Our family always decorates for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. As my teenage sons lugged a half-dozen giant red and green bins up from the basement, they complained, “Mom, where are we even going to put all this stuff?”
“Don’t worry,” I replied with a smile. “We’ll make room for it!”
Much to their dismay, “making room” for the Christmas decor involved rearranging the living room furniture, removing two side tables, taking down a bunch of framed pictures, throwing away a dozen tiny pumpkins, returning all the fall decor to the basement, and cleaning multiple surfaces. Once all that was finished, the decorating could begin!
Our teens find this concept of preparation especially difficult. So much of their lives are lived in the moment. They may worry about the future and upcoming events, but their concern rarely spurs them to actually prepare. While they look forward to a special event or greatly desire to accomplish a certain thing, they generally end up cramming at the last minute.
As adults, we know not taking the time to prepare creates stress and limits our joy and effectiveness. We want our teens to learn to prioritize the most important things over things that simply fill their time, and their faith should be the foundation for everything else they do. So, how can we help our teens be intentional about making room for Jesus?
As the new year approaches, it’s important to evaluate our schedule and priorities. The week after Christmas is a great time for teens to do this! If your teen is serious about growing in their faith, here are five steps they can use to help them make room for Jesus.
When my family decorates for Christmas, we have an end goal in mind. We want the things we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch to make us mindful of the Christmas season. Encourage your teen to make a list of 3-5 things that matter most to them. Then, have them choose some adjectives to describe what they want their life to look and feel like. Do they want it to be peaceful? Meaningful? Disciplined? Encouraging? Faithful? If they want to follow Jesus, what will that require of them? What habits will they need to incorporate, change, or remove? How will growing in their faith affect or merge with their other priorities?
Now that they have clarified their priorities, the next step in making room involves getting rid of unnecessary or unhelpful things. Before my family could decorate for Christmas, we had to get rid of the things that didn’t belong in our vision, like tiny pumpkins and decorative leaves. We all have things that clutter our lives, things that take up space in our hearts and minds that could be used in better ways. Our teens can evaluate how they are spending their time and money and then eliminate anything that hinders or distracts from their goals. This might be things they have outgrown, items that don’t fit with who they want to be (such as books, magazines, music, or video games with inappropriate/unhelpful content), or simply things they have in excess. It might even be something “good,” but if it clutters their lives or hinders their growth, it needs to go. If your teen wants to make room for Jesus, they must start by decluttering.
Much like we did with the furniture in our living room, your teen can identify essential things they want to keep in their life but might need to re-prioritize a little. Hobbies or habits that previously have held center stage might need to be moved to the side. Your teen may not be ready to give up Instagram or video games, but perhaps they want to limit the amount of time they spend on technology. Maybe they recognize that certain friendships are hindering their spiritual growth or fostering negative character traits, and they need to spend less time with those people. Do they have an extracurricular activity that keeps them from attending church or participating in a Bible Study? They may want to talk to their coach or find a different team that is more conducive to their schedule. The important thing is to structure their life in such a way that the priorities they set in the first step of this process are what they are spending most of their time and energy on.
Once everything is cleared out and moved around, it’s time to clean things up. This part is a little more challenging! Encourage your teen to look for any heart attitudes and habits that might be hindering their growth with the Lord. Do they struggle with bitterness, unforgiveness, or discontentment? Perhaps they are lazy or like to be in control and have a hard time surrendering their desires to Jesus. Maybe they have developed a habit of gossiping, cussing, or unhealthy coping mechanisms. If they are honest, they know that making room for Jesus will require letting these things go. Remind your teen that the Lord always welcomes us in our sinfulness but loves us too much to let us stay there. The process of spiritual maturity requires self-denial and surrender as we pursue holiness instead of happiness. Since many of these habits or attitudes are difficult to break, your teen might need some help. Encourage them to share their “clean-up list” with you or another caring adult for the sake of accountability and guidance.
Finally, it’s time to decorate! Your teen will do this by adding in new habits and practices that will help them prioritize spiritual growth. It can be tempting to try to do too much, but this often leads to overwhelm, which ultimately has poor results. Help your teen choose 2-3 things to implement and invite them to be very specific. If they want to start spending time with the Lord every day, what will that look like? Where will they do it, for how long, what will they read, how will they pray, etc.? If they want to develop a particular character trait, such as kindness or selflessness, they may choose to do something kind for someone else every day intentionally. They can start by making a list of ideas and then write down their action in a designated notebook each evening. If they want to develop a habit of contentment and gratitude, they might consider writing 5 things in a gratitude journal every morning and evening. The key is to be specific and chart a course of action.
What peace is ushered in with the creation of holy space! And what a gift we offer our teens when we teach them how to prioritize their spiritual growth by making room for Jesus amidst the chaos and noise of this world.
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7, NIV)