FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Strengthening Your Mental and Emotional Muscles

with Alex Harris, Brett Harris | September 5, 2008
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Authors Alex and Brett Harris encourage teens not to waste their youth, but, instead, to courageously attempt something that will have lasting value. Hear them tell of just some of the teens they know making an impact for eternity.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Authors Alex and Brett Harris encourage teens not to waste their youth, but, instead, to courageously attempt something that will have lasting value. Hear them tell of just some of the teens they know making an impact for eternity.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Authors Alex and Brett Harris encourage teens not to waste their youth, but, instead, to courageously attempt something that will have lasting value.

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Strengthening Your Mental and Emotional Muscles

With Alex Harris, Brett Harris
September 05, 2008
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Bob: A lot of teenagers struggle through their adolescent years.  For them it's a difficult time.  Brett Harris thinks they need to change their perspective.

Brett: These are some of the best years of your life.  These are the years where you can do some of the greatest things for God because you have the freedom, you have the strength, the energy and enthusiasm.  And to really say to a young person coming up to the teen years, look forward to this, look forward to these challenges, these opportunities, look forward to being that missionary because it's exciting.  It's the best life you could possibly live.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, September 5th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll provide some suggestions for you and your teenagers today on how the teen years can be some of the best years of your life.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  You know, when I first saw the book that our guests this week have written, I thought, (inaudible) this book, you know what I mean?

Dennis: "Do Hard Things?"

Bob: Yeah, I mean, I'm looking for a book called …

Dennis: It's not for you, anyway.

Bob: "Take a Nap" is the book I'm looking for, not "Do Hard Things."

Dennis: This is not for parents of teenagers, this is for a teenager.

Bob: Well, okay, I'm all for that.  I think teenagers should do hard things while I take a nap.

Dennis: There you go – while you take a nap, that's exactly right.  Well, Alex and Brett Harris joins us again.  Welcome back, guys.

Alex: Thank you.

Brett: It's good to be here.

Dennis: We have twins with us.

Bob: Yes, we do.

Dennis: Sharp twins – 19 years old who have authored a book called "Do Hard Things," as I've said.

Bob: You started our time suggesting that we have this website where people could submit photos, but they've got their own website, don't they?

Dennis: They do.

Bob: But you don't take photo submissions do you?

Alex: No.

Bob: Okay.

Dennis: Not of girls.  We're not opening that.  Besides, your brother wrote, "I Kissed Dating Goodbye," so you guys aren't going to date.

Bob: Are you signed onto the "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" covenant?

Alex: We are, but not because …

Brett: When we were three years old, they took our fingerprints and pressed them down on the little pad and, you know, it's just – a covenant of blood and – no …

Dennis: We're speaking of their brother, Josh Harris …

Bob: Yes.

Dennis: He was a guest about, I don't know, 13, 14 years ago.

Bob: Right.

Dennis: And wrote a book called "I Kissed Dating Goodbye."  If you haven't had your teenager read that, you need to have them read that.

Bob: I just want to know, because my kids read that book when they were …

Dennis: Oh, my kids didn't care for it at all.

Bob: Yeah, in the early teen years, it was kind of like, "Oh, Dad, no, don't make me read that."  Did you feel the same way when you had to read it?

Brett: Well, you know, we read it first when we are, I don't know, pretty young, because our brother had just written this book, and so we were going to read it because it was our brother's book, and we read it, and we appreciate it.  We remembered a lot of the stories, they had a big impact on us.  But then reading it again, later on – later on in our teen years – suddenly, it made a whole lot more sense, and …

Dennis: Do you think?

Brett: And, you know, connected with our own experiences.


And it was – it really is –

Alex: It makes a difference when you read it when you think girls are cute versus when you think they have cooties or dorky, you know?

Brett: So we're signed on with the "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" concept not because our brother wrote the book but because we've seen the truth of it lived out.

Dennis: Okay, I want you guys to just comment on something that I did.  I taught a sixth grade Sunday school class, which was disguised – really, what it was, was a preparation for adolescence class.  That was hard-hitting.  They were all 11 and 12 years old.  Most of them were still in the metamorphosis – they were still in childhood.  Some had kind of stepped over the edge and begun to bud out and look like …

Bob: But the hormones really hadn't kicked in yet.

