Teens and Faith

Kyle party

The Irvine Spectrum (an outdoor mall in Southern California) was crowded and noisy with holiday shoppers searching for post-Christmas deals. A storm was blowing in and rain sporadically swept through and drenched everyone in it’s path.

My fourteen year-old son Kyle and his buddy anguished in a long line to buy movie tickets for “Reacher” only to have the show sold out. Frustrated, the boys bought tickets for the next show and aimlessly wandered around with an hour to kill.

A group of high school students stood in the center of the bustling courtyard, oblivious to the rain, and motioned for the boys to come over. An athletic kid with spiky blond hair walked up to my son and stuck out his hand.

“Hi, I’m Shane. Do you mind if I talk to you a moment?” the young man inquired.

Kyle and his friend shrugged their shoulders and agreed.

Shane told them he was from Compass Bible Church and active in the high school ministry there. Then he asked the boys if they knew Jesus.

Shocked at his boldness, Kyle’s friend stuttered, “Uh, yeah, I mean sure…we go to Catholic school.”

Shane looked at him and said again, “But do you know Jesus?”

Kyle’s friend started laughing and confessed, “Well I do have a “D” in religion, so maybe not so much.”

Then Kyle’s friend walked away but Kyle remained. He was intrigued by Shane’s confidence and engaged in the dialogue. Kyle explained he was a pastor’s kid and told him about the church he had helped to start in Mission Viejo.

The boys talked for forty-five minutes about scripture and God and Shane’s passion for Christ.

When Kyle came home after the movie he sat by my bed for a long time and shared all that had happened. Kyle was visibly shaken by his encounter with Shane –this very cool kid, who was not afraid to share his faith.

I imagine Kyle feels like it’s something he has to hide to be accepted.

I asked him what they talked about and while he hinted at a few things he clammed up about his “private convo”.

I didn’t press.

Kyle shared that Shane had asked for his number to follow-up with him. He seemed excited that a kid his age was so passionate about God and confidant enough to share and evangelize publicly.

It struck a chord in Kyle and I loved the sparkle in his eyes.

I went to sleep in true spiritual comfort. I don’t know how many times as a parent I have prayed for my son to have an encounter with God –on his own terms. I don’t want it to be me forcing Jesus down his throat. I want my son to discover Christ’s love all on his own.

As a pastor’s step-kid, this dance of faith and church is a prickly path to navigate. If we push too hard my son will rebel, if we become apathetic he will have no anchor. Somewhere in between, with tears and prayers I hope my son will find his way to Jesus, not in spite of me or to spite me, but because God has become bigger than anything else in his world.

I know we pushed too hard in the past when we started the church. Church planter’s kids and missionary kids don’t always emerge on the other side singing hymns and praising God. They are forced to tag along for a rough ride they didn’t sign up for. I’ve seen many kids blow out and associate God with pain. When college hits, they turn their back on the church.

In the last year, I felt God sensing me to ease up on the forced free labor of my kids at church. They now volunteer and serve by choice and while my middle daughter can’t get enough, my son has been more reticent.

Letting him pull back hasn’t been easy.

I have forced myself to release the burden of his walk with God. It’s been both scary and simultaneously freeing. But as a parent of a teen it’s something I think we must all face if we are to allow our children to make their faith their own and not something they do to simply pacify us.

Don’t get me wrong, I will still drag his butt to church, pay for Christian school and occasionally make him feed the homeless, but I am confident that ultimately, I can release my son to Jesus -the one who loves him even more than his doting mother.

And clearly God is revealing himself to Kyle in ways I could never orchestrate -spiky hair and all.

How do you navigate faith with your teen?

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