Teenagers use to scare me…

Teenagers use to scare me, but now, I truly love them. Ages 15-18  are my favorite. I get to sit with them in my counseling office most days, and they have so much to teach me. I am amazed at what they have endured and overcome. They are the truly brave ones. 

If they have made it to my couch, then there is a guarantee something hard has happened. Many of them show up because they have asked for help. Some of them are forced by mom and dad. These kids, they are trying to understand so many adult things in their broken world and their developing brains and their bodies are trying to catch up. Many of them have been bullied,  most of them have had sexual encounters, a lot of them would say, “Parents just don’t understand.” I want to understand. I want to be the parent, the adult in the room, that understands. Don’t you? Don’t you want to be the safest place in the world for your teen? 

According to the American Psychological Association, teen stress levels were reported as higher than those of adults.  Teen depression, anxiety and suicide rates are at an all time high. They truly are bleeding hearts, and they are tugged in so many directions, emotionally, physically, spiritually. They have so many questions, ones they are afraid to ask out loud. They have so many fears and condemning thoughts. They don’t think they are enough, they struggle to find the wise decision, boundaries are tough, healthy coping skills are even tougher. They want to fit in, but stand out. They want to speak up but shrink back. Words and feelings are hard to say and identify. They are afraid what others will think so they stay silent. They internalize most things. They’re like the crock pot Jack forgot to turn off. They’re pain is brewing, just waiting to explode, injuring many. If only someone would listen, if only someone could see them, if only someone could understand. 

I get to do the easy part. I get to listen and love and send them home. Oh and I get paid. But sometimes they overwhelm me, sometimes their hurt is so deep, that I begin to hurt. I see some themes in the way I’m allowed to love them, I see themes in what we discuss, what we share. I watch as the guarded, shame covered postures in their bodies melt and they begin to lift their heads, relax on my couch and smile again. I watch some of the pain lift, not because of me, but because of safety. They have a safe place – to share the hard story, ask the impossible questions, speak the words they are afraid to say. I recognize these aren’t my children, and I don’t carry their burdens like their parents do. It will be much harder to be such a safe place for my own kids, but I want to be. I am working extra hard to be.

I thought I would share some of the themes I see in my office, some of the good words that are spoken. Maybe this list will help us all to be a little safer for these brave ,brave kids. Maybe this list will actually help us all be a little braver. 

  1. Pain can be a teacher. We all want to run from pain, to avoid the hard stuff, but there are lessons to learn. What if we leaned in instead of running away? What if we actually felt the pain instead of using something or someone to numb it?
  2. This season will end. It’s hard, especially as a teen, to realize there is life beyond high school. It’s hard, even for adults, to know life has seasons and seasons come and go. Winter does eventually turn into Spring. 
  3. Self worth can’t be stolen. Bullies and boyfriends do not determine your value. When people leave or are unkind, you are still valuable. Don’t give others so much power. 
  4. Envy will destroy you. It really rots the bones as scripture teaches. When we are envious, are eyes are only on ourselves and our lack. We miss all that we do have. Gratefulness and celebration cures a jealous heart. 
  5. Look outside your circle. The “tribe”, the circle can actually be dangerous, especially if it is an unhealthy one. Learn how to pick healthy friends but don’t let that tribe be the only voice in your life. Look for wise voices, regardless of their similarity to you. 
  6. Learn to be alone. There isn’t always safety in numbers. Really the safest place you can be is sitting alone before the Father. Learn to love yourself enough to not need the presence of others to define you or meet your needs.  
  7. It’s okay to say No, even to good things.  Guard your schedule and your heart. Rest is a requirement so make space for that. You weren’t meant to always pour out so make sure you are filled up. Boundaries are important. 
  8. Don’t stay hidden. Authenticity is a gift, even when life gets ugly. Hiding will make you lost. Broken and Beautiful are friends. 
  9. Eternity is now. Gain a perspective that reaches further than what is seen, further than today. This life is about more than you. Seek first the kingdom. 
  10. God can be trusted. Your feelings and thoughts can be liars. 

Let’s all be a little safer, a little braver…for ourselves, for our teens. They need us and we really need them.

Broken Hearts

“What breaks your heart?” Our pastor asks this many times when encouraging the congregation to change our part of the world. “What breaks your heart? Then go do that“ he suggests. He’s right. We all have a tender spot, a place that we feel called to, drawn to, a place where we are compelled to give a little extra time, pray a little harder, and invest ourselves. 