Dennis: They really hadn't, and the whole idea was to drive a truckload of truth into their hearts before the hormones caused them to go haywire, and one of the very last classes I had for them was a class where I would sit the young person in a room by himself, and he looked at two doors.  One door that said, "Mission Field," and the other door that said, "Missionary."  Between him and the door that said, "Mission Field," there was nothing.  Between the young person, a boy or a girl, and the door that said, "Missionary," there were tables, chairs, desks all stacked up, so the only way they could get to the door was to climb in, around, and through to get to the door that was titled "Missionary."

And they came into the room, and I would ask them a question – "You are about to enter adolescence.  These two doors represent one of two ways in how you are going to go through adolescence.  Choose you this day how you will go through adolescence."

Bob: You were saying, you're either going to be on the mission field, or you're going to go as a missionary, right?

Dennis: Exactly.  You are either going to need to be reached as a mission field in need of someone coming to you, or you're going to be on a mission.  Now, your book, "Do Hard Things," seems to me right down the same thinking of challenging young people to be on a mission.

Brett: Yeah, and we've written the book, it's full of stories, a lot of exciting examples, some of young people as young as 11 or 12 who did some big-hard things, weren't even teenagers yet. And we've had young people that same age come to our conferences, and they come up to us afterwards, and they're just grinning, and they're saying, "I'm so glad I came because now I don't have to waste any of my teen years."

Dennis: You gave them permission?

Brett: We gave them permission.  And I think that a big part of it, too, is, you know, they need to realize that they have that choice.  There is a choice between living for God or needing to be reached.  I think that's a very accurate picture of the choice set before young people, but I also think that we need to refrain the way that we paint this transition into adolescence.  I think that sometimes we treat it more as bad storm in stress time, that period of angst and rebellion, and we set them up for it as if it's going to be the worst time of their lives, where, you know, the time where we expect all these problems, we expect all this trouble, and I think that what we see in the past, what we see biblically, you know, in Jewish culture, is the sense that young people are looking forward to this time of their lives; that this is a time where they are stepping into responsibility; where they are looking forward to the opportunities of adulthood rather than trying to hang onto the games of childhood.

And I think that the way that we really try to paint it in our book is to say these are some of the best years of your lives.  These are the years where you can do some of the greatest things for God because you have the freedom, you have the strength, the energy and the enthusiasm, and to really say to the young person coming up to the teen years, "Look forward to this.  Look forward to these challenges, these opportunities, look forward to being that missionary because it's exciting, it's the best life you could possibly live."

Bob: But think about what it is you're selling here, guys.  You're selling "hard."

Brett: We are selling "hard," and you would not expect – we would not expect a young person to buy it.  But the reason that young people buy this idea is because they are so sick and tired of not being challenged.

Dennis: They're bored.

Brett: They are bored, they are bored, and I think that – I mean, when I – for me, personally, when I don't exercise, I can feel it.  You know, I just feel lethargic, but I also feel like I want to just do something.  I'm sitting in front of the computer too long, and I think that we get that as mental boredom, physical, you know, atrophy.  You realize that "I need to go out and so something," and that's where a lot of young people are.  There's a lot of restlessness, and we have teachers come up and say, "This restlessness is just rampant in my classroom.  We have parents, we have youth pastors, they are ready for something bigger."

Bob: Okay, well, define "hard" for me.  Because you talk in the book about five different kinds of "hard," right?

Brett: Exactly.

Bob: Okay, so what do you mean by "hard?"

Brett: Well, something that's hard is anything that takes you outside your comfort zone, anything that goes above and beyond what's expected or required of you.  Some hard things are big hard things that you can't do by yourself.  Some things are small, hard things that nobody sees but God and you.  And other hard things are those things that you do that go completely 100 percent against the flow of culture, your peers, society around you.  And the key thing is doing what's right even when it hurts; doing what's right so that you'll grow and be equipped to be ready when God calls you to act.

Dennis: Okay, both of you young men are 19 years old.

Alex: Right.

Dennis: All right?  I want to ask you a question – one of my favorite questions to ask young men – men of any age – but I'm really curious to hear how you'll answer it.  What's the most courageous thing you've ever done?  We're talking about hard here.  What is the most courageous thing you've ever done?  Who wants to go first?  Alex?  Brett?  They're both smiling.  They're reviewing many, many courageous things they've done, undoubtedly.

