Tyndale House Publishers
Tyler was like most of the other fifteen-year-olds who attended our church. He came from a good, solid family—his parents loved God and were doing their best to raise their children. Like everyone, they had their struggles, but nothing particularly unusual. So you can imagine my shock when I received a phone call informing me that Tyler had died. Not only was the suddenness of his death shocking, so was the cause. He had overdosed on heroin.
When we began to peel back the layers of Tyler’s life over the next few days, I learned how a few bad decisions could destroy the life of a good kid. Long before, he had gotten mixed up in the wrong crowd and, in complete secrecy, had begun to do things his parents never would have imagined him doing. His parents eventually discovered that he had a drug problem, and they helped him through clinical rehab and biblical counseling. Everything seemed fine.
But one bad decision on one terrible night had devastating consequences. Tyler relapsed, and with one dose of bad heroin, he died in his room.
This is not the story of a kid from a bad family situation with negligent or abusive parents. This is the story of a middle-class American family—a mom and dad with good jobs who loved their bright, gifted son very much. This normal family suddenly found itself in a culture where a couple of mistakes can cost a kid his life. Tyler’s parents realized they were raising their children in a very defective world.
At the funeral, I got a glimpse of the perverse subculture in which Tyler died. More than a hundred kids dressed in black and adorned with satanic emblems had found their way into our church. They were products of a twisted society, so completely turned around that they could hardly discern the difference between good and evil. They certainly weren’t inhuman; in fact, one by one they got up and talked about how much they cared about Tyler and about how they didn’t want to end up dead, their lives abruptly cut off like his by a drug overdose. Most of them were from what we would consider normal, middle-class families. Their parents, in many cases, were just as caring and well-intentioned as you and I are.
What was the problem? Why are so many loving parents shocked to find that their children’s values come out so different from what they intended to teach them? The answer is that we live in a defective world, and good parenting can never “go with the flow” of the culture. That has always been true, but understanding it is perhaps more critical now than ever. Parents face enormous challenges today.
When I was in school, we got in trouble for throwing snowballs at the school bus or for chewing gum in class. The kids who were really rebellious smoked, sometimes daring to do it in the school restrooms. Some would even smoke a little dope. Every once in a while, a girl would get pregnant and have to drop out of school. There were plenty of opportunities for trouble, but those opportunities pale in comparison to today’s.
Now the stakes are higher. It’s possible for your children to make one wrong decision and be HIV positive. Or they can be unwise for a moment, get in the wrong car, and end up at a rave. They have almost unlimited options for getting involved in drugs. Your daughter can even take a drug without knowing it, unaware that the guy she’s with added a little something to her drink, and be raped while she sleeps it off. Or your children can go to school one day and come home forever traumatized from witnessing some of their best friends getting shot in the hallways. Life as a kid isn’t what it used to be.
Imagine falling asleep forty years ago while watching TV in your living room.When you dozed off, you were watching a sitcom about a normal, traditional family, the kind with a dad and a mom and two or three kids. When you wake up this year, the TV’s still on, but the normal family in the sitcom has one parent and children from two or three different marriages, or it has two parents of the same gender—and in either case, the children seem to be more “together” than the parents. Most kids growing up today don’t have a clue what a normal family is, and the average parent doesn’t either. Somewhere in the last few decades, we went from Ozzie and Harriet to Ozzy Osbourne, from Beaver andWally to Beavis and Butt-head. As the stakes have gotten higher, principles of parenting have gotten more difficult to uphold— and more neglected.
We need to understand the kind of world our children are living in. Many of your children’s friends have never been taught the difference between right and wrong because their parents either don’t know it or are too intimidated by the culture to insist on it. Responsibility has given way to relativity, and moral chaos is the result. The world has changed; it’s uncertain, it’s violent, it’s fearful, and it’s defective.
It takes incredible wisdom and discipline to help your children navigate through the land mines of change, moral relativism, information overload, drugs, alcohol, peer pressure, and sexual immorality. It’s even more challenging to keep them focused on living in a way that pleases Christ. Is it really possible for your children to grow up in all this mess and be godly, pure, responsible young adults? Can you be an effective parent in a defective world? Is there hope?
The answer is an emphatic “Yes!” There’s hope. God has a plan.
We have a book, in fact, that is filled with stories of cultures more vile and evil than the world we live in today. In the midst of cultures in which ritual infanticide, religious orgies, perversities like incest and bestiality, and rampant occultism were quite common, God raised up godly children like Joseph and Moses and Daniel. He even chose to enter the womb of a godly teenage girl growing up in a pagan empire, making her young motherhood the humble means through which He would visit our fallen planet. All of these young people revolutionized the future. Depraved environments never prohibit God from accomplishing His purposes through children of righteousness. He can take ordinary parents like you and me and, with His Word and the power of the Holy Spirit, teach us to help our children break through the culture and even transform it.
