellar

And we rejoice in our suffering. In our exposures and in our parenting disappointments and broken dreams and let-downs.

C.S. Lewis called those things rats in the cellar. So, too, the teen years expose us. But really, so did the infant years and the toddler years. All the years are capable.

Now he catches me micromanaging his alarm clock, and arguing about video game time, and being stubborn about hoodies and tennis shoes.  These are my rats in the cellar now. Some of my rats.

Like when Sam crept out from a nap early and caught me red-handed eating a forbidden food for a 3- year old. My rats in the cellar were brownies in the pantry.

And my snacking habits were forever changed, because I’d been exposed.

That We Might Not Rely On Ourselves

So while conflict and clash in this little clan can sometimes feel like a royal battle, they’re not. Sometimes I am hard-pressed, but I am not crushed, I’m praying more, leaning more and relying more on my God to bring his perfect will to pass than I did before.

And all of that is good.

Because we like to think we can pull things off- even things like raising kids- on our own. I think Apostle Paul felt like he could handle anything. He was intelligent and articulate and influential.

And, as Ray Steadman explains,

[R]epeatedly God had to break that, to put him in circumstances he could not handle, that he might learn not to rely on himself, but on God, who raises the dead. That is the major reason, I think, for suffering, which is the pressure that is designed to destroy our determined stubbornness. Paul has learned to trust God to take him through whatever life throws at him, no matter what it is.

No matter if there’s a teen-ager in the house.

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.

But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.

2 Corinthians 1:8b-9

Tuning Heartstrings

“[A] gracious heart is like a musical instrument, which though it be exactly tuned, a small matter brings it out of tune again; yea, hand it aside but a little, and it will need setting again before another lesson can be played upon it.” 

John Flavel, Keeping the Heart

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” 

Proverbs 4:23

My friend Hannah and I are reading a 350 year-old book together. It’s called Keeping the Heart and it’s by a Puritan pastor named John Flavel. As we sat recently, musing and quoting our starred, favorite lines, Hannah made a very resonant connection.  

“You should write that up,” I said. The rest of this post is what she wrote, only slightly fine-tuned.

Constantly Tuning

“[A] gracious heart is like a musical instrument, which though it be exactly tuned, a small matter brings it out of tune again; yea, hand it aside but a little, and it will need setting again before another lesson can be played upon it. If gracious hearts are in a desirable frame in one duty, yet how dull, dead, and  disordered when they come to another!”

Being an orchestra teacher, Flavel’s analogy instantly struck a chord.

Every day, every class begins with tuning. Some days it is a quick and easy process to tune an instrument. Other days it takes half a class period. And some days we tune at the beginning of the class period, only for someone’s instrument to slip out of tune at a few minutes into rehearsal.

The comparison is obvious: Simply put, my heart- mind, will, and emotions- need to be brought into correct alignment with God’s will and ways.

My heart needs to be in tune with His Word, His ways, His character – with the truth. But my heart is affected by matters both great and small, within myself and around me, that bring me out of alignment.

My heart, like my students’ instruments,  must be constantly realigned and adjusted and reset.

Gut Strings

Upon my first reading of Flavel’s analogy, that was as far as the connection went. But when I read it again, I thought about the time period in which Flavel lived.  Suddenly his analogy ran deeper and truer.

You see John Flavel lived in the mid to late 1600s. In that time, strings on instruments were made of animal gut, typically from a sheep. These strings were very temperamental and prone to going out of tune (and breaking). Once tuned, as Flavel wrote, “a small matter brings it out of tune again.”

The slightest change in temperature, humidity, or any other change in environment would undo the tuning.  A musician could play a Stradivari or Guarneri violin- which are still considered among the finest crafted stringed instruments in history-but their strings were gut strings.

Though capable of producing sweet-sounding music, gut strings were hard to manage, moody and in constant need  of care and retuning.

Oh how my heart resembles a gut string!

Temperamental, prone to going out of tune, and in constant need of adjustment. Yes, I am an instrument made beautifully by the Master Craftsman, but the strings on which I play, have been affected by the Fall.

This means I need tuning not just once in a while, and not just in one context of life or one time of the day, but in every context, every day.

Come And Be Tuned

Now back to the orchestra room for a minute. I think of my students who struggle to get their instruments to stay in tune. Some come to me immediately upon it going out of tune. Others look up at me and make this face.

It’s a face that I’ve come to know as the “oh-no-my-string-is-out-of-tune” face. And they sit there, making that face, as if the looking at me like that will somehow tune the instrument.

I used to respond to this face they make with annoyance, wondering, “Why don’t they just come to me? I could easily help, and I’m a only a few steps away.” That’s what I used to think, as my students would sit and look up at me, out of tune.

But I’ve come to respond to this face with a smile, and sometimes a chuckle, and say, “It’s out of tune, yes? Come to me so I can tune it.” Someday they may come to me right away, but for now they need the observant eyes and ears of a teacher and an invitation to come and be tuned.

I can say this to my passive, sitting out-of-tune students now because I realize how like them I am as I relate to God.

Go To The Master Tuner

I cannot tune my own heart. Try as I may, it just never stays tuned!

As it says in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Deceitful – twisted, untrustworthy, misleading. Desperately wicked – incurably sick.

What does one do with an incurable sickness? Take it to the master doctor. He also happens to be the Master Heart Tuner.

