Teenagers, worry, and how we can help

Struggling with worry or fear?

Yeah, me too.

And I’m one of those people who can quote verses like 2 Timothy 1:7 and Romans 8:6 in her sleep. I know God didn’t give us a spirit of fear. I know that the spirit-controlled mind is one marked by peace. I know all of that–and I want to live like I believe it.

The thing is, though, the ongoing uncertainty and “what ifs” of a global pandemic can wear anyone down. Even if you’re not actively thinking about COVID, it’s there, like the low hum of the refrigerator, white-noising its way into our lives.

I’m not sure who has it the worst. I know loads of young parents working from home while schools and daycares are closed. I have older friends who spend their days caring for (and trying to protect) aging parents. And I’ve heard from more than a few tech-challenged colleagues who’ve blown it in some way on Zoom (although none so spectacularly as the lawyer who felt compelled to explain that he was not a cat).

We all have our struggles. But as my publishing team prepares to release the updated version of Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens on Tuesday, I can’t help but sympathize with the adolescents I know. Social connection is the lifeblood of a teenager’s existence, and things like remote learning, social distancing, and the long, lonely days of enforced quarantines add an extra layer of angst to their already hormone-packed lives. Throw in the stoppage of sports, the postponement of proms, and the cancellation of any number of other rites of passage in an adolescent’s life, and it’s easy to understand why our kids might have a hard time coping right now.

Teen suffering with anxiety/worry

A pimple is one thing; a pandemic can take teenage anxiety to a whole new level.

(Adult anxiety too. And even as my heart aches for teenagers, I realize that it’s also hard on their parents.)

Helping teens find freedom from worry and fear

So what do we do? Is there a way to live without worry? Can we help our teenagers find freedom from fear?

God certainly thinks so. If you take him at his word (and I do), worry has no place in our lives.“Do not worry about anything,” he tells us in Philippians 4:6. That was the most searched and shared Bible verse in 2019–followed in 2020 by its close cousin, Do not fear.”

We know, almost instinctively, that nothing good comes from worry and fear. These emotions are never productive. Nobody wants apprehension or anxiety to color their life. And nobody wants that for their kids.

But is obeying a command like “Do not worry” even possible–whether we’re talking about ourselves or our teens?

"Do not worry" command

No.

Not in our own strength, anyway.

We’re too frail. I have one friend who says she refuses to give in to worry (“Take every thought captive!” is her rallying cry), but even she would admit to slipping, sometimes.

That’s the bad news: we are weak. The good news—the great news, actually—is that God never gives us a command that he doesn’t also give us the power to fulfill. We might not stand a chance against worry and fear on our own, but we can tap into the supernatural power that makes victory possible through Scripture and the Spirit.

Moving from panic to peace

God’s Word renews our minds, transforms how we think, and informs our perspective. God’s Spirit reaches into our souls, reminding us of what we know to be true and interceding with us—interceding for us—in ways that words cannot describe. And when these two forces—the Scripture and the Spirit—come together to animate our thoughts and give shape to our prayers, panic gives way to peace.

The Scripture and the Spirit photo

The very act of approaching the Lord—of saying, “Dear God, I need help”—opens the door to connection with him, ushering us into his presence and producing a sense of security that is more easily experienced than explained.

It’s a peace, Scripture says, that “transcends all understanding.” Or, as The Message version puts it…

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

Isn’t that lovely? A sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.

Peaceful blue flower

It’s in that act of settling, as our thoughts and emotions center on Christ instead of our cares, that we can bring our teens and their needs before God.

We can pray for their friendships, asking God to surround them with friends who will encourage each other daily. (Hebrews 3:13)

We can pray for their sense of identity, asking God to help them realize that they are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that they are marvelous in his eyes. (Psalm 139:14)

And we can do battle with the unseen forces that prey on their hearts and their minds, turning that “best of 2019” verse into our personal prayer: “Don’t let ______ be anxious about anything. Instead, prompt them to pray, with thanksgiving, and let your peace guard their hearts and minds.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Anxiety Prayer (horizontal)

These are just three of the prayer prompts you’ll find in this new collection of prayer cards designed especially for teens. They’re called “Dashboard Prayers” cuz they are tiny and perfect to keep in your car—or to give to your kids to let them know you are praying the next time they ask to borrow the keys!

