planting soil in egg cartons

The tween and teens years are a pivotal point in the faith journey for young Christians. It’s when children’s beliefs separate from their parents’, like seeds carried from a flower on a breeze. And like seeds, those beliefs need the right conditions to flourish. Here are four strategies for growing faith in your tweens and teens. 

Each spring, egg carton halves filled with potting soil are found on my kitchen windowsill. Great expectations fill my imagination as seeds are planted in these ideal circumstances. When those seeds sprout inside our home, the baby plants are safe from an untimely frost, a brutally hard rain, or a misplaced foot that may trample them. It makes me smile to watch them grow. Every year, I find it hard to know exactly when they are ready to be transferred to the outside world of my garden—even with the effort I have invested in protecting them throughout their early days, they still feel vulnerable, and I don’t want to botch their further growth.

Plants are not the only things that grow in my house. A quick slide of my thumb over the photos on my phone and I am transported back in time to round preschool faces, blanket forts, and lisping, squeaky voices. Once little people, now they look me in the eye or tower over me on long stilt-like legs, their voices low. These children of mine are growing up quickly, and it can be hard to know how to best prepare them to handle the outside world.

It truly wasn’t that long ago my kids trusted their parents implicitly; there was no doubt we knew best. Seemingly overnight, they have minds and feelings all their own. They are growing into their own people and that growth can be awkward. This transformation was subtle, and it sometimes leaves me longing for ‘the good old days’. I wasn’t expecting all I’d have to weather with my kids: the rollercoaster of moody moments, family outings being met with zero enthusiasm, and at times being made to feel like my ideas and perspective are ‘passe’. Nonetheless, wisdom whispers in my ear, “One day, right now will be your ‘good old days,’” and I am choosing to embrace this short season with budding adults living in my home.

Time is of the essence, and I am forced to grapple with the question of what matters most. There is so much I want for my children. I want them to be independent, responsible adults who are successful at whatever it is they have decided to do with their lives. I want them to make a difference, to enjoy life, and have healthy relationships. But what I want most for my children is Jesus. I want them to experience the awe-inspiring power of the gospel as they allow it to permeate every aspect of their lives. That isn’t too much to want, is it?

Yet in the world we live in, it often feels like it is indeed too much to desire. It feels like all of hell is against these children of mine—and quite frankly, it is. Satan is seeking to devour them. It is tempting to allow my imagination to wander to thoughts of how lovely it would be for them to live forever in the safety of our home, only receiving the influences we allow. However, that would be as unnatural as allowing my egg carton seedlings to grow into 6-foot tall sunflowers on my windowsill. As a mother of one tween and two teens, my role is to continue to curate a relationship with them that started years ago, one in which their faith in Jesus can grow and where God’s Word is demonstrated as a valuable, life-changing catalyst for that growth.

Jesus, a Master Storyteller, explained life in a way that not only makes logical sense, but is easy to remember through His parables. In Matthew 13, He explained four different outcomes when the seed of God’s Word is sown in a person’s life. Understanding these four things can help as we seek to plant the truth of God’s Word in the hearts of our children. 

watering can next to soil in egg shells

1. FIGHTING OFF THE BIRDS

“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them… When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path” (Matthew 13:3b-4,19).

“You do realize Mom—everyone I go to school with thinks that you must be an absolute idiot to be a Christian,” my son told me. He stands alone as he decides whether what his dad and I have poured into him is true. It is hard not to take his doubts personally. Simply because we believe the gospel is a truth worth basing your life upon, isn’t enough for him anymore. Most of his peers have already decided the Bible isn’t true, and there have been some teachers thrown into the mix who present convincing arguments as well.

Watching him grapple with doubt has been a terrifying experience. There have been loads of late-night conversations. Being available and open to a teenager who wants to play devil’s advocate is exhausting, but he has never needed anything from his father and me more. If we are not the ones to take the time to care, listen, and ‘get into it’ with him, Satan will certainly line someone up who will take our place. Saying, “I will look into that” when I don’t have a succinct answer to his question is a way of living out the grace of God to him and helping him understand God’s Word. Meeting our kids where they are—wherever that may be—and spending the time that it takes to help them personally understand God’s truth, is one of the most worthwhile investments we can make into their lives. As we stay committed to unconditionally loving them through their doubts and questions, we build a relational bridge to a faith that is growing to become their own and give the seed a good chance of taking root.

2. GROWING ROOTS

“Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away … As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately received it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away” (Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21).

Living out my faith in front of my kids and inviting them into my personal struggles has been helpful as they learn to grow their own roots. It is easy to think of my teenagers as bigger versions of the elementary school kids who used to rumble around my house—and that is exactly how they act sometimes! In reality, they are growing emotionally and are able to process things about my life with me. It takes some discretion to execute this, but I have been able to share biblical principles with my kids simply by sharing what I grapple with.

When I was hurt by a friend, I shared how I was wading through the conflicting emotions of forgiveness. This entire year has been difficult and I have shared how disappointed I’ve felt about cancelled plans, and how I don’t understand why God would allow things to turn out as they have, but that I am trusting He knows better than I do. They could relate and shared how they, too, were frustrated. I encouraged them to continue to exercise their muscles of faith in God’s sovereignty, and we were able to uplift each other by looking for the good in our circumstances.

Teaching my kids that life is hard, that feelings need to be processed but they should not dictate our life choices, is a counter-cultural concept. Modeling for them how to shift their focus from what they feel to a surrendered reliance on God gives them roots for a faith that will transcend circumstances and grow them deeply in the soil.

watering can next to plants in egg carton

3. PULLING UP THE WEEDS

“Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them … As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13:7, 22).

