It’s a pleasant memory.
My wife, Patty, and I are in our Jeep Cherokee, driving down the road. It’s a gentle sunny morning. We’re on vacation. Our two kids, JD (age 6) and Carrell (age 3), are in their car seats. Sandi Patty’s music fills the car. At the end of one song, she recites the following:
For Thou didst form my inward parts
Thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise Thee for Tou art fearful and wonderful
Wonderful are Thy works!
Thou knows me right well. -Psalm 139:13-14
JD and Carrell are smiling; in that moment, they get it. They know that they are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Fast-forward 10 years. Carrell and JD are now in middle school and high school. It’s harder now for them to be confident that they are the wonderful creations of a loving God. I remember Carrell’s tears over a verbal slight, suffered at the hands of her peers. I remember JD coming home one afternoon saying he felt invisible. What happened?
I worked with church youth groups and Young Life for 18 years. Sadly, JD and Carrell’s experiences are too common. The sense of being fearfully and wonderfully made takes a beating when you’re an adolescent. Granted, some days adolescents feel great about themselves. But lots of days they worry that they are not smart enough, not pretty enough, not cool enough, not coordinated enough. A lot of days they feel like their hair, their face, their clothes and their personality are all wrong. How did our kids morph from the smiling little urchins in the back seat into angst-ridden adolescents?
Fast-forward another 10 years. Today, JD and Carrell are well-adjusted adults. They are college grads, gainfully employed and leading full lives. They emerged from that adolescent angst in tact. As I reflect on their teenage years, I am tempted to say, “Well, that’s just what happens during that phase of life. Most kids go through it. That’s just the way it is.”
Well, maybe that’s often the way it is. But Psalm 139 suggests that’s not the way it should be.I’m not in the “every kid should get a trophy regardless of how they played” camp, but there are some things we can do to reduce the number of days that our kids feel like they aren’t good enough…
First of all, be vigilant. This is not a new idea. We are vigilant about movies and friends, about music and the Internet. But we need to be vigilant about something else: what happens at faith-based groups and events. If you’re like me, you tend to relax your vigilance in this area. It’s church after all – that’s supposed to be the one safe place we can count on. And it often is. But not always. I’m not talking about anything spectacularly horrible here; it’s more subtle than that.
The concern can be summed up with a simple question: how does the church youth group make your kids feel about themselves? Do they come home lit up or put down? Granted, every kid has bad days, and youth ministers aren’t perfect. But if your kids consistently come home from the youth group feeling badly about themselves, then it’s time to dig around a little bit. Don’t go overboard – you don’t want to humiliate your kids. But a few gentle questions are entirely appropriate, and any youth minister worth his or her salt will want to help.
The second thing we can do to help our kids feel good about who they are is to challenge Madison Avenue. The meta-narrative that undergirds almost all advertising is this: “There’s something wrong with you. Our product will fix it.” It’s a very successful approach. But the sad thing is that once the doubt has been planted, we discover that the product doesn’t really help. An occasional session where you sit down with your kids and point out how silly this approach is will go along way towards helping them see through this clever ploy. I mean really . . . can shampoo change your life? Is toothpaste the key to happiness and success? Sheesh.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, take care of yourself. Kids’ self-image is profoundly impacted by their parents’ self-image. So, how are you feeling about yourself these days? Seeing and celebrating the way God made you makes it easier to see and celebrate the way God made your kids.
So, keep up the good work. Your ability to see that your children are fearfully and wonderfully made, especially when they are in their teens, can be just the positive influence they need to hang in there when the world is telling them they aren’t good enough.
Someday, when your kids become adults like my son and daughter, they’ll thank you for all the love you’ve sent their way. And those words will be some of the sweetest sounds you’ll ever hear.
John Hambrick is part of the leadership team at Buckhead Church, the urban campus of North Point Ministries. His book, Move Toward the Mess, is available on Amazon and in bookstores everywhere.