Dashboard Prayer Cards 2

The Dashboard Prayers are available as a free printable (and a thank you!) to my email subscribers; click here to download. And if you know someone who’d like to get these little blogs delivered to their in-box every few weeks, please encourage them to subscribe.

Anyone, though, can get a copy of the updated book. 😉 Click here to get yours!

Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens

P.S. When I wrote the original Praying the Scriptures for Your Teens in 2007, “technology use” was pretty much confined to a new thing called MySpace. Back then, parents who were concerned about their teens’ drug use were talking about pot. Not fentanyl. Not prescription meds. Not the devastating pain of opioid addiction. And things like a kid’s sense of identity (“Who am I? Am I loved? Does my life have meaning or worth?”) barely registered on our collective parental radar.

Needless to say, the book needed updating. And as I worked on this new edition, it struck me again: Times change, but God doesn’t. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And his word does not return empty but always accomplishes what he desires.

❤️

 

 

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Coronavirus Concerns: How to Cope

Thanks to the Coronavirus, I am learning new things.

Like, I didn’t know what “social distancing” was, or that it could be a healthy thing. Now I do. And I have a whole new respect for folks like my husband, who has never once struggled with FOMO and will be fine if we get quarantined.

Or WFH. (Who knew that what I’ve been doing as a writer for the past 25 years had its own acronym?)

Or even the fact that people, when panicked, will hoard toilet paper. I read where one newspaper actually printed eight extra  pages in a recent edition–“emergency rations” was how they put it. Can you imagine?

Actually, I can.

Because the newspaper people are not the first ones to make this particular link. Years ago, my mom asked me to donate a carton of books for a mission trip she was going on. When I learned that the supply coordinator had asked her to bring toilet paper, I balked. “Mom,” I said, “Don’t you think the missionary people will wonder why, when they asked you for toilet paper, you brought books instead? What will they think when they go to the supply cabinet and open the box?”

“They will think that it’s brilliant!” my mother exclaimed. “Because with toilet paper, all you have is toilet paper. But with your books, you can read them, and then, if you still need supplies…”

Anyhow.

I hadn’t planned to post a blog this week, but I figured that if we’re all WFH and feeling socially distanced, maybe a few words of comfort would help.

I’ve written about things like worry and fear in the past. If you’ve got time for a longer post, click here to read about how–whether we’re up against a bear market, a bear of a disease, or an actual bear–God doesn’t want his kids to be scared. For now, though, I’ll share just two quick recommendations.

Replace the bad with the good.

First, have a plan. Anyone who’s ever tried to accomplish a goal–Lose weight. Save money. Stop cussing–understands the importance of action steps. It’s not enough to just state the objective; you have to replace the bad habit with something better. Something good.

Which may be why, when Paul said, Don’t worry about anything, he followed that command up with this charge:  Instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

Don't worry (about the Coronavirus)

That verse–Philippians 4:6–was apparently the “verse of the year” for 2019. I don’t know who decides stuff like that, but if we needed to swap our worries for prayer last year, how much more do we need to make the trade now?

So here’s Part One of the plan:  When you feel the fingers of worry starting to crawl up your back, don’t panic. Use them as a trigger–or a prompt, if that’s a happier word–to remind you to pray.

Look up.

Part Two of the plan is to quit looking around and look up.

Longtime blog readers will know that Sara Hagerty is, in my view, one of the most gifted writers of our time. I savored her last book, Unseen, and now she’s got another masterpiece hitting the shelves–one that can help move us from panic to peace.

Adore Book Cover

I pre-ordered Adore the moment I caught a glimpse of the cover. And now that I know a little more about what’s inside (click here for a quick peek at the trailer), I CANNOT wait for this book to arrive.

Because here’s the thing.

Sara knows what it feels like to worry. To live in the world of what if. To wonder if you’ll ever measure up…or if your child is okay…or even why you didn’t get invited to that party.

Or if your loved ones will be safe in the weeks ahead.

More than that, though, Sara knows that God wants to meet us right there in those thoughts–in the “middle minutes” of our lives. And to get us to look up. At him.

Adore releases on March 31st.