If you think our children’s crises are only reflected in extreme situations like Tyler’s, let me assure you that they can show up in anyone’s home—even mine. Parenting today is tough and often confusing. I know that from personal experience. As a teen, one of my sons went through about four years of rebellion. By God’s grace, he didn’t cross any boundaries that left enduring scars or irrevocable consequences on his life. At times he’d miss dinner for a wrestling practice; while I felt really guilty about this, I was incredibly relieved that he wasn’t there. The level of tension and conflict when he was around was so high it was painful. We were constantly at odds, pushing each other’s buttons, making each other crazy and angry. He was (and still is) a very intelligent kid, so he knew exactly which buttons to push. He’d get right up to my limit, then back away before I exploded. We drove each other nuts.
To be honest, I did a lot of things that, in retrospect, didn’t help him very much. We lived with unresolved conflict for years because neither he nor I really knew how to resolve the conflict. He got to the point of telling me that while I was an okay person, he wished I hadn’t been a Christian because he wasn’t sure he could buy any of this stuff about Jesus. As a pastor, that put a dagger through my heart. He could not have hurt me any deeper.
Even in the midst of our conflict, my love for my son was never broken. Love was what held it together when nothing else did. Through it all, God worked greatly in him and me, and he did a complete, dramatic 180-degree turn. Today he is a Christian songwriter and worship leader.
My son’s mom, Theresa, and I married when he and his twin brother were a little over four years old. The boys never knew their biological father, and I was privileged to adopt them two years after our marriage. But all the baggage and struggles that you can imagine have been a part of our journey. It took years, not months, for some deep connections to occur. Along the way, Theresa and I were blessed with two additional children, a girl and a boy.
On top of the challenges that come from living in a blended family, our family ministered for more than twelve of our kids’ most formative years in Santa Cruz, California, an ultraliberal, anti-Christian community in which the culture and public schools held beliefs that were 180 degrees from our own.
I don’t know what unique challenges your family faces. But whether or not you’re part of a blended family, you have to be prepared to help your children navigate some of the same potentially treacherous situations that Theresa and I did.
Will we fail sometimes? Of course. I hope I never give you the impression that it has all been smooth sailing for Theresa and me. We went through seasons of rebellion and times when we sat up in bed and cried in frustration because we had no idea what to do in this parenting journey—just like many of you have. I’ve been so mad at times that I’ve had to stay in the bedroom before I could talk to one of my kids, afraid that I might say something I’d forever regret if I didn’t. There are times when you’ll get discouraged and become convinced that your children are never going to change, but don’t give up. Raising children is a learning process, and no parent is going to get it all right. We can, however, glean some powerful, timeless principles from God’s Word to help us equip our children for the world they live in.
What I want you to know is that the pages that follow are not theory or pie-in-the-sky speculations of a never-had-a-problem pastor and his wife. This book is written from the grace-given experiences of a single mom who married a young, naive, would-be pastor, and both of them are first-generation Christians. It includes some of the lessons we’ve learned—both from personal experience and from years of pastoral counseling, psychological research, and Bible study—about bringing up confident, Christ-centered kids in a culture that is at odds with scriptural priorities. Specifically, the book discusses how to
Because we as parents sometimes act based on cultural cues and pressures we don’t even recognize, the book also looks at some parenting myths that run rampant in our culture and compares them to what Scripture has to say. Finally, each chapter ends with a section called “Putting It into Practice,” which lists a number of exercises and questions you can use to immediately apply the principles and practical ideas in your family life.
For many, picking up this book is a last-ditch effort. You’re discouraged and frustrated. You have children from two different marriages and possibly some out of your present union. Or, you are walking alone with the children you once parented in partnership with someone you loved. Almost all the Christian books and talks on parenting seem to come from the ideal biblical family perspective of one man, one woman, and the children from their union. They can make you feel as if you’ve missed your chance to raise good kids.
Unfortunately, it’s a fallen world, and the breakdown of the family has not left Christians untouched. Maybe you, like my wife, Theresa, came to Christ after being abandoned by your mate. Perhaps you came to Christ after a nasty divorce, or maybe you read these words with sadness and heaviness of heart because you and your spouse were born-again Christians who never dreamed divorce could touch your life. But the reality is that, for whatever reason, many reading this book are either single parents (like Theresa was) or are in a blended family with challenges that most people simply can’t comprehend.
I want to end my introduction with this encouragement: If God allowed Theresa and me to end up with four wonderful, godly children when the odds were so stacked against us, He can do the same for you. No situation is beyond His grace, and no parenting task is too difficult for Him to walk you through. Wherever you are in the parenting journey, He’s right there with you.