How Can You Tell If Your Teen Is Questioning Their Faith? And Are You Sure What To Tell Them?
Updated: Mar 31, 2021
Did you know that according to research from Harvard Medicine, Vitamin C doesn’t actually provide any benefits to those suffering an incoming cold? Yet we’ve believed it because it’s been repeated so many time for so many years. How about the saying “God won’t give you more than you can handle?” Guess what, that’s not in the Bible. But it’s something that even our students believe and subsequently struggle as a result. These are sayings that have been repeated and that we may have even repeated, but saying something over and over again doesn't make it true. But knowing that doesn't stop our kids from questioning their faith and even coming up with some great questions that we've probably been pondering as well. So if we aren’t even sure, how do we help them?
Even if we DID go to Bible School or a Christian liberal arts college our gut response is "but that was ages ago and that stuff can't really help me now." FIRST let me say, your teen questioning their faith is not a direct commentary on any failure as a parent. In fact, as we noted in our previous post: Why our teens want to argue with us there is not only a desire to "FLEX" our thinker and figure things out for ourselves, but they are seeking out the edges of the boundaries that we have kept in place for them. So relax, take a deep breath and resist the urge to think that their questioning has anything to do with you.
Our kids have a lot of information to sort through and they are being BOMBARDED with information and it's hard to keep up with what they are hearing. I'm talking FAR PAST common core mathematics or evolution. How about all that they hear on YouTube of from their favorite Twitch Streamer, or on Discord and Snapchat.
Take the word "tolerance" for instance. According to the Webster's 1828 Dictionary it means: The power or capacity of enduring; or the act of enduring or to bear. In plain English it means to put up with something. It doesn't mean that you have to like it or enjoy it, or even agree with it. Now look at what it says for that same word at dictionary.com: a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, beliefs, practices, racial or ethnic origins, etc., differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry.
I am sure you saw it: a permissive attitude. I can't just hear what you have to say, I need to allow it or I become a bigot. Take a look at the THIRD definition at the same site: interest in and concern for ideas, opinions, practices, etc.foreign to one's own. a liberal, undogmatic viewpoint.
The question is not, does your child have doubts, but rather, to whom do they turn when these doubts arise? The Bible is full of men and women who doubted, from Sarai, Abraham’s wife who couldn’t fathom how God could grant her, a barren old woman, a child (Genesis 18:1-15), to the apostle Peter, a man who refused to believe Jesus the Messiah would soon die (Matthew 16:13-23). Their stories remind us that it’s okay to have some doubts and questions.
This might surprise a few of you, but It’s not sinful to have questions, it's WHAT we do with the questions and doubt that makes all the difference. Consider the difference between Thomas and Judas. Both doubted that Jesus was the Messiah and struggled during his ministry to make sense of why Jesus wasn't fulfilling their ideas about what "Savior" and "King of Kings" should look like. The big difference come in what they DID with those doubts. Judas never sought answers. Not truly. When the truth didn’t fit his expectations, he walked away. However, when Thomas was faced with questions, he gave his doubts over to Christ and allowed Christ to answer them, which led Thomas to fully surrendering himself.
As parents, we have the opportunity to use our children’s doubts as teachable moments. Author Nicole O'Dell points out, “Parents should be thankful, not scared. There’s opportunity when there’s communication. God has a plan and He will use everything for good in the lives of His children. We can trust that even the times of doubt will be used for His greater purpose.”
Opportunity is an important key to the equation of helping our kids through struggle. It's important that we not only make ourselves available to answer questions that they may have but that we are also attentive enough to "pick up" on the fact that they are struggling. That being said, there is a great book from Hillary Morgan Ferrer that can help address many of the questions that our kids may have and even be able to foresee some struggles they may have with some of the issues that are coming up in culture as well. The name of the book is Mama Bear Apologetics.
