Fostering The Faith of Your Adopted Teenager's Heart
Updated: Jun 5
“I don’t believe in Love!”
“That word means nothing to me!”
“The word love is totally meaningless!”
Over the past several years, I have heard those statements from teenagers - teenagers who were angry - teenagers who experienced trauma, loss or grief from people in their life who supposedly loved them. Their past experience with love left them bitter and jaded toward the entire concept of love - and who can blame them? Some of them don’t really even know what love it.
A teenager’s past experiences (good or bad) can drastically inform how they think about themselves - about life - about others - and even about God. And as we consider adopted teenagers specifically, we know that a high percentage of them have experienced a profound sense of loss, grief or trauma. And it’s through this trauma lens that they tend to view God and the Gospel message.
It becomes important, as those entrusted with the discipleship of adopted teenagers, that we recognize their specific past as we present the good news of Jesus Christ to them. This good news can be extremely difficult for them to embrace in light of their past. We need to help them compare and contrast what they have experienced on earth with what God, through Christ is offering them for eternity.
It is not just our responsibility as parents, youth workers or Christian counselors, but its our privilege to help foster the faith of these hurting children of God. So as you think about how to best disciple your adopted teen, consider the following six questions:
1. What traumatic interactions with a parent(s) might be keeping my teen from embracing God as Father?
King David wrote these words in Psalm 68:5, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling.” We might consider this verse to be a comfort - to understand that no matter what happens down here, we have a God who is our heavenly Father. What a great blessing! But there is a problem . . . For many adopted teenagers, their experiences with earthly parents has been less than great. Many, perhaps all, have experienced great loss and grief as a result of their biological parents (Not that this is always the fault of the bio parents). As a result, the word “parent” or “father” often has a negative connotation in their mind. And so when we talk about God being our “father”, it can trigger negativity in our teens. Keep this in mind as we talk to them about God being their father.
2. What poor examples of love in my teen’s life have affected their ability to fully embrace God’s Love?
Three times in Psalm 136:1-3 we are told that God’s love “endures forever.” In fact the phrase “His love endures forever” is stated 26 times in Psalm 136. Another comforting thought to most of us. But consider your teenager’s experience with love in the past. Have they been hurt, abused or abandoned by people who said they loved them - or people who were at least supposed to love them? Does your teen struggle to really know what love is - to believe that love can actually last forever? If so, it might take them a long time to truly embrace God’s love and to truly believe that His love does endure forever. Consider, before talking to your teen more about God’s love, talking to them about their understanding of love, based on their past experience. Understanding where they are coming from will help you enable them to better understand where they are going.
3. Who has been close to my teenager and broken their trust in a significant way, hindering their willingness to fully Trust God?
For many years, my life verse has been Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” God is asking for us to fully trust Him in everything - in all our ways. But what if you are accustomed to people that you trust letting you down - people that you trust hurting you - or leaving you? Being told to trust God - an invisible being that you have never even seen - might just be impossible at this point. So as we encourage our teenagers to put their trust in God, we must help them understand that God, unlike humans, really can be trusted - 100% of the time. Its not enough just to tell them to trust God - we must help them understand how they can trust God - in light of their past. And as a quick word of encouragement to us . . . we can trust God with our teenagers.
4. Who is in my teenager’s life that they are not currently able to forgive, making it difficult for them to understand and embrace God’s Forgiveness?
We are told in Ephesians 4:32 to “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” That is difficult for most of us. Forgiveness is hard! Just like us, adopted teenagers struggle to forgive those who have hurt them - abused them - neglected them. Its not easy to simply forgive the horrible things that have been done to us in the past - but never-the-less, that is what God is asking us to do. Why? Because that is what He did for us. While we were still sinners Christ died for us - we don’t deserve it - we can’t earn it. Talk to your teen about the people in their life they can’t seem to forgive. Talk to them about how God, through Christ forgave you and forgave them. Acknowledge the difficulty of forgiveness and help them get there slowly, one day, or perhaps one person at a time.
5. Has someone (or some system) with wrong motivations (or poor ability) attempted to control my teenager, making it difficult for them to give God Control?
Have you ever been told to give God control over your life? I think most of us have at some point. Few of us give him that, fully, 100% of the time. It can be hard to give over control - we, as humans like to be in charge of our selves. It becomes even more difficult to give control over if we have been “burned” in the past by someone - someone we trusted with control of our life. Does your adopted teenager have someone like that in their past - someone that had control over them - but mishandled that in some way? If so, giving control over to God could be a huge struggle for them. Help your teen process the controlling relationships of the past and contrast that with what it could mean to give God control of their life now.
6. What are some things my teenager is currently putting their identity in that may be keeping them from putting their Identity in Christ?
What is my identity? Well, according to John 1:12, I’m a “child of God.” What an amazing identity! Yet the world has no shortage of other things we like to put our identity in . . . our race, gender, generation, political affiliation, sexual preference, educational achievement, economic status, social status, athletic ability, intelligence and on and on an on. Remembering we are first and foremost a child of God can get lost in all the other identity options. What is your teenager currently finding their identity in? Is there something presently, or even from their past, that is keeping them from finding their identity in Christ? Talk to them about it. Have a conversation about who they are with them. You might be surprised what they are currently finding their identity in.
So as you consider when and how to talk to your adopted teenager about God, the answers to these six questions will really allow you to understand how they view God and the Gospel. Their past experiences drastically impact their current belief system and it is up to us to help them process through that as we show them a better way - a better way through Jesus Christ. What an incredible opportunity we have been given to truly foster the faith of our adopted teenager’s hearts.
by Arthur C Woods
Need Help Talking To Your Adopted or Foster Teenager About God? Check out the latest video & discussion series by Arthur C Woods, called Trusting The God of The Gospel. This 8-Session course will help you as a parent or youth worker walk through the Gospel message with your teenager, in light of their past. Available at: www.TrustingTheGodOfTheGospel.com
Article originally written for Fostering Faith Magazine.