Which, if you think like my mom does, might turn out to be perfect timing if you run out of supplies…

And in the meantime, here’s one of my favorite anti-virus prayers you can pray for yourself, for the people you love, and for strangers on the other side of the world:

Heavenly Father,

Spread your protection over ______. Surround them with your favor as with a shield. (Psalm 5:11-12)

Amen

❤️

P.S. If you want more scripture-based prayers to keep Coronavirus fear and worry at bay, hop on over to Instagram and check out the latest post by @abigailCBN. And as always, if you order a book that I recommend in this space, Amazon sends me a teensy commission…which means I can keep buying new books and letting you know which ones are the best!

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Focus on the Family (and the antidote to worry and fear)

Last fall, I was honored–no, make that thrilled–to sit down with Jim Daly and John Fuller, co-hosts of the Focus on the Family radio program.

We talked about parenting, and how our prayers for our kids change as they grow. And we covered things like worry and fear, and the fact that (as much as we might not like it) God often shapes our faith in life’s valleys. And that He will shape our kids’ lives, and their faith, in those low places too.

Jim and John are the most gracious hosts. Plus, they’re great dads; I found myself wishing that I were the one asking the prayer-and-parenting questions, and not the other way ’round!

The program airs today, and if you’d like to check it out, click here.

But if all you’ve got time for is just one little thought, here’s an encouraging note from the show:

Prayer is the antidote to a parent’s worry and fear.

When we find out something that scares us–whether it’s the news that our first grader has been stealing crayons from the classroom supply closet, our teenager got pulled for drunk driving, or our adult child’s marriage is falling apart–our default response is often worry. Or anger. Sadness. Or fear.

(All legitimate emotions–and all places I’ve been.)

But what if that’s not the whole picture? What if God sees things differently? What if, instead of prompting us to panic, He is clueing us in to a problem–letting us see our child’s need–specifically so we can pray?

God has good plans for our kids. And prayer is His invitation to us to partner with Him in accomplishing His purposes–even when we don’t see how things could work out, or when it doesn’t look like the needle is moving. Prayer opens the door to provision, that God may be glorified in our lives.

If you’re facing something that’s making your heart ache today–something that fills you with worry or fear–remember God’s promise in Psalm 34:18. He is close to the brokenhearted. He saves us when we are crushed.

Lean into that closeness. Let God’s strong arms comfort you. He’s a parent; He gets it.

And then, as you draw courage and strength in God’s presence, don’t give panic a foothold. Instead, lift your head, along with your hands, and let your default position be one of prayer.

Heavenly Father,

You are the God of our family. You have loved us with an everlasting love and drawn us with unfailing kindness.

Our children are your children. Save them, gather them, lead them along level paths where they will not stumble.

Turn our mourning into gladness; give us comfort and joy instead of sorrow. Satisfy us with abundance, and with your bounty.

(Excerpted from Jeremiah 31:1-14)

Amen

❤️

P.S. Robbie and I are so grateful for Focus on the Family, and for all the ways they have encouraged and strengthened our marriage, our parenting, and our faith. To access more info on everything from helping your kids overcome rejection to protecting your family against today’s opioid epidemic, click here.

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Bible Xanax for the Anxious Heart

Cast all your anxiety

What are you worried about?

Over and over again in the Bible, God tells us that we shouldn’t be anxious. Instead, he says, we should come to him with our concerns and requests. Because whatever it is – your job, your relationships, your finances, your kids, your health – God already knows. And he cares.

Let’s take a little Bible Xanax today, casting our cares on God and exchanging our fear and worry for his peace:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you that you are a God who cares. I am worried about ______today. Help me cast my anxiety on you, knowing that I can trust you to care for me and for the people I love. (1 Peter 5:7)

Amen.

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Friday Prayer for Anxious Minds

Earlier this week, I wrote about giving up worry.  I’m trying to give it up for Lent; I’d like to get rid of it forever.

Philippians 4:6 is, perhaps, the Bible’s best-known “anti-worry” verse.  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Then comes the promise:  “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  (v. 7)

That’s all good – great, even.  But how do we do that, really?  How do we stop being anxious?

Philippians 4-6-8I think the answer comes in the very next verse, and it’s what I was trying to get at in my blog as I blathered on about cows in cornfields.  We train our minds to move along familiar pathways.  If we truly want to move from a place of worry to a place of peace, we need to heed Paul’s advice to the Philippians and focus on those things that enable peace to thrive:

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”

(Now there’s a little Bible Xanax to get you pointed in the right direction!)

