Family · Things I've Learned

A Sacred History: Listening to the Heart of a Teenager

[PART THREE: I’ve got one final post about Gary Thomas’s concept of “sacred history”. I couldn’t help but be captivated by the idea of our stories with those we love most becoming a holy history. Links to parts one and two at the bottom.]

“Listening to God makes parenting sacred….True listening is an active discipline. Failing to listen is not so much a sin as it is a choice to live a powerless, uninspired Christian life…Because listening is an active choice of love, its greatest enemies are apathy and busyness.”
Sacred Parenting by Gary Thomas

We call Caitlin our guinea pig child. Her curse as first born is that she was recipient of all our fumbling, make-it-up-as-we-go, rookie parenting techniques.

For example, this is a story our girl likes to tell.

Her mom was standing on the couch in the living room attempting to hang curtains. (I have a vague recollection only, but no doubt it went down exactly this way.)  She enters the room, a tightly wound 13-year-old, and proclaims to the back of her distracted and precariously perched mother, “Mom, I really think I need counseling!” The reply? “Oh, sweetie, all you need is me and Jesus. You don’t need a counselor.”

End of conversation. Back to the important task of hanging curtains.


A sacred history? Oh what comfort comes in knowing how much Grace plays the leading lady by absorbing the shock of mom fails.

We were six months or so into the transition after our move from Texas to Kansas. Life still felt foreign and unsettled as we sought new everything. My own story that was grieving the goodbye to our old life mixed with a hearty dose of fear of the future deafened me to my daughter’s cry for help. I heard the words, but didn’t take the emotional time to really listen to her heart.

I’m pretty sure my internal dialogue at the time sounded something like, “Counseling? Get in line little sister, your mama needs it more than you. Where would we even go for such a thing? I’m having enough trouble finding a place to get the oil changed. Crap. I know we are ruining our kids lives by moving here. WHEN IS ANYTHING GOING TO FEEL NORMAL?”

You just gotta love the tectonic shifting years of middle school. Our stories were starting to splinter away from each other as she marched toward autonomy towing what turned out to be a fairly significant anxiety disorder. I’d seek to understand, only to be misunderstood. I listened to her heart and said some things right. I heard her words and said some things wrong. So many stories about fear and panic attacks and control. I had no idea what I was doing.

Parenting teens can be a such a blind dance, bumping around in the dark to music hard to hear.

Every story different. No prescription obtainable and I’ll be the last to tell someone how its done.

But experience with my three yahoos has taught me this. When I work to really see them? Listening to the heart of whats being broadcast through the angsty, hormonal airwaves of our home? Things go a little better.

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Here are four ways of heart listening that have helped me write a sacred history with my teens:

– Listen to Him, then listen to them – Leaning on your own understanding when raising teenagers is a sure ticket in the wrong direction. Listening to God, the Source of all wisdom, should be your go to practice, at the start of each day and in every single conversation.

-Avoid quick fix responses – It’s so tempting to take chrysalis moments offered up by your child and rip the shell off, rushing the process to make it less awkward, less uncomfortable, less hurtful for us. To sit (mouth closed) and listen to the heart of a struggle is to make a holy space, which is opposite of saying things such as “you shouldn’t feel that way” or “you just need or don’t need to ________”.

-Stop. Drop. Listen. – It seemed like my teenagers took the most inopportune times to bring up hard topics. Probably an unconscious strategy to stack the cards in their favor if the conversation got awkward. Teens need you to listen in the middle of your multitasking busy-ness. Stopping forward motion and dropping whatever is in hand helps us listen to the heart of what is being said. It’s a pain in the rear and rarely convenient. Be available. Physically, emotionally, mentally. Grab grace and restart conversations if you mess up the first time.

-Glue your ear to their heart – Listening to a heart is to hear what is not being said. Sometimes you’ll catch it, sometimes you won’t. It takes dogged persistence. Listen to body language, listen to their friends, listen to their choices, listen to the way words are spoken. You have to intentionally heighten your radar for what is going on inside the heart of this person on the brink of adulthood. As a parent, it would be easy as they enter the teen years to either collapse in exhaustion, all hands off the wheel, or create more rules in an attempt to keep modifying their behavior.  Somewhere in the middle, they need us to just start listening to the person they are becoming. Only then can we fertilize their hearts with the needed truth, allowing God do the heavy lifting.

There is no one right way. There are no guarantees or fool proof method. I wish there was.

I just know its been my greatest privilige and challenge to sit ringside, listening heart and soul as my chldren’s stories unfold.

“Building a sacred history together teaches us to be persistent in doing good, even when we want to do something else.” Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas

Here are links to Part One on marriage and Part Two on friendship.

2 thoughts on “A Sacred History: Listening to the Heart of a Teenager

  1. Love this! You have raised some amazing kids, with God’s help of course! Thanks for sharing these hard learned lessons and wisdom! Storing these pearls for later, it will be here before I know it!

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