Tag Archives: identity

Bus Station Theology

Some of you know I traveled by a Greyhound bus a few days ago. The plan was for me to ride to Birmingham from Nashville. I ended up being met at the halfway mark by a friend, which was a good thing considering the tornado touch downs in the area.

When I booked the ticket a month ago it seemed like a good option for saving money, not having to drive in unfamiliar territory and using the commute to read and write. Plus, I didn’t need a car once I got to Birmingham. Had I seen a Greyhound station before I probably would’ve been convinced extra money spent on a car worth it. And besides, I learned to drive on the freeways of Houston!

But God wanted me at the station, as uncomforable as it was.

The first thing I saw when my friend and I pulled up in her white suburban were homeless people congregated outside the building and the police at the corner talking to someone.

For the first time, I started to get nervous.

We decided my friend would wait in the car with my luggage while I went inside to check-in… or check-it out rather. I walked in and immediately felt all eyes on me. Yes, my skin color was different than most, but what really separated me were my clothes. Clearly, I was not the typical bus rider.

But I got in line next to a lady with missing teeth. It was her first time too and neither of knew the procedure. When it was my turn at the counter I learned it would not be at all like what I’m accustomed to at the airport. Having arrived unnecessarily an hour early, I went back out to my friend and we decided to go use the restroom and get coffee at the Omni – only 1 mile from the station but worlds apart.

When we pulled into the hotel valet area we actually asked about the cost of an Uber to Birmingham.  Just to see. Another option we considered was driving over to the airpot so I could rent a car, which would get me to Birmingham even an hour sooner without the stops the bus was going to make. But despite my apprehension I wasn’t convinced I shouldn’t just stick to my plan.

When we returned to the station the two of us walked in together this time.  Again, I felt keenly aware of our differences. Every seat in the waiting area was taken and I didn’t know where to even stand. Thankfully there is power in numbers so with my friend’s lead we made our way past staring eyes to the far side of the room where we found a mother-daughter duo (who looked most closely like me). They were enroute from Michigan to Florida and had already been at it for 24 hours! So eye-opening – strange – to me. But, chatting with them calmed my spirit, and gave me people to sit by on the bus.

That is when my friend knew she could safely leave me. But soon after she left it was announced the bus was indefinitely delayed. Of course, that sent me into a new round of questioning whether this bus-thing was the right thing to do. Something interesting happened though; people all around me started chatting with one another–  bonding over the bus being behind. I had been struck by the fact that unlike me, taking the bus was truly their only transportation option, but now just like me they too were antsy to get to their destination. We could identify. Only most of them had way further to go.

When the older-looking lady with lots of piercings (her circumstances likely the culprit of aging beyond her years) saw me looking for an outlet for my phone charger she scooted her luggage over and let me take seat. As we started talking she shared her concern for a family member who needed knee surgery. Well, I have that exact concern thanks to a rider on my husband’s knee. She and I, we could identify. Only I’m not fearful of a possible leg amputation as she is because of several family members’ experiences due to infection and the lack of proper medical attention.

As different as I looked from everyone seated around me, I couldn’t help thinking they too are wonderfully, beautifully created in the same likeness of God as me. Imago Dei. Made in his image.  

We miss this though. Or, I do. In so many ways I live worlds apart from the woman I was sitting next to, but stripped of our external clothes and conditions, our hearts are the same.

We all fear, worry, lose our patience, grow tired, get hungry. We sin. We judge. We dismiss others with distain. We fill with pride, and shrink back in insecurity. We all want to be loved and affirmed; accepted. We look for those things in false places. And we all need the redeeming blood of a Savior.

Waiting in the station and riding the bus was good for me. It opened my eyes, made me uncomfortable and filled me with compassion all at the same time. When I began to look beyond the outer shell of others, I didn’t feel so afraid anymore. I got off the bus a little later thankful God doesn’t look at me the way I so often look at others. Imago Dei. Made in his image. 

What if we looked at others as image bearers? Can we see it’s true? Only by his grace, but let’s pray he would help us see – really see – all people, especially those who look nothing like us.

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How To Get Your Teen To Open Up To You More?

Last week I ran a mini-series on what parents of younger kids can do now to help shape the teen years ahead. I wrote that it is never too early to start laying a foundation, and it is also never too late to redo/undo what we should’ve done differently because God is a God of grace and in the business of transformation. So if you are a parent of teenagers feeling like you’ve already messed up or are unsure how to get into your teen’s head don’t resign yourself to the lie Satan would have you believe that it’s hopeless to even try.

Believe me, I know the hard work of parenting teens makes giving into their desires and the ways of the world seem like our only option for keeping the peace. And when they’ve pushed us out and we can’t figure out how to get them to talk it’s easy to think catering to their every whim will make for a better relationship. But all that leads to is an entitled teen who knows how to get what they want.

What I want to suggest as a mechanism for change in the way we relate with our teens and getting them to open up more is something I’ve personally been learning. Now as I’ve said before I don’t believe following a “formula” is a guarantee, only the intervening grace of God can ultimately make things right. But I do think on a human level when we IDENTIFY with another person (whether it be your teen, your spouse, a friend or stranger) it opens the door to deeper connection and trust.

