I lay face down on the floor, praying. Praying in the loosest sense of the word. Praying in the Romans 8:26 way—you know, when the Spirit “intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Because I could not utter any actual coherent thoughts at that point.
I was weary and beaten down. Day after day I had been in combat, battling an opponent I didn’t anticipate: one of my children.
My own child, one of the people I had lovingly grown inside my body and loved sacrificially for all these years, had staunchly and repeatedly put himself in opposition to me in a way that was breaking my heart and left me feeling utterly defeated. And that night, I couldn’t take anymore. I walked into my room to gather my thoughts, and within seconds found myself quite literally flattened—laid out on the floor in desperation.
God listened. He sat with me. He waited patiently.
And then He whispered, “OK, now go back out there and love him some more.”
“No, Lord!” I argued. “I feel like I just got punched in the stomach, and now You’re asking me to go out and let him do it again!”
And God answered, “That’s exactly what I’m asking.”—
Then I remembered a conversation I’d had just days earlier. Our rebellious teen wasn’t only pushing my buttons but was pushing back against other authorities in his life, including those at church. His actions drew us into conversation with our high school pastor, who deeply wants to love and connect with our kiddo well. “I know he’s combative,” I told the pastor. “I know he’s angry and difficult to love. I know it’s hard not to view him as an enemy. But actually, I think that’s exactly how you should view him.”
Stick with me here.
Because I had just been reading the Gospels . . . and do you know what Jesus instructs us regarding our enemies? “But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also. And if anyone takes away your coat, don’t hold back your shirt either. Give to everyone who asks you, and from someone who takes your things, don’t ask for them back” (Luke 6:27-30).
This is how we are called to treat our enemies: Love. Do good. Bless. Pray. Give sacrificially.
And as much as it hurts my heart to say it, my teen had been feeling a lot like an enemy.
So maybe it was time to start responding to him just as we would an enemy. With love and blessing.
Not every situation is as dramatic as ours, I know. But who among us hasn’t at some point told our child, “I am not your enemy here!” (Or maybe had to remind ourselves. And take a few deep breaths.)
And don’t misinterpret my words. I’m not encouraging any of us to become doormats, nor do I think we should dispense with all rules and let our kids do whatever they want in the name of love. On the contrary, creating and enforcing healthy boundaries is one of the most loving things we can do, if we do it with both firmness and gentleness. But when we lash out in anger and spite, no matter how justified we may feel, we fracture relationships and build walls that keep out the very lessons we’re trying to teach.
As our kids grow, they want to stretch their wings and push back on the boundaries we have put in place. When they do, it can feel, well, antagonistic. Like they are in opposition to us. And maybe that’s when it’s time to treat them like an enemy.
We hold firmly to our boundaries with kindness and compassion. We love them even when they throw hate at us. We bless them when they curse. We turn the other cheek.
Or, in my case, we let them (metaphorically) gut-punch us again after we get up off the floor from the last one.
I walked out of my room that night and sat at a table with my son. We played a board game. I laughed at his jokes. And at the end of the night, I gave him a hug and said, “I love you, Sweetie.”
And he said, “Yep. Good night.”
It was another gut punch. Because not every story has a happy ending. At least, not in the short term. But this is not the end of his story or mine. I am loving my child with the love of Christ. His love is patient and kind, and it breaks down barriers and restores broken hearts. In time.
God has loved me (and you) through some pretty ugly times. So I can show up and do this. And you can too.
Let’s love our teens like they’re the enemy.