22 Jan 2016

Those Teen Years: blessing or what!?!

I know this is how we feel: 'children are a blessing'..... but teens -- are something else!

There is a saying from Mark Twain that typifies the attitude many adults have toward teenagers: 

“When a child turns twelve you should put him in a barrel, nail the lid down and feed him through a knothole. When he turns sixteen, plug the hole!”
Today, it's more like when they turn 10!

Here is much wisdom from a man who lives deeply, resisting the world's mould and seeking the Kingdom. I highlights bits for us:

When we are out of sympathy with the young, then I think our work in this world is over. 
–George MacDonald

The teen years are often the most difficult in a person’s life. They involve intense struggles, feelings, and changes, many of which teenagers have a hard time verbalizing. Yet I believe that despite the turbulence of adolescence, these years can be a truly wonderful time. It may be a difficult period of life, but why should it be an especially negative one? I wonder if psychologists, sociologists, and the media have so overemphasized the downside of adolescence that today’s youth cannot help living out the stereotypes put on them?

Teen years are an age of opportunity instead of a test of parental endurance. Besides, there is something about youth that we adults need to learn from. It is often young people who push for real changes.

We have seen this time and again all over the world: the White Rose movement in Hitler Germany, for example, or the young people who demonstrated in Tiananmen Square in China, or the growing movement of activism against war, racism, and environmental exploitation here in the United States. Actually, the youth of our nation are not being given enough credit for the many positive things they have done and are doing, especially in light of all the outside pressures they have to deal with.

But all teenagers also struggle with certain emotional, physical, intellectual, and social challenges. Their internal worlds consist of a jumble of tensions: emotional highs and lows, a desire to be left alone and to be included, a need for freedom and a longing for greater responsibility, a feeling of invincibility and a fear of failure, questioning authority and the need to fit in, submitting to peer pressure on the one hand and adult authority on the other.

For this reason parents and teachers need to have extra-big hearts for young people. The battle around them, as well as in them, rages in full force. Very few teenagers pass through these years without at least a few bumps and bruises. Many are wounded for life. But this is all the more reason to see it as a privilege to be with youth: to work with them, to share their joys and struggles, to be a friend to them, and to guide them to what they are meant to become.

Teens share most easily with adults who have an understanding and acceptance of themselves. By revealing who you are, by sharing about the struggles you have had, and by reflecting on your own life experiences, you are inviting the young person under your care to do the same. Teenagers appreciate it when an adult is candid and up-front with them. For a teen, honest sharing means “I trust you enough to tell you the whole story.”

This doesn’t mean they will automatically share what they are thinking and feeling. Teenagers in general resent having to communicate on demand. It is rarely helpful to say: “Why don’t you ever share with us? Why won’t you say something?” This only makes teens clamp up even more. Our role is to express care and interest in their lives, and to do so through deeds, not by peppering them with questions.

Also, a good dose of humility can go a long way to reaching a teenager’s heart. Teens need parents and adults who will admit their own limitations and say they are sorry. Teens need to see that adults are human. One young woman wrote to me:
Most kids growing up naturally think that their parents are “the best.” At least this is how it was for me. They knew best and that’s why they had the final say. But when I got into my teen years, wow, everything turned upside down. I became very rebellious and was determined to fight my parents tooth and nail. The day came, however, when I realized that my parents were not perfect people. When I realized that my parents were just like me, that they had their own problems to deal with, that they made mistakes and wrong decisions and would also say they were sorry, my relationship with them began to relax. I could start to open up. It wasn’t just them against me.

I am glad young people question things. And they tend to question everything – especially if it’s something Mom and Dad hold to. They often think they know it all, and thus it is tempting to try and put them in their place. Granted, it is not always easy to determine if a child’s rebellion is serving the cause of good or of evil (hence prayer is such a powerful refuge and resource!), and teenagers still have a lot to learn. But we can kill our relationship with a teenage son or daughter – and teachers can erect instant walls between themselves and their students – if we fail to really listen to them. We should never talk at young people, but with them.

There is nothing worse for a young person than to be treated like a kid. When we treat a young person like an intelligent, thoughtful human being, that teen will eventually respond and most likely start acting like one!


