How much do you say to your kids about the mistakes you’ve made in the past?  When they ask if you had sex before you were married, how do you answer?

Pastor Drew Hill says we need to put stories on the mantel of our homes. We’ve got to show kids, “This is what God’s done in my own life.” That’s going to require us telling them some of the backstory.

Author of  Alongside: Loving Teenagers with the Gospel,  Hill believes parents should unveil some of the ugliness in our lives. Here are some of his insights on when and why to tell your children about your past, as he talks with Bob Lepine and Dave and Ann Wilson on a recent FamilyLife Today broadcast.

We’ve been there

Bob Lepine:  Do your children know your testimony? Do they know about some of the hard moments in your life and how God has turned your ashes into beauty?

Dave Wilson: Yes; I look back, honestly, and think some of the bad mistakes I made in high school shaped me into the man I am today. In some ways, I regret them. But I’m also grateful that they were in my life to learn. I don’t want my kids to miss that. In a sense, I want to be alongside them to help them walk through those.

Bob: That’s the beauty-from-ashes principle that the Bible talks about. God can redeem our mistakes and use them for His glory. Talking about being alongside—that’s what we’re talking about, this week, with our guest, Drew Hill, who joins us again.

Drew Hill: That’s right. We’ve got to first understand that we have a God who walks alongside of us, and that we are not too far away from His grasp. We cannot mess up parenting enough for God to be disappointed at us.

God is not shaking His finger at you, saying: “You are a failure. You have messed up.” But God wants to come alongside you and walk with you, as you parent your kids, because it is too hard of a job for you to do it alone.

Bob: I was talking to a mom this weekend. She said, “My husband is so frustrated.” She said, “We’re not in agreement on our parenting/on how we should do things. But he’s so frustrated, because our kids aren’t getting it they’re not changing.”

They’re talking about their three-year-old, who is not getting it. And you discipline, and the child continues to misbehave. I said,“Your husband has a very unrealistic picture of what parenting is going to be like. You’re going to be in this roller coaster for the next 15 or more years with this child. So get ready for the fact that some days are going to be up, and some days are going to be down. All the training that you need to keep doing with your child—you just stay after it. But don’t have the unrealistic expectation you’re going to come home one day and go, ‘Oh, they finally got it.’ And they don’t misbehave anymore.”

No Amazon Prime parenting

Bob: Drew, at the conclusion of your book, Alongside, you say to parents: “This is going to be, not just a trip to the grocery store and back, this is a long road trip you’re on with your kids.”

Drew: It’s a long road home; yes. The last chapter of the book is just entitled “Slow” because we live in a culture that wants things to change immediately. We want something, and we want it now.  We want to order something on Amazon and it be at our house the next day.  You know, we want our food immediately. We are an immediate-gratification culture right now.

That has, honestly, hampered our parenting because we want to see that change happen even quicker in our kids. And yet, it is a long, long journey. It’s often discouraging.

But I would just encourage you to think about how long your journey has been as a child of God. And how patient God has been with you. Because I sure thought I was going to be further along in my journey with the Lord, at age 40, than I am right now.

I mean, I can look back, and I can see how God has changed me and transformed me. But I honestly thought, Man, I’m going to have a lot more spiritual discipline in my life than I do right now.

And God has been so patient with me and so kind. He has created and is shaping me and writing this beautiful poem with my life. It is messy. It’s not in this order that I want it to be.

Just as God’s been patient with me—we, as parents, are called to be patient with our kids.

Transformation Tuesday

Bob: So what do we do with discouragement, as parents, when we work, and work, and work and feel like we should be further along—that they should be further along? They don’t seem to be getting it. Or they got it for a while and, now, they’re having a bad season. How do we deal with that disappointment and that discouragement?

Drew: Some of my favorite TV shows, or videos to watch, or people to follow on Instagram are the ones of transformation stories—you know, the #transformationtuesday. They’re amazing when we hear stories of life transformation.

We’ve got to put those stories on the mantel of our homes. We’ve got to show kids, “This is what God’s done in my own life.” That’s going to require us telling them some of the backstory. So we, as parents, have to unveil some of the ugliness in our life.

We have to say: “This is who I was,” and “This is what God’s done. Your mom and I’s marriage has not always looked like this.”

Or, “I’ve really struggled with this area of purity in my life, just like you are.” A transformation story always has a beginning. It always has a before—before we see the after.

Tell that story so they can see a perfect marriage is not really actually perfect. Instead, that it’s gone through this transformation. Let’s highlight these stories in our homes by inviting our friends, and neighbors, and spiritual aunts and uncles to come over and share what God has done in their lives too.

