The Backstory…Up Front (I got some ‘splainin’ to do):
Sometimes teenagers say the most interesting things. One night not too long ago, one of my teens was struggling with his schoolwork, and my wife and I were trying to counsel with him on what the problems could be and how we could help. In his moment of frustration mixed with anger and self-defensiveness, my son said an “interesting thing”: “My life was never mine.” When asked to explain, he continued, “I never do things for myself. I live doing what others tell me to do.” He admitted that he truly believed what he just said.
Now, I knew that wasn’t entirely true…because what he said and the results of what he had been doing were two different things. What he did in his spare time and even when it was his busy time were all stuff that he wanted to do…which is why he was in the academic predicament he was in to begin with. But, somehow, even when you point that out as a parent to your child, when their defenses come up, it’s difficult for them to listen…and hurt feelings start popping up between parent and child.
So, that night, I prayed. The following morning, I prayed. Prayed to my Father, our Father, for help. How could I help my son with his burden? How could I help him unload his mental load? It’s already heavy…in his mind. How could I help him so he realizes that, when I help him, his load is lighter?
As I drove to work, the words of a message flowed into my mind, and I scurried to try to capture them. (It’s always tricky trying to do voice-to-memo while driving, so please be careful if you try to do it, too.) I have to pay attention to these “streaming messages” because I know they’re not from me, but from our Father in Heaven. I couldn’t wait to share these things with my son that night…which I did, in a quiet moment…a harmless moment…in a father-to-son moment, just by ourselves.
There were times, as I spoke to him, that I was telling my own son the things of my heart. However, there were other times during that conversation that I felt like the words weren’t mine…but the Father’s words…only coming through my voice. It was during those moments when I captured a glimpse of just how much Heavenly Father loves my son…who is also His son. I felt that this moment with my son was mine…and the Father’s…together, privately.
I post this with the intent that it may help as fathers and mothers counsel with their own children who are struggling.
This is the conversation (in part), and letter, from a Father to his son:
[My son], do you remember last night when you said “My life was never mine”? Do you know what that truly means? Let me ask it to you in a different way: “Do you want to give your life to Heavenly Father?” (He quietly replied, “Yes.”) If that is what you truly want to do, then I think that’s a good thing! That’s not a bad thing at all…to say that your life isn’t yours…when what you’re really trying to say is: you want to give all your life to God. That’s what it means to “consecrate” your life to God. That’s what He would like to see from you as well, and He needs your help.
You also said last night that “Other people’s praises don’t mean anything to you.” From what I understand, it isn’t that Praise doesn’t mean anything to you; it just means that they’re not as important to you as something else. What could be that “something else”? The way I see it, you are really seeking God’s approval for what you do. It’s really His praise you’re looking for…His nod of agreement…that what you’re doing is pleasing in His eyes. Is that what you’re really looking for…not really people’s compliments…but His approval? You want to please Him? (He quietly replied, “Yes.”) Well, I think that’s great! I feel like your heart really wants to do the right thing. You probably didn’t really know how to say it just right…because I know you’re struggling in your English course right now. It’s okay.
Do you remember how, sometimes, Heavenly Father will bless people by sending others to help them? That’s how He works. He doesn’t always help in person–which is wisdom in Him–so He sends another. But when He wants to tell us something, it’s great that He can do it personally as well as through others. He can speak to us in our mind…when we’re really listening. But, just like when he sends you to serve others and enrich their lives, couldn’t he also send others to thank you…as if He was thanking you, personally? They could be saying it sincerely, from their own heart, but if Heavenly Father wanted to thank you through them, couldn’t He do it that way too? So, when someone praises you and thanks you…how would you know if it was just from them, or from Heavenly Father also? Would you be able to tell? (“No”, he replied.) So, accept thanks and praise graciously…as if it was Heavenly Father giving it to you. Don’t reject it, just welcome it, and thank them for it.
Do you wanna know something? As I prayed about what we talked about last night, these words came to me while I was driving to work. What if, through me, Heavenly Father was trying to tell you something like this:
[My son], do you want to be a part of my team? Do you want to dedicate your life to me? Well, then, here’s my first instruction: listen to your parents and follow their counsel. I gave them to you because I know they can help you. I gave you your parents to teach you what you need to know. Listen to them and do what they ask you to do. I gave them their life’s experiences so that they have something to teach you. And I’m letting you experience problems so that you’d seek their counsel, and seek me, for help.
Sometimes, it’ll be easier for you to hear them than it would be for you to hear me. I know you’ll struggle trying to hear my voice, so I will speak to your parents because I know they’ll be listening for me. I will give them instructions on what to teach you and how to teach you. Your job is to listen, learn, and do. And as you trust them and follow their instructions, you’ll learn to see that it was my voice guiding them…and you’ll learn to trust my voice as well.
Sometimes you’ll be able to hear my voice and you’ll hear my instructions. But sometimes my voice and my instructions will come through your parents, or your leaders, or other people because, sometimes, you’ll be confused. Sometimes you’ll be so stressed out and crazy that it’s hard for you to hear me. That’s okay. That’s why I have given you all these other people to help you, and I need you to follow them as they teach you the things that you need to do in order to be of help to me. Use the help of the Holy Ghost to help you discern what’s good and true and from me, and little by little, you’ll be able to recognize my voice.
I know your parents won’t always get it right because they’re still learning how to hear me in many different ways. They know how I speak to them, and they have to learn also how to trust me. That’s ok. All of you are trying to hear my voice, and that’s good. So, you’ll need to trust them because I know they don’t want to lead you astray.
[My son], I am glad you want to serve and give to others freely. That’s why I need you to learn as much as you can now. Your schoolwork is only part of that training…to learn how to solve problems, to learn how to humble yourself, to learn how to struggle and find the value of work. There are many more lessons for you to learn. Go where I send you, and learn everything you can…no matter how hard it is. These skills are what you need in order for you to help me do my work for all your brothers and sisters. Of the many lessons you can learn, learn how to hear my voice, learn how to humble yourself, and learn to trust me by trusting those who love you.
[My son], I am your father. I want to help you. I don’t want to leave you. Know that I’m here to help you with your burdens, no matter how heavy you think they are. I want to help you lift those burdens…so you can help others lift their burdens. I will send you the help that you need. But also know that I am pleased with the good that you give to others. I love you, my son. I really do. And when you come to me with your burdens, come and talk to me, and let’s figure it out. You still need to struggle and do the work, but I’ll be here to help you. I’ll show you what to do. I’ll teach you. I’ll be here. Listen for my voice…and I will teach you; I will strengthen you; I will encourage you; I will lift you; I will thank you. Please listen for my voice…because I always want to tell you: “I love you, my son.“
I am your Father,…and you…are my son.