What do I mean by “identifying”?

I’ll explain with an illustration. Recently my daughter called home from college weighted down by various circumstances. As she was talking, I went into “fix it” mode and proceeded to tell her what she needed to do. Wrong thing in that moment.

By my ready answers, what she heard was how much better I would’ve handled it, which led her to feel shame for not having her act together. Is it any wonder she asked me to hand the phone over to my husband? No. What she needed was someone to listen and identify with her in her frustration and pain. Someone whose first stance was entering in with compassion.

Identification is hard for us as parents because our default mode includes lecturing and trying to take control. Identification is hard in general because self-righteousness prevents us from putting ourselves in another’s shoes. And because we don’t like to see/admit our own sin, we come across to others as unapproachable for them in their sin.

According to the teen survey I conducted and used in writing Face Time, teens don’t feel like they can talk to their parents openly for these exact reasons.  They think we won’t understand, we will get upset and also they don’t want us to worry. Therefore, it is not surprising they choose to shut us out over revealing what’s really going on in their hearts, at school, on the weekends, with their friends, etc.

So what if we started identifying with them instead? What if we started the conversation by letting them know our own struggles to be liked, to want affirmation, to look perfect? We may not seek these things in the way they do, but we know what it’s like. We too look to false gods to fill us and to give us worth, instead of turning to Christ.

Since this is true, we should understand what causes them to give in to peer pressure and do things they never thought they would. Yes, we will likely be upset – angry even – but what if like the father of the prodigal son we open are arms wide to meet them in it? What would it look like to show compassion and understanding? If they first heard our affirmation, and saw us come alongside them in their struggles, I think our relationships with our teenagers would be different.

As the interaction with my daughter shows, I don’t do this perfectly. But I have someone who was perfect for me. Jesus came to live the perfect life required by God because no one else could measure up to his righteous standard. And at the cross he took all of my failures and made a way for his perfection to be mine. God now sees me according to Christ’s righteousness for me! So when I fail, guess what? I can go to him admitting my need. And I can enter in with my teens in their need because I know my own.

FACE TIME: Your Identity in a Selfie World is now available. To order go here.

Before The Teen Years: Your Kids are Not Your Identity

Your kids are not your identity summarizes #4 on my list of 8 Things Parents Can Do Now To Shape The Teen Years Ahead. In that post I wrote:

Seek to understand and love them for who they are rather than conform them to who you want them to be. Sometimes when our children have different personalities or interests than ours we try to push upon them the way we do things, or our hobbies. Without meaning to this can make them feel shame for not measuring up to your standard or for not being more like their sibling. If they do have similar interests, do not make them feel like they are in competition to your previous successes. Their performance is not why you love them, but if they grow up thinking it is, the idol of performance and perfection can drive them to despair as teenagers.”

One of my children does not care one bit about making weekend plans. It honestly doesn’t cross his mind. It’s not that he’s anti-social; he seems to be friends with all his teammates- just not “weekend friends.” For a long time this really bothered me. I thought something was wrong and he was missing out. But as my husband pointed out, if this is how he is wired, we needed to be careful not to heap shame on him just because he is different than how we are wired.

This is when I realized the problem is not him, but me. If I’m honest the reason his lack of a social life bothered me was because of how I thought other people would view him… and me. Not in the popular crowd, out being seen- worthless. How messed up is that! I was projecting on him my own false gods.

We do this with our kids because we see them as an extenstion of us; our mini-me’s. So easily their accomplishments, failures, successes, challenges, social life, sports, and obedience (as we discussed in the last post) can become our identity.  But how well they perform, what they do and who their friends with is not their true identity and should certainly not be ours.

If it is, we need to ask oursevles some probing questions: Are we living vicariously through them? Are we adding pressure for them to be a certain way? Are we making them feel like they don’t measure up (to us)?  Do we think the way we do things is the only way/right way? Are we imposing on them our own idols?

I don’t think it’s a great jump then to see what leads us to often becoming “helicopter” parents. But as we talked about in the first post of this series, we need to get to the root of the why we hover over them, try to control and to ensure their success and status. When we do we will likely find our own insecurities and sin mixed in with well-meaning intentions.

It is important we see though that much of the “help” we think we are offering to our kids is actually harming them. Studies show the following repercussions of helicopter parenting on kids:

  1. Lack of confidenece/need for affirmation
  2. Inability to cope with adversity
  3. Increased anxiety/depression/fear of failure and disappointing others
  4. Entitlement
  5. Undeveloped life skills/lack of independence
  6. Indecision

Our kids are not our identity. Let’s give them the freedom to fail without worrying what other people might think about them, or us. Let’s not revolve our worlds around them to the point they act as if life is all about them. Let’s not push them to seek their identity in performance, based off what they perceive we value and praise. Let’s point our kids to their true worth found only in Christ as we look to him for our identity as well.

Previous posts in this series:
Before the Teen Years: Getting to the Heart of Sin with Our Kids
Before the Teen Years: Living Redemptively in Our Homes
Before the Teen Years: Shepherd Hearts Rather Than Police Behavior
8 Things Parents Can Do Now to Shape The Teen Years Ahead