What breaks my heart? Well, I think it’s broken hearts. Broken hearts break my heart. As a counselor, I spend time with broken hearts several days a week. What compels me is helping my clients figure out what broke their hearts in the first place. Somewhere at some point, some thing, some person, some event broke their hearts and they haven’t been the same since. 

How is it that something from our past can cause us so much pain today? We can pick ourselves up and move on, but deep down there is something holding us back. I have been sitting with this for a while, feeling like something was just holding me back, keeping me from freedom. There are places I just haven’t been able to find victory in: That temper that rears it head, that envy that creeps in, the unholy thoughts that stick around, the greedy hand that stays closed. 

Broken people have broken hearts, and aren’t we all a little broken?  We try to mend or even soothe our broken hearts by sticking on bandaids: by budgeting or overspending, by exercise or overeating, by counseling or denial, by hustle or apathy. We focus on our thoughts, try to renew our minds but then, at least for me it seems, I can’t push through. Anyone else? I think we are missing it, I am missing it. I have been so distracted with trying to behave and think well, that I’ve been side swiped. I’ve missed the starting point for all change – my broken heart.  

I’ve been praying and praying to find freedom in some places, for some victory, for a renewed mind and then this verse lit up the page:  

1 John 3:20, “…even if our hearts condemn us…”

What? Our hearts can condemn us? I am really good at condemning myself, no need for help there, but that’s all in my head right? My mind and negative thought life? Or maybe it’s the devil? Well, scripture says my heart is doing this. 

To condemn means “to express complete disapproval of,  to sentence someone to death or punishment, to declare to be wrong, to express unfavorable judgement, to criticize strongly for moral reasons.”

Has your heart ever done this to you? Have you heard voices that say you are unacceptable, deserving of punishment, judged, wrong or the most condemning words, that you are not worth being here anymore? With full transparency, I confess that I have heard all of this. And the voices can be very loud. 

Our hearts are not all about love and good feelings and cupid. They are very powerful, emotional and physical organs. No wonder God warned us to guard our hearts, to “keep it with all vigilance, for from it flows the springs of life.” (Prov. 4:23)

Life flows from it, or the absence of life. Death can actually flow from your heart. Many of my clients are wishing for death, mostly because of broken hearts. Disagree? 

Jeremiah 17:9-10 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it.”

Mark 7:21-23 “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.”

So what are we to do with these loud, accusatory hearts?  Where does the battle begin? John tells us. Even if our hearts condemn us, even if our hearts express complete disapproval of us, even if our hearts declare us wrong or unfavorable or morally unacceptable or deserving of death…even if…then what? Even if our hearts do all these things to us… 1 John 3:20 tells us we will be confident when we stand before God. Read the whole verse, it’s there! It says even if our hearts accuse and berate us, push us and condemn us, even if, we can be confident as we stand before the Lord. Why? 

“Because God is greater than our hearts and he knows everything.” Hallelujah. 

He is greater than our condemning hearts and we can trust him with them. He searches our hearts and creates clean hearts within us. I know sometimes it feels like He has broken our hearts. I can relate. When my dad died a most tragic death, it felt like God had broken my heart. He and I are still working through that one, but I’m choosing to trust him with my heart. Trust in the Lord…with what?  With all your heart…and then what?Lean not on your own understandings. Even when hurts don’t make sense, I can trust him with my broken heart. 

So, the question I want to ask you is “What did break your heart?” Was it a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a best friend? A husband or wife? Was it a mom or a dad or a brother or sister? Was it something you lost? 

Whatever it was, whatever hard thing broke your heart, if it’s left untended, it will inform your heart. 

The voices of our losses are loud. The voices of our losses can be louder than God’s. 

These voices linger way too long and impact the way we see ourselves, our world and others. These voices want to penetrate our hearts and guess what? Our hearts can condemn us. 

Matt 5:8 “For with the heart one believes.”

So what are we to do? All of us, walking around with broken hearts? Please remember what John tells us: God is greater than our hearts. Thank goodness. Let that one sink in to those broken heart places. He is greater than those sore spots. The spots no one sees, the spots we keep hidden. Or the spots that are oozing on everyone because we can’t keep the hurt underwraps anymore. He is greater than all that. 

He is the redeemer of our hearts. He promises to give us new hearts and new spirits, (Eze. 36:26). He makes trades all the time: ashes for beauty, mourning for joy, death for eternity and hearts of stone for hearts of flesh.

So let’s do the heart work. Let’s bring whatever it is that has broken us to the Creator of our hearts, to the one who knit us in our mother’s womb, who knows our inmost being. He’s the only one who can do it.

“For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God!” (1 John 3:20-24 MSG)