Bob: Most of us don't think of our lives in those terms.  We don't think, "Well, I haven't really done anything very courageous, but the hard things you're talking about can take some gut checks, can take you going …

Dennis: Doing something in the face of fear.

Bob: Yeah.

Brett: I think that, really, by just keep getting bigger, you know, the hard things that we've done just keep getting bigger, and that's the way it does work.  You know, God says if you're faithful that He'll give you more to do.

Dennis: So what's the biggest thing at this point?

Brett: The biggest thing at this point would be, you know, the last thing that we've done, which would be writing this book, and we felt like God was taking us through this process of realizing that we could not do it on our own.  You know, we could write, but if it was – if He wasn't in it, it wasn't going to be a good book.  It wasn't going to be a book that reached anyone's heart. 

And so we had times that we would sit down at the computer, and we were just – you know, our minds were fresh, it was early in the morning, it was the time when we're ready to write, and nothing came.  We would just sit there and for three hours, and we'd add a comma, you know, three hours later, we'd delete the comma.  And nothing would come, nothing absolutely would come.

Dennis: I've looked at that same screen myself.

Brett: And other times, we would sit down, tired, you know, maybe we'd been sitting there all day, and, suddenly, God gave us the words, and we might write a whole chapter at once, and what we learned from that is, you know, is really just a perfect picture of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility.  We realized that we could not write a single thing worth keeping if God didn't give us the words to say.

On the flip side, nothing was going to be written if we weren't sitting in our chairs …

Dennis: Disciplining yourselves to write.

Brett: At the computer, exactly.

Dennis: All right, Alex, he said "we" about 12 times in his answer, but I'm not going to let him answer for you.

Alex: Okay.

Dennis: What's the most courageous thing you've ever done?

Alex: Well, I'll go ahead and answer another one for both of us, so I'll be saying, "we" as well.  We went after our internship at the Alabama Supreme Court back the following spring to be grassroots directors for four statewide campaigns, and that was a very, very stressful period of time.

Dennis: You're talking about a political campaign?

Alex: Exactly, we were the grassroots directors organizing volunteers across the state.

Bob: How old – you guys were 18?

Alex: We were 17.

Bob: So you're a 17-year-old, you're running the grassroots campaign for four statewide campaigns.

Alex: We were.

Bob: Isn't that something that adults are supposed to do?

Alex: Well, again, the point, really, would be is that these are the kinds of things that young people can and should do.  We started participating in the local politics and helping campaign for different pro-life candidates and working door-to-door.

Brett: Leaving leaflets on the doorknob.

Alex: When we were, 12, 13.  And, you know, by the time we're 17, we had the experience to help other young people do it and the campaign, the grassroots campaigns, were actually entirely young people, which was part of why we were brought in is because they wanted to bring a lot of young people on the campaign.  So we had young people who were doing the campaign photography, the videography, a 17-year-old designed the campaign website, they …

Brett: Let me share a story from that.

Alex: Yeah.

Brett: Because there was one of our coordinators for a county named Heidi.  She was from Mobile County down in the southern part of Alabama, and we often talked about how if all of our coordinators were like Heidi, we would be in great shape.  She was doing everything.  We had her, you know, reserving facilities, going to meetings and speaking to high-level officials, handing out things, making phone calls, the works.

The problem was, Heidi was not who we thought she was.  We had met her family at a kickoff event in Montgomery, Alabama, the capital, and we thought that Heidi was her 24-year-old sister.  The real Heidi was actually 17 years old, and when we found that out, our first reaction was, "Oh, my goodness, I can't believe we asked so much of her; that we had her doing all of these things."

Bob: She's too young at 17.

Alex: Exactly, and then our second thought was, "Wait a second." 

Brett: We're 17.

Alex: We're the Rebelution guys.

Brett: And we're 17, and we're the grassroots coordinators, for crying out loud.

