Somewhere between teaching our kids discipline and helping them understand that negative attitudes and actions come with consequences, we need to find room for the Gospel. And the Gospel requires grace. What is grace? It’s often been defined as an acrostic:
A more simplistic definition for grace is “undeserved or unmerited favor.” If you’re dealing with a troubled teenager in your home, it’s pretty likely that favors are not being earned—but then, that’s not what a favor is, is it? It’s something unearned, something kind and gracious that we do for someone simply out of love. That love is also unearned: It flows out of the character of the giver, not the essence or behavior of the one being favored.
Cultivate a Gracious Disposition
The sun and rain benefit godless people as well as those who honor God (Matt. 5:45). The thief on the cross goes to the same heaven as Peter, who was crucified for following Christ.
If those kinds of seeming inequities bother you, what about the Prodigal Son’s celebrated return? We can self-righteously pout, like the Prodigal’s older brother or the early workers in the Parable of the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), or we can see ourselves for who we really are and appreciate God’s grace.
For some “really bad sinners,” gratefulness comes fairly easily (Luke 7:40-50). However, when we don’t see ourselves as deserving of grace, we fail to be thankful. When we humbly understand our unworthiness of God’s favor and all His good gifts to us, we’ll be on our way to developing an attitude that lends itself to grace (James 1:17).
Seek Out Opportunities To Show Grace
We certainly don’t want to confuse our kids and make them think that wrong behavior is being rewarded; at the same time, there should be some gestures of love and affection that we graciously shower on them simply out of love. Our love should not be withheld, no matter what our children or teens do. I cringe when I hear of families failing to celebrate a misbehaving child’s birthday or leaving them behind when they go on a family vacation. Banishing them to their bedrooms for hours on end and withholding communication or other forms of relational connection can be equally hurtful.
Demonstrate Grace-filled Communication
Even when your teen’s voice seems to be filled with venom, you can show grace by answering with gentleness and kindness (Prov 15:1). While they may seem to deserve harsh words or extreme forms of communication like the silent treatment, you can show grace by treating them better than they deserve to be treated. Returning evil for evil (I Thess 5:15) will probably only escalate the situation, anyway, and lead to further negative communication (Eph 6:4).
When you cultivate a gracious disposition, seek opportunities to show your teenager grace, and use gracious communication patterns, we’ll be living, breathing examples of the Gospel that can save their souls.