Out of love for young people, we need to do everything we can to help them formulate their thinking and express their ideas.

As teens open up, it’s important to listen non-judgmentally. This doesn’t mean expressing agreement. It only means that you are eager to know what they are thinking and feeling and that you don’t get all worked up in response to some outlandish or contradictory remark. (they are dramatic; listen beyond the words and tone).

Adolescents are thinking about life, questioning and processing the values that have been instilled in them. They often try on different ideas (so don't panic and jump to conclusions too soon), much like the different clothes they wear. The feeling that “now I am an adult and I can do it better than you” plays a bigger role than we realize. They are in the process of formulating their own opinions and ideas.

They want to become their own persons and for this reason will often gravitate towards viewpoints that differ from their parents and the adults around them. In fact, they often would rather have their own opinion than be right. This should not be read as a sign of rejection. (ouch, but give them a chance to explore: like maybe visit other churches, try out clothes [you can maintain how much cloth there should be] & music [you can appeal to volume for peace at home]...

The main thing is to keep an open relationship with our teens. If they feel understood, valued, supported, and trusted, they will respond – even if begrudgingly at times – to our guidance. To nurture a relationship doesn’t mean we forgo speaking a straight word when it is needed or hesitate to set clear boundaries where necessary. In fact, despite complaints to the contrary, teenagers need and want limits. The issue is how best to set and enforce them. Teens, of course, will naturally push the limits. But clear boundaries communicate care and concern. Without rules and structure teenagers get the message that we adults do not love them or care about their well-being.
Again and again we need to find ways to let our teenagers know that we are there for them. We need to keep encouraging them. The word “encourage” comes from the French and literally means to give someone heart. Teenagers, like all people, need ten times more positive, supportive feedback than negative. Concentrate on their accomplishments, not on their failures.

Harold Loukes, the Quaker educator, writes: “The young do not need to be preached at; they need to be given a task.” We need to entrust young people with meaningful responsibilities. They need to feel needed. Teenagers do better, and are happier, when they have useful and necessary tasks that demand something from them. They want to be counted on.

I will always be grateful for how my father kept pointing me to use every day to serve others; that my happiness depended not on what I could get out of life for myself but in considering others. Young people need to know that every seemingly tiny deed of love can have a tremendous ripple effect. An act of kindness, or standing up for one’s convictions, adds goodness, instead of pain, to our world.
In my experience, young people will take up this challenge. It’s not a matter of pressuring them to follow our path or of making choices for them so they will do “the right thing.” It’s about helping them to see that only by turning to God and looking beyond themselves will their lives obtain true dignity and fulfillment.

gratefully from: Johann Christoph Arnold  {The Plough}

10 Jan 2016

The One Word we all need this year

The one word we all need...

that links New Year's resolutions to change, growth and celebration.

Yes, it's the big 'D' word we often consider dirty because it seems so hard to enforce.


If we won't discipline our thoughts, feelings, bodies, motivations and energies; they will overrun their banks. 

They will get unruly. They will fake a sense of freedom. They will lap you up and drown you under. 

I think that may be what happened way back in the Garden.

Before Eve reached out to accept the fruit and bite into it, she failed to rein in her imagination to the boundaries of obedience. Before Adam acquiesced and partook of it, he failed to retrieve the file called 'God has said' and let something else take over.

This is a mighty lesson for all our souls, and especially for us parents, teachers, leaders of all stripes.

If you are going to build your life, any life; then the big D word must feature prominently.

How is the million-dollar Q isn't it? Like this famous? The famous marshmallow test {if you have 4 minutes}

Which also means that the D word  connects Obedience, Free Will, Relational Trust and Rewards.

As a parent, coach, leader, I grapple with this for myself and others. And then eureka! Perhaps I can
take a leaf from the All-Wise!

Here's how God does it for his children; and we can imperfectly follow in it:

1. He accept us 
Before we could do a thing or feel even an itty-bit 'godly'; He sent his Son to die for us. It's a decision God made without reference to our condition or response.
I'm not the most diligent person ever; but God's acceptance stirs up a desire in me to be my best.