If you wrestle with worry (whether it’s once in awhile, all the time, or as part of your Lenten fast), turn Philippians 4:6-8 into a prayer and get started on retraining your mind:

Heavenly Father, don’t let me be anxious about anything.  Send your peace to guard my heart and mind.  Help me think about that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.  (Philippians 4:6-8)

 

 

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What, me worry?

Here we are, marking the end of Lent:  Week 2.  I know people who have given up all sorts of things, from the usual (sweets, which Annesley’s roommate Kate has sworn off for the season) to the interesting (cussing, offered up by my favorite local columnist, Kerry Dougherty.)

(How’s that working for you, Kerry?)

Me, I gave up worrying.

I don’t always give something up, but this year, when the minister said that Lent “reveals where your heart is” and that it serves as a call to draw closer to God and give up anything that gets in the way of that relationship, I knew what I had to do.  My heart, old and gnarly stump that it is, can get bound up in worry – and sometimes, the forest grows so thick that I can hardly see the Light.

Worry can make a person do funny things.  When Robbie was in high school and the time came for him to take the SATs, it hit me that I wasn’t entirely sure he knew how to read.  I mean, I assumed he could, but I had never actually seen it.  Eager to help him nail at least a few words on the vocab test, I bought a case of lacrosse balls and personalized them as his Valentine’s present:

photo - Version 2

Robbie was kind enough not to complain that I’d ruined a perfectly good case of balls, but when he actually used them (that’s my boy!), things got a wee bit ugly.  Turns out, red Sharpie marker isn’t really “permanent,” and Robbie ended up with pink string – I think the technical term is “mesh” – in his lacrosse stick.

Needless to say, that provoked a few caustic comments.  Irascible, even.

As with sweets and cussing, I am sure there are all sorts of strategies one could employ to get rid of worry, but for me, the only tactic that has shown any promise is the same one Paul used, back when he was pumping up the Corinthians:  “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  (2 Cor. 10:5)

Medical research (and buckle up, because I am heading way out of my strike zone here) reveals that the neural pathways in our brains work kind of like a cow going through a cornfield.  The first time a thought goes through the path, it doesn’t leave much of a trace.  But keep on treading the same ground, and pretty soon the stalks begin to separate, the corn gets trampled, and the path becomes so familiar and well worn that it might as well be a highway.

If I am building a highway for my thoughts (and aren’t we all?), I want it to be one that is paved with good things.  The only way I know how to replace worry with peace and trust – to take anxious thoughts “captive,” if you will – is to send the cows through my cornfield armed with God’s promises.

And believe it or not, this plan really works.

Back when my worries about Robbie’s academic prowess conspired to keep me awake at night, I clung to verses like Isaiah 54:13, “All your sons will be taught by the Lord, and great will be your children’s peace.”  (I know more modern Bible translations have gone gender-neutral and that this passage clearly covers “daughters,” too…but I’m kind of tied to my old 1984 NIV, especially when it comes to picking prayer promises for my boy.)

Now that I am an official Mother of the Bride, with not just one by TWO daughters getting married within a few months of each other, I have a whole new set of worries:  What if it rains?  What if I forget to order the cake?  What if I never find an MOB dress?  (If you saw my Christmas Sweater blog, you know why this is a legitimate concern.)

To all of these fears, and to countless more of the nasties that try to steal my joy, Jesus says this:  “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”  (Matthew 6:8)

And then, as if he’s had some experience with the whole wedding planning thing, he gets even more specific:  “Do not worry, saying, ‘What  shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  (Matthew 6:31-33)

Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

If you’re looking for a good memory verse, try that one.  It pretty much covers everything, from the willpower it takes to watch your roommate scarf up a cinnamon bun (sorry, Kate), to the mental gymnastics required to excise those dagnabbits from your vocabulary (you can do it, Kerry!), to a good night’s sleep with two weddings coming straight at you on the calendar, like a pair of billowing freight trains.

I’m not sure I’ll ever banish worry entirely, but as long as I keep piling the promises onto my cows (Philippians 4:8, 4:13, and 4:19 are all running loose in my cornfield right now), I know that everything will be okay.

 

 

 

 

 

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