This third kind of soil in Jesus’ parable was full of thorns or weeds. Unfortunately, I am all too familiar with literal weeds in my garden and figurative ones in my life! The cares, busyness, and affairs of this world can take precedence over God’s Word and threaten to choke it out before it can grow and be fruitful—before it even has a chance to take root in our children’s lives.

Evil is plentiful, and keeping tabs on what teenagers listen to, watch, and allow to influence their lives can be a demanding job—but one that is worth our time. They often do not have the discretion to know what social media, the internet, and television will do to their hearts and sensibilities, so we need to help them set boundaries.

Some of the most subtle weeds are the ones that flower and look good. Often, what we could value as healthy, beneficial pursuits can turn into weeds when they make our family so crazy busy we do not have the time for relationships with each other. Sports, music lessons, and other extras can turn parents into activity directors and chauffeurs instead of life-giving influencers. If we do not want our children to value basketball over God, we must show them that priority by choosing when and how much we allow them to play. Teaching our kids how to make choices that give precedence to God, church, and His Word is a vital way to teach our children to weed-out things that might choke the priority of loving God from their lives.

seeds on bible next to plant

4. FOLLOWING THE TRUTH

“Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear … As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (Matthew 13:8-9, 23).

The last kind of soil Jesus included in His parable was the kind in which I started the seeds on my windowsill––the good stuff! When the seed of God’s Word lands on this kind of soil, it is heard, understood, and fruit is the result. Life change occurs!

I have been a church planter for the past 14 years, and if I have learned anything in seeking to disciple people into a vibrant relationship with Jesus, it is this: I cannot control anyone. These once tiny ones who are turning into adults inside my home are no exception. Sometimes, I wish I could. But—if I could—control would be all that would be occurring, and the faith that I so desperately want to grow within them would not be real. I cannot force my children to be ‘good soil’ who always receive God’s Word and allow it to impact their choices, endeavors, and relationships. However, as Ruth Graham used to say when people asked her about how she passed her faith on to her children: “You can’t teach your children to enjoy spinach if every time they see you eat it, you gag.” What I can do is live out a testimony in front of my teens by sharing how God has worked in my story.

“Did I ever tell you about how God led me where to go to college?”

“I knew I was supposed to marry your dad when…”

“I almost missed my dream job because I was being stubborn, but then God showed me…”

watering can next to plants in egg carton

My kids are at an age where they are not far away from making major life choices, and they are interested in hearing the stories behind mine.

“Can you tell me how you and Dad knew you were supposed to adopt?” one of them asked out of the blue. When we were adopting, they were too young for us to share that calling with them, but now they were ready for the miracle of that story and I was happy to fill them in.

Imparting my faith journey to my teens is a powerful, non-threatening way to share the life-changing message of God’s grace. While my kids may have been along for many of the twists and turns of God’s plot line for me, they have only recently become mature enough to understand how God has been tenderly growing me along the way.

In his book, “Crazy Love,” Francis Chan warns believers of the danger of thinking we are inherently the ‘good soil’. All of our stories have ugly parts where we did not allow the truth of the Bible to take root. Being real with my kids about those times in my past shows them God is able to forgive, redeem, and transform, no matter what I have walked through. These kinds of conversations take belief in God from a Sunday morning commodity to an everyday way of life.

One day, my 11-year-old daughter opened up to me as we walked along the river. “One of my earliest memories is when we were at someone’s house and I was being taken into a playroom by a babysitter. I think I was about 2. I turned around and saw you begin to lead a small group. For as long as I can remember, I have always thought of that picture in my mind as what adulthood looked like: leading Bible studies.”

I wanted to sob, but I played it cool. “Is that still what you think?” I asked.

“I know being a grown-up involves a lot more now, but that is still a part of my picture,” she said.

I smiled. There is an immense amount of comfort in knowing that for every time I have lost my patience, temper, or my very mind, there have also been instances when my kids have been along to see the gospel bear fruit in my life. They have witnessed the love of God impact their parents and it has not been lost on them.

I have no doubt that there will be difficult moments in the days ahead as I watch these people, who my husband and I have invested so much into, go out into the world. However, I also imagine great joy as I still get to be a part of their growth and hear the stories of how God is planting the seed of His Word in their daily lives.

 

Moms of teens and tweens: How have you cultivated the soil of your children’s hearts in the conditions discussed above? What advice or insights would you pass on to moms entering this season of parenting based on your own experience?

watering can next to plants in egg carton

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5 comments
  1. Amy, your words here are so encouraging and timely. I want to print this and post it as a reminder on the days when parenting my teen feels so hard. Thank you for pressing in and sharing such wisdom. Praising the Lord for your gift of writing and desire to encourage the generations.

    1. I am so thankful that these words resonated with you! The teenage years are so difficult to navigate. I am so thankful to have God’s word to guide the way! May God bless you, Leslie, as you impact your family!

  2. I love the application of this parable to raising teens! Practical, actionable steps we can all take to cultivate our children’s seedling faith in a difficult world. Thank you for your honesty and transparency.

  3. Amy, thank you for your words of wisdom. I am right in the thick of teen years, and I just remarked to a friend yesterday, that it’s not my favourite. Guarding our kids’ time and influences is a 24/7 task and I’ve told myself many times I’m not the person for the job. But God has entrusted them to me. These years remind me of my desperate need for Him and make me dependent on prayer. We will survive, right?!

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