Make the Most of Your Teens’ Hard Questions

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Children are question-asking machines, aren’t they? They can drive a parent crazy! “Daddy, why is the sky blue?” “Mommy, who made God?” Innocent questions like those are replaced as they get older, though. “What do you mean, I can’t go out on Friday night? How can you be so cruel to me?!” It almost makes a parent wish for a return to those endlessly repeated “Why?” questions.

Does it have to be this way, though? Do the interesting questions have to disappear when they grow up to be teens? No, they’re still there. They’re just waiting for an opportunity to come out into the open. And it’s a very good thing when they do.

Jesus loved questions. He asked questions over and over again. More striking yet, was the way he drew questions out of others. In the Gospel of John, for example, he provokes questions from Nathanael (John 1:48), the Jewish leaders (2:18–20), Nicodemus (3:4, 3:9), the woman at the well (three questions in 4:9–11, 4:20), the disciples (4:33), the crowds (6:28), and Peter (6:68). And that’s just for starters!

Jesus used questions to teach, to motivate, to provoke, and often to expose people’s true hearts. Is it any wonder, then, that when the Fuller Youth Institute studied why young people walk away from their faith when they leave home, one of the most important factors they uncovered was their parents’ openness their questions? (Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids by Kara Powell and Chap Clark, Zondervan, 2011.)

Of course, as parents we have a problem: we’re not Jesus. He always knew how to answer. We don’t, and that can make things rough. It’s one thing not to know how to answer when our three-year-old asks why the sky is blue. It’s quite another not to know what to say when our sixteen-year-old insists on knowing why we’re “anti-equality” or “homophobic” for not approving of same-sex marriage.

In fact, there may be only one thing worse than not having answers: not realizing that our teens are getting answers anyway. Think about it. They have friends with opinions, are watching movies and TV with opinions, and listening to music with opinions. That’s where they’re getting their information to develop their own opinions.

Could your own halting, unsure answer be any worse than what they’re getting from everywhere else?

Well, yes, it could, actually. Here’s one particularly bad answer I’ve heard told many times. “I went to my parents (or my pastor) with my questions, and they just told me, ‘We don’t ask those kinds of questions here.’” Or another similar answer, “The Bible says it, so believe it!”

Have you ever noticed that Jesus never said anything like that? He welcomed questions. He knew the answers, but he didn’t always give them. Even when he did, he provoked even more questions. For example, what could be simpler than to say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”? Yet how many sermons have been spoken, how many books written, trying to explain just what “poor in spirit” and “kingdom of heaven” mean?

Jesus never cut off anyone’s questions, not even rebellious ones, such as the ones the Pharisees asked in Matthew 22:15–22 (paying taxes to Caesar) or Matthew 21:23–27 (the source of his authority). In the one case he amazed the people with his answer; in the other case he shot a question right back at them, and it wasn’t until they refused to answer that he also refused. By then, though, he had led them to reveal for themselves the one answer that really counted anyway: their hearts were in the wrong place.

We aren’t Jesus. We don’t know all the answers. Sometimes we have to look them up. Sometimes with our teens that’s the best answer of all: searching it out together. It does three good things for them at once.

First, spending that time together builds our relationship with them. They see our humility, observe our curiosity, and sense how much we value them as people. That by itself is enough reason to work on answers together.

Second, we can demonstrate our respect for our teens’ questions. This will contribute to a lifelong openness to questioning and learning. Did you know that words relating to knowledge, study, and teaching occur an average of about twice in every chapter in the New Testament? The Bible is all about learning.

And third, if we look in the right place, there’s a great chance we’ll find the answer they’re asking for. I’ve spent years dealing with atheists’ and skeptics’ hardest questions, and I’ve discovered that for every challenge raised against it, Christianity has a solid answer that can satisfy a reasonable mind. All it takes is some research in the right places.

Our children’s questions change as they grow up. They get harder. They become more complicated. They grow more and more important as time goes on.

Since questions are so important, I’ll leave you with some questions of my own: What questions are your teens asking you? Are they asking their real heart questions? If not, how can you draw those questions out from them?

The way you answer those questions may determine your future relationship with your teens. It could even make the difference in their future relationship with Jesus Christ.

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