This is an excerpt from Presence Matters: A 40-Day Journey into the Relationship between Faith, Science & Trauma by Beth Guckenberger
The people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them. — Ezekiel 34:27
Teenaged Jason “borrowed” a car without permission and without a license. “I can’t believe you would go behind my back like that,” his foster mom Karla rants. “I can’t trust you and you repeatedly show me disrespect. You are never going to change! There is no hope for you.”
As she storms out of the room still talking under her breath, Jason feels frustrated. He honestly wasn’t thinking about her when he took the car. “It wasn’t personal,” he wants to say. Karla can be heard from the other room, muttering about not knowing what to do anymore. Jason defends himself to no one in particular, saying she wouldn’t understand and since no one got hurt, what is the big deal?
Jason’s one act suddenly has the relationship in jeopardy. In her stress and fear, Karla judges her son and forecasts his future as hopeless rather than using the opportunity to better understand him. With the relationship at risk, Jason feels shame and Karla, despair.
How could this situation turn around and be used as an opportunity for healing?
It starts with understanding God’s choice to pursue relationship with us instead of revenge, punishment, or retaliation. When we make poor decisions, He doesn’t shake His head at us or take it personally. Instead, He uses it as a chance to demonstrate grace. When we grasp the grace God extends to us, we have increased capacity to extend it to others.
In Luke 15, the story of the Prodigal Son, the father sets an example of parenting with a relationship-first mindset. The younger of his two sons boldly demands his share of the inheritance, insinuating that life would be better if his father were dead. Despite valid reasons this father could be offended, he grants it.
What follows is a series of bad choices by the younger son, and when he finally heads home, the shame and guilt heavy on his shoulders, he is met with an unexpected response.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”
— Luke 15:20-24 (ESV)
While he was still a long way off, the father went to the son… before he was cleaned up and repentant and before he had proved that he had “learned his lesson.”
Even though the father had every right to be angry, he initiated reconciliation. He chose the boy over all else and put that on display for his community. This is how the Father loves us. He sent His Son to “run to us” while we were still far off, knowing that in relationship and connection we find healing.
When we face bad behavior from a child or teen, it’s an opportunity to look like our Father and pursue relationship over all else. It doesn’t have to be lavish, just a simple invitation to try again.
For Karla, that means asking Jason if she can have a “re-do”—a chance to hear his side of the story. While they are both calm, Karla teaches Jason rather than jumping straight to punishment. It’s not easy, but the result is that their relationship is preserved so Jason can continue to find love and healing in Karla’s home.
When you see a child or teen behaving badly, look beyond the behavior and establish connection. This may mean taking a few deep breaths and reminding yourself of the grace God has given you and the opportunity you have to extend grace to others. Rather than relying on common disconnecting responses like “go to your room,” try a connecting response like, “let’s sit together and talk this out,” or, “let’s go for a walk and figure it out together.”
1. When has someone taken the time to understand my behavior instead of judging me for it?
2. How does the Father respond to me when I fail?
3. What steps can I rehearse in my mind now so that I can forgive and provide grace to a child or teen when the occasion arises?
An excerpt from Presence Matters: A 40-Day Journey into the Relationship between Faith, Science & Trauma by Beth Guckenberger
From the back cover:
Join a movement of safe adults looking to be empowered and equipped through trauma-informed care. Learn through real-life examples, Scripture, bite-sized trauma principles and questions for personal or group reflection.
God is calling us to engage in His healing work — rebuilding, restoring, reconciling and entering into the lives of vulnerable children as a safe presence. This resource will unpack spiritual principles and scientific findings on the topic of trauma. Compiled by a team of dedicated practitioners, these are actual examples of how wise interventions turned stories around. A perfect gift for anyone who connects with children with a trauma background — classroom teacher, foster parent, coach, neighbor, volunteer or grandparent — these insights will equip adults with practical tools and wisdom.
Chapters cover relationships, the past, our felt needs, regulation, feeling safe, the relationship between connection and correction, and the power of presence. What is our role in healing? How do our own histories factor into our interactions with children? What do we do with feelings triggered by someone else’s behavior? What are first steps we can take when a child is melting down? Find the answers to these and other questions as you learn the rhythm of a trauma-informed life.
Beth Guckenberger is the author of nine books, including adult and children’s titles. She travels and speaks regularly at conferences, youth gatherings and church services about reckless faith. Her style is based in story-telling and she draws from her vast field experience as a missionary, Bible teacher and parent for illustrations of biblical concepts. You can keep up with the latest from Beth at back2back.org or on her website at recklessfaith.com.