Answering your teenager’s questions

Dave: I can remember our youngest son started asking questions the other two never asked. Very personal—because he’s on this spiritual journey.

He was in high school. And he’s like, “Hey, Mom and Dad, did you guys have sex before you got married?” We’re sitting there—like, “Uh, at what age do we share? How much do we share?” Give us some wisdom on that. What would you say to a parent?

Drew: I would have answered this question differently a decade ago than I would now. They say the average age that a kid is exposed to pornography is seven. And kids are being exposed to so much more, even in the TV shows that they’re watching. Kids are being exposed to this world. If we’re not going to be willing to go there and tell them about it, then they’re going to hear it from other people.

So I would really encourage parents to be as vulnerable as you’re able. Then maybe, draw that line and go even a little bit further that way.

A friend recently told me about his son coming home late from a high school football game one night. He could see on Find My Friends where his son was. His son was not at the game—he had lied to him. He was in a parking lot, somewhere else, with his girlfriend.

The son came home. His dad called him out. “Hey, I saw that you weren’t where you said you were.”

Then the son said, “No; I wasn’t.” And the dad asked, “What were you doing?” The son told his dad, verbatim, what he was doing in the car … what was being done to him.

Instead of shaming him and yelling at him, he cried with him. He held him, and he hugged him. The dad confessed how he had made some sexual mistakes in his past. It was this moment of healing between the father and the son. I really believe that moments like that are way more transformative than moments that make a kid feel like they didn’t measure up.

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Tell the true story

Bob: Here’s a fear a parent has when a teenager says, “So, did you guys have sex before you got married?” If that’s a part of your story—and you say, “Yes; we did.” Your fear is the kid’s going to go, “Well, it worked out okay for you, and so I guess, now, I’m okay to go do this.”

That’s kind of why we don’t want to say that was a part of the story. Because we don’t want our kids going out and saying, “Well, I guess it’s okay, now, for me to do that.”

Drew: So either you are going to allow your child to fill in the blanks … or you can tell them the true story of what has happened. You can show them how God has redeemed it.

Our kids are going to fail. They are going to mess up. They are going to do things that we so wish they would not have done. There are going to be things that are done to them that we wish would not have happened.

But do we believe in a God who redeems?! Do we believe in a God who makes broken things beautiful?

If so, then let’s be real and say: “Yes, this is what happened. It was not God’s best, but God did redeem it. My hope and prayer for you is that you would not have to go through this brokenness.”

Pointing kids back to the cross

Drew: We’ve just got to trust the process of us being obedient and pointing kids back to the gospel. I just always point it back to the cross and the resurrection.

There was brokenness and death before there was healing and restoration. When Jesus was on that cross, I’m sure He felt those same things that you were feeling when you saw that brokenness and that sadness over sin.

I will tell kids, “God hates sin so much. You want to know how much God hates sin? Have you ever heard your parents fight? And you know that feeling that gets inside you when your parents are yelling at one another? You hate that brokenness; you hate that sin.”

Then I help them understand that Jesus knows. He’s been through that. And He’s paid for it.  “Guess what?” I’ll say. “He went to the grave for you, but He did not stay there; and there is hope.”  We’ve got to cast a vision of hope for kids.

Bob: I’m just imagining parents going, “So kids looking at pornography … you’re telling us to talk to them about the cross and the resurrection. How do we help them connect the dots between their behavior and this great story?

Drew: I think we’ve got to continue to just preach the gospel to ourselves—and to get to a place where we really understand it. And when we really believe it, then it will naturally flow out of us.

Jesus is alive

Drew: So often we want to have it figured out. But you know, one of the best parts of the gospel is that Jesus is alive right now.

He is seated at the right hand of the Father. And He has left with us the Holy Spirit, the great comforter, the great translator. He has given us Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit. And He actually will live in us and speak through us.

We have got to believe that that power actually resides in us. That we don’t have to have all the answers. There is no way we ever could.

We cannot read enough books on parenting or on all these different issues. We will always fall short. But we will never fall short, because we have the Holy Spirit in us.

When we step out in faith and trust Him, what we’re doing with our kids is—we’re demonstrating for them what it actually looks like to live out the Christian life.  And we can trust the Holy Spirit to even lead us in our conversations with our kids.

Copyright © 2019 FamilyLife. All rights reserved. Adapted from a transcript from FamilyLife Today. 

Drew Hill is a pastor and author in Greensboro, North Carolina. He is also works with Young Life and provides resources for thousands of youth leaders around the world through The Young Life Leader Blog. Drew and Natalie have been married since 2004 and have three children: Honey, Hutch, and Macy Heart. Check out Drew’s book, Alongside: Loving Teenagers with the Gospel