Alex: Exactly.  We realized this is exactly what our message is about.  But that wasn't the end of the story, because even after that, we just assumed, you know, Heidi must be one of those type A, on-the-phone-constantly, been involved politically her whole teen years type of girl, and this is just, you know, all second nature to her.  It wasn't until the very end of our time in Alabama on those campaigns, that we found out that Heidi was extremely introverted; that she hated being on the phone even with people she knew, and that the whole campaign, her family was just sitting back, amazed, with their mouths open at what Heidi, shy Heidi, was doing.  And she told us later, when she heard about this whole idea, "Do Hard Things," that we talk about, said she just laughed.  She said, "Do hard things is exactly what I have been doing these past three months."

Dennis: No doubt about it.

Alex: And it hasn't stopped, she said, now that the campaign is over.  She said, "God took  my understanding of what I was capable of and wrapped it three times around a bigger perspective."

Bob: Did all four candidates win?

Alex: All four candidates lost.

Brett: The close race, a single-digit losses, and a lot of people, you know, us included, could have looked at that and said, "Oh, what a waste.  We spent two months there, three months, all this time working hours and hours, 80 hours a week sometimes, all these young people involved, you know, that must be so hard on them.  They did work so hard.  They lost."

And what we really learned, we learned a very important lesson, and we alluded to this in one of the earlier programs where we said that it's okay to fail at hard things.

Dennis: That's a real tension for a parent.  Neither one of you guys have been a parent yet, and you haven't been there, but you're always wondering, as a parent, at what point am I expecting too much, which crushes my child?  And at what point am I expecting too little and not putting the carrot out there so that the child gets the picture and is motivated to excel still more, like you've just illustrated?

Brett: Right.  I think that goes back to what we talked about earlier, and that is, first of all, to expect great things from young people; to encourage them and equip them to attempt hard things for God.  But then also to let them know and understand that it's okay to fail at hard things – that that's – that the goal is not success the first time.  The Bible says "the righteous man falls seven times and gets back up again."  And, you know, the other place in Scripture where they talk about doing something seven times – Jesus says about forgiveness, it might as well be 70 times 7.  How many times have we failed and gotten up 490 different times?  We haven't.  But yet that's what God calls us to do.

Alex: The goal is growth not success.  And I think that the parents who have such high expectations and really hammer their kids down – those are those parents who get so caught up in the success of their child, right, you know, get them to this school, get this kind of job, this kind of income, this kind of lifestyle and academically the same thing.  Those are the kinds of expectations that are terrible for a child.  Those are the wrong kind of high expectations.

And so I think our encouragement to parents, from what we've observed is that encourage your young person that it's not success the first time or even the second, third, fourth time that's important, it's that they're continuing to grow, to conform to the image of Christ.

And then also to encourage them, as far as motives and heart, because that really what's important – to encourage them that it's about doing hard things for the glory of God not for their own glory, not for the attention of others …

Brett: Not for the parents' glory.

Alex: Not for the parents' glory, and as long as you don't have the motives mixed up, young people are, I think, perfectly content and willing to continue to try and continue to strive.

Brett: And that brings us to what we call the three pillars of the Rebelution – character, competence, and collaboration.  And that's what we see as the keys to any Rebelutionary big hard thing endeavor, but it's also the goal in our "Doing Hard Things."  What are we trying to grow in?  What are aiming for?  What are the parents' expectations?  What are the motives?  And the goal is for the young person to stretch themselves and grow in character, in Christ-likeness.  It's to grow in competence and their ability to effectively do what God has called them to do.

And in collaboration, to work with others, to gain other strengths and together attempt great things for God because a lot of things we can't do on our own.  We're not called to go it alone.  You know, we kind of have, in America, this image of the maverick, the loner, the guy who stands tall, drinks his whiskey straight, that's the ideal.  But the Bible talks about, you know, "He who isolates himself is a fool.  He plots his own destruction," and yet our culture often discourages that.

So collaboration is working with others, and that's what a family can do beautifully.

Bob: You guys are about to head off for four years of college, right?

Alex: We will, this fall, yes.

Bob: Is college going to be your next hard thing?  And do you set aside doing other hard things for four years so you can focus on college?

Brett: Well, a foundational idea to everything that we've done is the idea of the seasons of life, and this is something our father has spoken on for years.  He had a Seasons of Life seminar, and the point of that seminar is that faithfulness in one season prepares you to step into the next season with strength.

Right now, we're in the season of preparation, we're in the season of the student, and that's really why we're showing to young people, you have to start now, you have to do hard things now, because this is the season of training, of preparation, and if you don't do it now, you're going to be unprepared and ill-equipped later.