2. He gives us a vision
So much of what God says about his children don't make sense logically. While the children of Israel, yes, that bunch of wandering Arameans were stuck in the mire of their sins, God sends prophets who often painted pictures of incredulous future outcomes: rivers in the desert, peace, light to nations. If ever we whimper, God whispers, "You ain't see nothing yet".

when western Sahara meets the Atlantic..and how the waters shape it

3. He tells us there is a reward
God always leads by promises. Promised Land, Heavenly City. He invites, He draws, He woos. We continually confuse him with some other deity conjured by our guilt and fear; who scolds, pounces and withholds. 'No good thing will He withhold from those whose walk is upright' the Psalmist says. 'There is a crown of life' waiting. He even weaves rewards into the journey like celebrations of milestones. Maybe a rainbow, a surprise visit by a friend, a timely prayer, a kind helping hand, a new friendship.

4. He journeys with us
Isn't this our favourite part? The Immanuel bit. But before we get all chummy about it; let's remember God is not a tag-along. I have found so much relief and rest for my soul to remember that I am the passenger going for the ride here. Even so, I can particpate in the navigation, respond to the conversation, take in the views and record the sightings. Sometimes, i drift off and snooze even! But it takes discipline to stay on the road and not keep complaining about breaks!

5. He takes us through valleys and allows us to reap what we sow
We need to stop avoiding the tough stuff. They build muscle and stamina. We also need to understand and accept that the law of cause-and-effect is a universal law that the children of God are subject to as well. God is not SOS, heli-rescue, 'break the glass for emergency'. No one ever grows up who is always rescued.

6. He has a customised plan
This takes the cake! No cookie-cutter with the Creator. Run the race 'marked out for you'. We all run a common race; but each of us also has a particular pace, gait and even route (unless you like stepping on toes endlessly). This is so mercifully exciting! 

O look, my favourite! Now to reach for it...
And then, He gives us specifics for the 3 huge areas of our life:

your thoughts: renew them by anchoring back on your purpose
if something doesn't serve you, it's trivial and possibly a distraction. i don't store a lot of information like bargains and celebrities. they don't really impact my life direction or help me stay on course with my purpose to grow into who I am in Christ. instead, i check where my files are thin and weathered about God, my self-awareness, my love for others, my abilities and the needs of the world. I make sure i chuck material in those files regularly.

your feelings: redirect them by practising gratitude and praise
sounds holy-moly but would you rather hang around with a sulker or a smiler? From writing down gratitude on small slips, doing it on big charts, praying it out each night...find a way to remember to be thankful.

your time management: review regularly
slip-sliding is easy. Facebook and computer games can suddenly take up hours. Once every other week, just check in to see if your time reflects your priorities. If God is important, where in your schedule have you set aside them for it? If knowing your children better is important, where in your schedule have you placed that; and is watching TV with them the way to do it?
This is easy to apply to your work and finances. Use the priority principle.

Looks to me like Papa God has given us mighty ideas for parenting, for treating our fragile souls right and for being leaders who raise a missional people.

So, if you are looking to grow. You need the mighty D. There is no other way around it.

Thing is, besides the sloth juice that courses in our vein which makes our reflexes choose the easy way, there is plenty to weaken our resolve and cause our discipline to cave in.

This is why at the end of 2015, I did this Spirit-prompted exercise with the family.

What is one thing in the new year you will -


"... for God is not a god of confusion, but of peace..." ~ 1 Corinthians 14v33

"For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline" ~ 2 Timothy 1v7 

5 Jan 2016

One weekly habit that may bring on a revolution for human thriving

I go to a local market once a week or so to eat a hearty Asian breakfast of prawn or wanton noodles, topped off with a cup of kopi-si, coffee with evaporated milk (I suppose it's our version of skim). At that hour, the seats fill with two main groups of people: those grabbing a bite before heading out to work, or the elderly who are able to make their way to the market for a leisurely breakfast.