Like my students when their instruments fall out of tune and need my help, so I must bring my heart to the God, the Master Heart Tuner. Thankfully, He is not far off. And He knows just the right way to approach the instrument and the perfect way to tune it.

Sometimes the Master Tuner sets the instrument back into tune with great facility. But sometimes it takes a bit more wrestling with the instrument and strings to bring it into tune.

Eventually the “instrument” cooperates, though, and it is perfectly tuned. But honestly, like those old gut strings, it only stays tuned for a minute or maybe a few before the slightest upset brings me out of focus or alignment with God.

But that’s when Christ calls me to come to him. Like my students, I must to go back to God and be retuned. And He invites me to himself and gladly tunes me again and again and again. We come. He tunes.

And all the glory for any sweet tune we produce goes to the Master Tuner.

Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing

Tune my heart to sing thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount I’m fixed upon it
mount of God’s redeeming love.

-Robert Robinson

Hand Over Hand

I can’t do this, Mom. It feels weird. It’s too hard.

I’ll help you, Son. I’ll hold your hand until you get the feel of it. Cursive is hard.

HoH It: If it’s good and new, and really hard to do.

It’s the most basic, for the most needy. It’s the highest degree of help and the least amount of independence. It’s what therapists and teachers do when there is no other way to progress.

My day job proves it. When success eludes a student tracing a shape or cutting a line, we guide that hand. We go Hand over Hand, or HoH for short.

My mom job confirms it. The way to get squashy spoons held by chubby hands into target mouths and little-boy hands connecting those tricky cursive loops is to hold those hands in ours.

A funny thing about cursive: you need to know cursive to write cursive. You can’t be linking and looping and curving one letter smooth into the next without unless you already know how form each letter and connect one to the next. Cursive is a catch-22.

Which explains why Gabe’s first couple cursive “can’s” looked more like “rln’s” than anything. And why “and” looked a whole lot like “onol” and he wanted to quit two minutes in.

And why he needed help.

A Way Through Our Catch-22


Someone said, “Repenting is siding with God against yourself.” That’s hard. About the hardest thing we’ll ever do, since when we first believed and a thousand times hence.

Repentance means dying to self. And dying, even little deaths, is no fun at all. It’s admitting specific wrongs-like gossiping, breaking my word, being harsh with the boys. And who likes to admit he was wrong?

In a chapter of Mere Christianity called “The Perfect Penitent,” C.S. Lewis our dilemma-why we so desperately need God’s hand guiding ours to turn it right and repent.

It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death. In fact it needs a good man to repent. And here comes the catch. Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly. The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it… 

It cannot happen. Very well, then, we must go through with it. But the same badness which makes us need it makes us unable to do it.  

Can we do it if God helps us? Yes, but what do we mean when we talk of God helping us? We mean God putting into us a bit of Himself, so to speak. He lends us a little of his reasoning powers and that’s how we think; He puts a little of His love into us and that is how we love one another.  

When you teach a child writing, you hold its hand while it forms the letters; that is, it forms the letters because you are forming them. We love and reason because God loves and reasons and holds our hand while we do.  

Repentance is a gift of God. But it’s also killing part of yourself. Thomas Brooks wrote, vividly, “Repentance is the vomit of the soul.” 
It’s doesn’t feel good. It feels weird. We need God’s hand over ours to do it. 

God Grants Repentance, He Provides This Lamb

When Peter told the Jerusalem church how God’s great grace reached even to the Gentiles, Dr. Luke recorded this reaction: They glorified God saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:28). 
Matthew Henry wrote, “It’s not only his grace that accepts [our repentance], but his mighty grace that works it in us, that takes a way the heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh. The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit; it is He that provides himself this lamb.”
It’s how I forgive and give up the last word, how I refrain from anger and the only possible way I can kill selfish me and repent. God helps me. I want to, but it’s too hard, I pray. 
And He puts a little of His reason and love in me and away we go. I admit the wrong, see how I offended God, change course, and turn to Christ. 
But it takes a good person to repent. And I’m not good. But in grace, He made a way through. Your right hand supported me, David said, and your gentleness made me great (Psalm 18:35b).

When Dependence Is A Good Thing

I don’t want to push the analogy too far. The boys don’t need me to feed them anymore. And with a little more practice, Gabe will master those looping letters. In this life on earth, growing up means less dependence on mom and dad. Independence is good. It’s maturity. 
But in the spiritual realm, it’s the opposite. We’ll never get so mature that we need God less. Instead, as we grow in faith, we become more and more dependent on our Heavenly Father. God designed it that way: He wants us to rely on Him.
Because feeling strong and independent, writes Jason Meyers leads to a cesspool of self-sufficiency and independence that leads us away from God. Feeling weak is the best garden for the flowering of dependence upon God’s sufficient grace. 
Spiritually, dependence is good. 
Since the hand that created the world (Acts 7:50) and feeds it good things (Psalm 104:28), that both saves the righteous (Psalm 138:7) and avenges the wicked (Deuteronomy 32:41) is the very same hand that holds all our times (Psalm 31:15) and even our breath (Daniel 5:23), we’d best have that hand guide ours. 
Then I put a loving-mom hand on Gabe’s little-man hand.
And hand over hand, away we wrote. 

I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you; 
You hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel, 
And afterward you will receive me to glory.
Psalm 73:22-24