Parenting teenagers can at times seem harder than studying nuclear physics. At least with physics, you have known laws and expected results. But while dealing with teenagers is often amiable, getting the desired results isn't always as certain as I'd like it to be.
When my kids were younger, they'd come running to the door, shouting, "Daddy's home," and launch themselves into my arms. Now, during these critical teen years when they are spreading their wings and making decisions that could affect them for the rest of their lives, they are eager to be independent operators.
So I have to balance my longing for them to make the right choices against the experience they get from making their own mistakes. And I often ask myself how to be sure that my efforts to discipline them are filled with the love they need and that I want to give.
The writer of the book of Hebrews in the Bible spoke wryly of this when he compared the divine chastening God sometimes gives us with that of a strict father. He said, "If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?… Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?" (Heb. 12:7, 9).
God's chastening is always firm, but is never accompanied by condemnation or anger. God is Love itself, as the Bible reminds us, and so the correction is done without making us feel worthless. Christ Jesus referred to God as "Father" in the prayer he gave his disciples – the Lord's Prayer – as we know it today. If you review that prayer (it's in Matt. 6:9-13), you'll see that it asks God's help in meeting all our needs, and having that help can make all the difference when things go wrong.
Not long ago, we received word that our teenage son had been involved in some behavior that was unacceptable at school. He clearly should have known it was wrong, and I'm afraid that my first response was anger. Normal counseling procedures probably would have had me count to 10 (maybe several times) to "channel the anger." But I've learned over the years to turn to spiritual means, not just good human counseling techniques, to solve problems. In other words, I needed to center my thoughts on God. At that point, a poem by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, helped me. She wrote,
And o'er earth's troubled, angry sea I see Christ walk, And come to me, and tenderly, Divinely talk.
("Poems," p. 12)
The spiritual, Christly standard for discipline, I saw, had to be to "tenderly, divinely talk." There could be no anger, no condemnation in this divine conversation. I felt healed of the anger and chastened in a truly heavenly manner.
When my wife and I began our conversation with our son, I was very grateful that I had this model to help me. We didn't berate him, and he didn't fight back. There was no anger. It was a civil conversation, marked with love on both sides, in which he acknowledged that he'd made some wrong choices, and that he was aware that we were doing our job as parents in helping him reach that conclusion. For our part, we were grateful to see his dawning maturity. Had we gone into the conversation filled with anger and condemnation, we would probably not have seen that.
The Christly standard of tender, divine talk is strong and effective. Yielding to the touch of Christ can transform not only the family but our business and professional relationships. Christ removes us from high drama to a God-based activity where all are equally empowered to express the divine Love that animates us.