Some of the elderly folk have now become familiar and share their stories with me, and as I gleaned, I sense my soul ripened in the shade of their life-lived-brave.*

 hawker centre

Today, I meet a lecturer at the market I recall has stepped away from her career to care for her aging and ailing father. We talked about Dementia and the elderly. It struck me how unprepared we are for every season of life, and how easily startled and prone to panic we are as a speci about changes that come with time -

We struggle as our children grow as if we were ever meant to keep them stuck to one phase.
We get all upset when the adolescents figure out their lives as they must.
We experience crazy tension and pull away when we join with another soul.
We feel the consequence of time as our bodies alert us to joint pains and our minds' filing cabinets haunt us even as we fumble to find the key to unlock them and retrieve that folder labeled 'who did I meet the other day?'.

This even though we know time and tide means we will move through these seasons, whether we like it or not. Why aren't we more prepared?

When we do prepare, why aren't we more human about it?

 Astute social commentators have warned us that our modern world of machines and gadgets will strip some of our humanity away and there's plenty of proof of that: we replace people with machines, we expect people to operate like machines, we measure people the way we measure machines, by output... and studies today show that even our minds are being fundamentally changed because of how we are tethered to our machines. [a good person to read is Jacques Ellul - French, and prgamatic!]. 

It looks like we won't beprepared still -- because we refuse to master the changes; but let them master us instead. 

family is what we have in the end, or not

Hospital talk is inevitable when we discuss the old. Her father was of robust health until an aneurysm slayed him. The medical prognosis wasn't cheerful and the hospital staff were dismissive and operated on the assumption that what she needed to do was quickly hire a live-in maid to care for the dad who will basically be dependent and subject to a diminished quality of life. But it was her father. She knew him. She knows what matters to him and she wants him to live as well, as he lived long.

There are those, the hospital tells her who are abandoned. The family becomes uncontactable.

What makes people abandon each other?

I return home to read my Scripture and I am in the Good News according to John. 

Jesus was near a pool where many invalid, lame and blind were gathered, for they hoped to get a dip in the pool's healing waters. Jesus singles out a man who he knows to be crippled for 38 years and asks him, "Do you want to get well?".

The man explains his difficulty. Of course he wants to be well but he cannot get to the pool without assistance.

I have heard many reactions to this story. Some blame the man for not being pro-active enough. Others suggest that he is one of those abandoned for his sinfulness. All these may be true; but let's read on to find the focal point of the story.

Jesus immediately spoke an authoritative and life-giving word and the man; probably feeling the healing, obediently takes up his mat and walks away well!

Jesus is not lauded for this act of mercy. The man did not even take notice of Jesus' features because he was unable to tell the religious leaders who had healed him!

Instead, Jesus was told: according to the system laid down by Moses in the law, you have sinned to work and caused that man to work, carrying his mat.

Jesus obviously knows the law, he explains it extensively in the rest of the chapter; but he chose to reach out to this crippled man and offer him wholeness.

I thought back to that ancient law: remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

'Holy' in the Bible is used on humans as an act of setting something apart; making it distinct, away from the regular, usual, typical.

Jesus chose that day to do something out of the ordinary: he refused to let the day get typical. He opposed the forces that kept that man crippled for 38 long years. He disrupted the day's order of business, social milling and religious observances to set a man free to live, and to have a chance to thrive.

Perhaps that is key to our thriving as a race. If once a week, we intentionally disrupt our self-absorbed routines at building our little empires of comfort, success and relief; and sought to really live. If we considered where we and those we know aren't well, alive or thriving; and act out of the ordinary about it.

Will families not be revolutionized by a weekly time of heart sharing, prayer and serving others?
Will our work-life not be revolutionsed by pulling away from the politics and grasping to a practice of empathy through prayer and caring actions?
Will our systems not be revolutionised if we introduce small and large ways to disrupt the usual faster, more, bigger; and choose intimate conversations, active listening, even slowly chewing our food?

A weekly habit of being slower, more intentional, more focused, can create within us a capacity that cannot be otherwise cultivated in our daily rush: the capacity to thrive as humans; full of creativity, passion and compassion.

And those of us who are children of God? Why not take a piece of his heart the way Jesus did and walk into the crowds, noticing those who are suffering, struggling, yearning - and risk a little backlash - to bring hope?

Yes, this weekly habit could bring about a deep sea change in your life and in our world.

*right click and select open in another tab/window to read this related post