So that's the foundation, really, is viewing that this is the season of preparation, and so because of that, Alex and I are trying to be very careful that we don't prematurely jump into the next season of life.  You know, we're not putting off adulthood, we're just making sure that we are as equipped as we can be given the opportunities God has given.  And so we're going to school because we feel like we could be more well prepared; we could have a deeper level of education and understanding and that God will prepare us and provide the means to step into the next season with strength, you know, if we're faithful to prepare.

So college is in our plans, we're still preparing for whatever God has in the future.

Dennis: I'm listening to you guys, and, first of all, I want to thank you for coming and being on FamilyLife Today, and I have a feeling, Bob, there are a lot of parents really pulling back and recalibrating here, and you know what?  If I had it to do all over again, I think I would be, too.  I think I'd be pulling back, going, "What am I hearing from these two young men that really challenged me to think rightly from the Bible about how I approach adolescence and my young person in helping him move toward maturity and becoming and man or woman he or she needs to be?"

And I think one of the major messages, guys, you're giving us is what Paul said to Timothy – "Don't despise your youth."  Youthfulness is filled with idealism, energy, all kinds of errors and possibilities as they strive toward maturity and try things.  But as you raise that young person, you need to let them go, like an arrow, launch it toward the target, and sometimes the arrow will get blown off course, maybe the arrow will develop a mind of its own and never make it to the target, but the issue is begin to let that child development their own faith muscle and their own trust and dependence upon Jesus Christ and make their faith truly their own and see how God comes through.  Thanks, guys, for being on the broadcast.

Alex: Thank you.

Brett: Thank you.

Bob: Yeah, and we really hope that there will be a lot of young people who will get copies of your book, study it together either in a youth group setting or use it as part of the homeschool curriculum or just get a group together of folks at your school and say, "Let's read through this book together, and then let's think about what we can do and how we can make a difference in our community, in our world," whatever God would call you to.

I'm thinking of some young people I know who decided they were going to make a summer project out of digging a well in Africa.  They didn't actually go dig the well, but they raised money all summer long to fund this well being dug in a village that did not have fresh water.  And those are the kinds of things that you are encouraging students to do in the book, "Do Hard Things."

And we've got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  Let me encourage our listeners to go online and get a copy and start going through it – not just going through it but start praying through it and asking God, "What do you want me to do?"

The book is called "Do Hard Things."  Go to our website,  On the right side of the home page, you'll see an area of the screen that says "Today's Broadcast," and if you click where it says "Learn More," that will take you to the area of the site where you can get more information about Alex and Brett's book, "Do Hard Things."  There is also information there about other resources designed for parents and teens on the kinds of things we've been talking about today.

Again, the website is  It may be easier, though, for you to just call 1-800-FLTODAY.  1-800-358-6329, 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and when someone on our team answers, just let them know you'd like a copy of the book, "Do Hard Things," and we'll take the information necessary so we can send a copy of it out to you.

Then let me say thanks today to those of you who, from time to time, make donations to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  Your contributions are what make it possible for us to be on the air in this city and other cities all across the country, and we appreciate that partnership that we share with you.

This month, if you are able to help with a donation of any amount, there is a two-CD series we'd love to send you as a thank you gift.  It's a conversation we had not long ago with Tim and Joy Downs on the subject of conflict in marriage.  We talked about some of the common areas where couples experience conflict, and we talked about what you can do if you find yourself in the middle of marital conflict.

Again, those two CDs are our gift to you this month when you make a donation of any amount to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  You can do that online at  If you do, when you get to the keycode box on the donation form, if you'd like those CDs, type in the word "conflict," and we'll know to send the CD series to you, or call 1-800-FLTODAY, make your donation over the phone, and just request the two CDs on conflict and, again, we're happy to send them to you.  We appreciate your support of this ministry.

And, with that, we've got to wrap things up for this week.  I hope you and your family are able to worship together in church this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday when Ron Luce from Teen Mania is going to be here.  We're going to continue talking about what teenagers can do to have an impact on the culture and what parents can do to create the right kind of culture in their home so that the kids are more influenced by what's going on at home than they are by what's happening out in the world.  I hope you can be with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow.  


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