“Secretly in our hearts, many of us want life to be a resort. A resort is a place where you are the one who is served. Your needs come first, and you only do what you want to do when you want to do it” (p.31).
We can all relate to wanting life to be an extended stay at My Resort. How often we wish for just a bit of free time, extra money, relief from the anxiety, people to appreciate us, or freedom from pain. For parents of teenagers this desire often collides head on with the mountain of parenting needs around us—driver’s ed., college choices, refrigerators with holes in the bottom that take all the food, sexual purity, issues with their peers, their walk with God, their choice of clothes, and the list goes on and on. My Resort sounds pretty good at times, doesn’t it? A more sobering truth is that sometimes our desire to live at My Resort tempts parents to see their teenager as “the enemy.” As Paul Tripp describes, “They will begin to fight with him rather than for him, and even worse, they will tend to forget the true nature of the battle and the identity of the real enemy” (33).
Paul Tripp’s Age of Opportunity is written for people tempted to live at My Resort but entrusted with the sobering call to parent teenagers. His knowledge of our temptations combined with this courage to speak God’s Word to us make the book particularly helpful. From the first to the last pages Tripp provides excellent council and specific instruction, so a review like this cannot hope to give you a full picture of what he says. Here are a few highlights well worth mentioning.
First, the greatest obstacle to our parenting is ourselves. It is often our selfish desires that keep us from doing the hard work of parenting. We often choose these “idols” instead of the responsibilities before us. One such desire is “comfort.” If we want comfort more than the character of our teen parenting will be a challenge. Another is “respect.” We lash out at our teen not because they are sinning against God, but because they are defying our authority. “How dare they give me attitude after all I’ve done for them!” At times we bow before the “idol of success.” We get more embarrassed by how our teens appear in public than sincerely concerned about their heart for God. Maybe we are tempted by the “idol of control.” If we want control too much we will get angry when anger is not appropriate, we will take personally issues that aren’t personal, and we will likely fail to do the hard work of persuading, explaining, and instructing that this season demands. Understanding our idols helps us to battle or selfish desires when they appear.
Second, parenting teens must be about the heart of the teen. Luke 6:43-45 tells us that “the good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.” If our parenting does not reach the heart of our teen, they will never “bring good things” into their lives. They might play-act and look good, but when they leave the home the real good or evil “stored up” in their heart will come out. “So, the goal of parenting is not to focus on getting the right behavior, but to shepherd the hearts of our children” (49).
Third, the book of Proverbs knows our teenager better than we do. Tripp has an excellent section where he walks through Proverbs 1-7 to show us how the Bible diagnoses the heart of our teen. They lack wisdom, have a tendency toward legalism (more inclined toward what they can or can’t do than seeing that life requires wisdom), tend to lack wisdom in choosing friends (83), are tempted by sexual sin (85), lack an eternal perspective (87), and tend to lack a true “heat awareness” (89). None of these are surprises, but it’s always helpful to remember that God’s word is our authoritative guide even in areas that strike us modern, unique, and personal.
Related to the topic of wisdom, he mentions that one goal of parenting is “developing a heart of conviction and wisdom” in our teen (128). By this he means building in them a sense of the difference between a “conviction” which is where the Bible speaks clearly and demands our obedience, and a “wisdom” area where the Bible speaks less clear and we must think well to make a good decision. Sexual purity demands their conviction, not their creative thinking. Yet, whether to miss a church event for a soccer game might be a wisdom area.
Fourth, developing a heart for God in your teenager must be a preeminent goal. His chapter on developing a heart for God in our teen is probably the best single chapter of the book. He looks at reasons why teens often do not imitate their parents’ love for God. Perhaps their parents have created too much “familiarity” with the things of God and not enough sincere joy and excitement (171). Perhaps we have simply let our schedules remove all the opportunities for teaching and mentoring in the things of God (173). As he says, “You simply cannot mentor, pastor, disciple, or develop children whom you are seldom around” (174). Perhaps the answer is more sobering still: “hypocrisy” (175).
What does a heart for God look like? It means they have a “personal pursuit of God.” It is “personal” so they are a “spiritual self-starter.” It is a “pursuit” and so we observe real effort on their part to honor the Lord in their lives. It is a pursuit “of God” and not looking good or cool or staying out of trouble. Such a heart will pursue Christian fellowship with other teens, be interested in spiritual matters, and be open to input from their parents.
How do we build such a home? We work hard at basic things like “family worship” (185). We continually point them to Christ as the Answer to all their problems. This means, of course, that we need to do this and believe this ourselves! The Bible is to have a central place in our family’s life. There are also less obvious things we must do. We must be vulnerable before them by confessing our sins to them (sins against them, that is). We need to be open about our spiritual struggles and victories as is appropriate. Our home must be a place of prayer. Most challenging of all, we ourselves must have a heart for God (189).
Fifth, our parenting must include “constant conversation” (222). One distinctive of Age of Opportunity is the continual emphasis on conversation. The teen years are a season to have a lot of conversation with our teens. Some of this will be planned and prepared for, but many times it will be unexpected. Saying good-night to them they might make a passing comment about a friend. Two hours later they have told you things they have never revealed. A bombed test becomes a golden opportunity to talk about diligence and character. A friend at church makes fun of them in a hurtful way and suddenly there is opportunity to discuss fear of man and many other issues. As parents we must have our ears alert to such occasions.
For most of us, parenting is the hardest thing we will ever do. It stretches us in ways we never expected. It forces us to think through issues we always assumed (Well, why am I opposed to belly-button piercing?). It pierces our idols in ways we won’t appreciate (Surely first thing in the morning is a better time for this conversation). Yet, God’s grace is there. God himself is there. His Word is sufficient. His grace is sufficient for all sinners and all weaknesses. Part of his grace for you might come through Paul Tripp’s Age of Opportunity. Check it out.