Are My Kids On Track: Helping Kids Learn Mercy

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We interrupt this regularly scheduled chapter on spiritual milestones to bring you chapter 11 on Mercy—the chapter most directed toward early adolescence. Because everything about adolescence is, in fact, topsy turvy, this chapter will be, too.

Teenagers live in the here and now. In fact, their normal development mimics many characteristics of AD/HD. A friend of mine whose daughter has AD/HD described her as having two time frames in her mind: now and not now. The same is true for teenagers. Now and not now. And so we’re going to step inside their brains and see life and faith a little more from their perspective in this chapter. No waiting around for building blocks after all the stumbling blocks are over. It’s not that straightforward—in their minds or in our experiences with them. It’s more like a building block, then a stumbling block, then a block that can be either. This season of life has the least order and logic of all. It’s confusing . . . for you, and even moreso, for them. But it is also profoundly rich. They live in a place of paradox. Their strengths and weaknesses tumble over and into one another. They’re full of some of their best and some of their worst stuff in these pre-teen and early teenage years. Amazing and hard things are happening inside of and around them. But, don’t just take our word for it. Take our friend, Elizabeth’s.

Dear Melissa,

I just wanted to write you because I feel like I haven’t talked to you in so long. 8th grade has been pretty fun! It has been pretty fun although a few parts have been rough. My dog, Gideon, died pretty recently. I admit; I struggled but do you know what helped me even though I was angry with God? It was your words this past camp. You talked about being willing to give back to God what he had already given us and although I was reluctant to not be angry with God, I worked through it. Anyways, moving on; I have great friends, good grades, and I still love pets. I may want a puppy for Christmas and I think my dad does too. How are you? Have you done anything fun lately? Oh also; I have the best friends I ever had in my life plus camp Hopetown friends. There’s one girl named Megan and she is the kindest girl ever. She always is there for me and is the best! Then, there’s Ashley. She is super crazy and spunky. Britney is super fun and she invited me to the Taylor Swift concert and we had a blast! Kara is hyper and sweet and actually I can’t name all my friends. There are too many. I love you and hope to see you soon!

Elizabeth

PS. I am friends with this boy and he’s pretty nice and all and my mom knows and everything and my friend mentioned above, Ashley, the crazy one, says she “ships” us. That basically means she wants us to be a couple. Oh and my friend Megan likes this boy named David and we call them Mavid. Wow; I basically just told you everything. Anyways, back to Mavid. There is a girl named Maria, also known as Shark, who is trying to steal him which makes me angry. I know it seems silly but it’s a little annoying to my friend.

Heart, Elizabeth

There are many things that stand out to me in Elizabeth’s sweet letter, besides the fact that she’s obviously learning the proper use of semicolons. She also feels deeply. She has the best friends she’s ever had in her life and felt anger at God for letting her dog die. You can hear underneath her words the longing to connect, to understand—and the capacity to do both in greater depth than ever before.

I haven’t had a chance to write Elizabeth back (mostly because I’ve been writing this book). But I want to soon. And here’s a preview of what I’d like to say.

Dear Elizabeth,

Thanks for your letter. I love that your friends mean so much to you and bring you such joy. I’m interested to learn more about this boy that your friend “ships” you with. I’m sorry about your Gideon. I know you loved him so much. I also know your heart feels things deeply, and I want you to know that God can bring you comfort just as deeply—even more than you hurt over missing Gideon. I want you to know how impressed I am that you’re wrestling through how you feel toward God about all of this. I’m honored God used my words from camp. But mostly, I’m proud of you for working it through and wanting to give back to God what He has already given you. And He has given you so much . . . inside of and around you.

And I want you to know that “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your heart through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”( Ephesians 3:16–19 niv).

I love you and hope to see you soon. Melissa

I do love Elizabeth. I know her well. In fact, she’s a lot like a granddaughter to me. I also know her parents well. I know they have done with her, to the best of their abilities, everything we’ve talked about in the previous chapters on spiritual development. She has a strong faith foundation. They’ve read Scripture with her. They’ve had family devotionals and prayed with Elizabeth “as they’re going along.” In literal and figurative senses, they’ve written truth on the doorposts of their home.

Elizabeth also has discovered much of her identity. Her identity is rooted and established in who Jesus is and His love for her. But, she’s also a teenager. And that identity, in particular, is challenged often and indiscriminately for every adolescent.

As we said before, teenagers live in the here and now. There’s an immediacy to everything . . . an impulsiveness, even. In the midst of that immediacy and impulsiveness, they can become profoundly preoccupied with themselves and the people closest around them (mostly, their peers). They don’t naturally reflect or look back. They’re in the now. They’re looking more to—to their friends and even their “ships” to determine who they are. They have trouble reflecting on and remembering their true identities, if they even had them in the first place.

If a teenager doesn’t have some sense of their identity going into this stage, they’re going to have a much harder time finding their way to mercy. Mercy requires reflection. We (and they) have to look inside of ourselves with courage to grasp both the importance of and necessity for mercy. They can, really for the first time, in these early adolescent years. But they need some degree of confidence to have the courage to look.

Thus, the chapter on identity that came before mercy. We want them to have an identity that’s been mirrored back to them, to know that they’re loved and unique and special. We want them to have a sense that God has called them by name. They matter. We want to build on their foundation to help them find this kind of identity. If they haven’t found it, they’ll become even more lost in trying to prove themselves in these teenage years. They need an identity to be able to move to mercy.

But we want them to move. We don’t want them to get stuck in their special-ness. None of us ever feel special long enough, and the fleeting fulfillment of that search can keep us in a narcissistic spiral. There’s more to us and for us than that. And for them.

We want them, just as I do Elizabeth, to grasp how high and deep and wide the love of God is for each of them. We want them to be rooted and established in God’s love in a way that matches the depth of all that’s happening inside of them in these years. We want to take the truths we’ve taught them thus far, the prayers we’ve prayed with them, the Bible studies they know and find more. We want to encourage them to ask more. We want them to have the courage to reflect, to look inside, and to find the mercy that can match all that’s being awakened in their adolescent hearts.

Pick up a copy of Are My Kids on Track for more help in teaching your child this important milestone of mercy.