What is apologetics? The phrase translated “to give a defense” or sometimes “give an answer” in 1 Peter 3:15 comes from the Greek word apologia, which literally means a “reasoned defense.” In our culture it's important to not only be able to give a defense for our faith, but to understand on a deeper level what it means to be able to think critically, to be able to make judgements on their own once they are off at college or enter the workplace. Even the little things like being able to define terms that we often hear and take for granted that they mean the same to us and they do others. This book is a great resource to get you started and to give you an understanding of how a lot of the arguments are being presented in today's culture. It's not an exhaustive guide to all things cultural but it will help equip you with the necessary resources to help you to spot the inadequate and arbitrary arguments often used to shame people into agreement. It's also not a replacement for knowing and studying the Word of God. As Christians, everything we do must be informed by the Word of God, His revealed Truth.
As Jennifer Slattery from Crosswalk.com point out "Parents, tough questions are going to come, but that doesn’t mean your teenager will reject your faith. In fact, if handled correctly, parents can help their teens turn a seedling of doubt into a deep and growing faith. Remember, growth comes from effective communication, sound teaching, the utilization of biblical resources, and the safety net of a body of believers."
In the mean time, whether you choose to check out Mama Bear Apologetics or not, you can try this:
1. Let them know their doubt is normal. Many times when I sit "knee to knee" with a teen who has doubts they are relived to find out: 1. they're not going to hell because they have doubts 2. That they are in good company of a person who has ALSO had doubts. 3. That you're in this TOGETHER and that you're planning on answering every question they have even if it means not having the answer right away. Since teens already fear isolation, it's good to remind them that they ARE NOT ALONE. I used to be caught off guard when I would talk to a teen and they would admit: I'm glad you said that, I thought I was alone in this.
2. Lean IN to the doubt. Doing this involves asking questions and active listening. It often means setting down the cell phone and giving them 100% of our attention. It may mean pulling over for a cup of coffee/hot tea or an ice-cream. That can even work to your advantage if asking questions means I get some one-on-one time with a parent and their undivided attention..free coffee is a nice bonus as well.
3. Interrogate the doubts. Where are they coming from? I have noticed an increase in these types of questions after a terrible shooting or cataclysmic world event. It's an emotion based question that is looking for a quick fix. Many of the emotions based doubts that we feel are lies that we have chosen to believe and can no longer reconcile. Remember even Jesus Himself used scripture (God's revealed Truth) to combat satan's desire to bring doubt to Jesus' mission. AND when satan turned to scripture, Jesus vast knowledge of the Word helped Him to point out where satan was manipulating God's Truth. If you can't find an answer, your teen will greatly benefit form you being able to honestly tell them: I don't know the answer but I will be happy to find out, or to use a more recently coined phrase: I'll circle back to that one once I have an answer.
4. Give Them Community I am a huge advocate for youth group. Not just because I happen to be a youth pastor, but because there will ALWAYS be cliques, we may as well help them to find one at church that can help them to navigate these times with others on that journey in a safe environment. MOST of the things that teens have questions about are talked about at youth group. A majority of the teens who come to Kristin or I for counseling are getting info from us that we typically teach throughout the year. That's not to say they won't still have questions, but the amount of their struggle is greatly reduced by having a faith community to turn to.
5. Pray, pray, pray Yeah I know this seems a silly reminder but how many times do we actually DO this? God hears us in our brokenness and pain and is moved to respond. In fact, if you've never read Stormie Omartian's: The Power of a Praying Parent, I suggest you buy/check it out. It's a great little book highlighting the power that we have when we intercedeon behalf of our kids! God gives wisdom and insight to those who ask it (Proverbs 2:6, Isaiah 33:6, It's even listed as a special gift from the Holy Spirit 1 Corinthians 12:8)
It is far better for your student to struggle within the safety and boundaries of your home. There you can help follow up, monitor, and guide them through their questions and doubt. Also, reject the notion that this is a commentary on your parenting. We ALL KNOW that we can do better, but as we've mentioned having questions and doubt is a normal part of finding our own faith. In fact, sharing these struggles with family and safe friends is an opportunity for them to partner in prayer!
LINKS we Mentioned:
Buy it here: Mama Bear Apologetics from Amazon
"How God Gives Wisdom" by Chuck Swindoll