• Sheila Harkins

An Apology to Teens



Teens, I’m so thankful that many of my days are spent in your presence. I love your witty dialogues, your thoughtful insights, your desire to make the world a better place, and the way you care about your friends and family. I see so much beauty and laughter and kindness in your lives.


I also see a lot of pain.


Although there are many sources of your pain, there are two that especially grieve my heart. That's because I have been, and, in some cases I still am, part of the problem.


One source of hurt comes from the very people who most likely love you the greatest—your parents.


Just like me, many of your parents are well-meaning and have tried to do their very best for you. Our intentions come from loving hearts that want to see you succeed. I know the last thing I ever wanted to do was to wound any of my children. Yet, my human nature, my own selfish desires, and my lack of knowing the best way to care for others, means that I did (and still do) hurt my children.


I wanted to be the perfect mother, but that was an impossible quest. I am a flawed human whose sin and weaknesses affect those around me.


As a parent, I would like to apologize to all the young people reading this for some of the things we, as parents, haven't gotten right.


I’m very sorry…


For the times we acted out of our own insecurities, wanting you to help us feel better about ourselves;

Instead of being the adult and not needing you to stroke our fragile egos.


For the times we tried to bury our own inadequacies, hoping you wouldn’t see our failures;

Instead of teaching you the lessons we learned when we failed.


For being proud about the things we needed to be humble about;

Instead of being humble about our achievements and proud of you.


For expecting you to know and understand your own hearts;

When we are still trying to figure out our own.


For the times we operated out of our own selfishness, trying to pattern you to be who we wanted you to be;

Instead of appreciating the person you were created to be.


For the times we acted like you needed to earn our love;

Instead of giving you our love unconditionally.


For the times we acted out of our own pride and thinking of our own reputations;

Instead of being unashamed of who you are.


For the times you tried to reach out to us about a struggle in your life,

But, because it highlighted our own inadequacies and shame, we chose to ignore it.


For the times we unintentionally let you down. And, for the times we intentionally pursued our own pleasure rather than sacrificing for you,

And you felt the pain of us not being there for you.


For the times we used disapproval and shame to control you and it crushed your spirit;

Instead of valuing your opinions and searching for the deeper heart-reasons for your behavior.


For the times we told you to try harder,

When what you needed was a soft place to land.


For the times when we added more pressure,

When you already felt enough pressure that you were at the breaking point.


For the times we were silent when you needed someone stronger to come to your defense,

And we left you feeling alone in your pain.


For the times we chose to take control and speak on your behalf,

When you needed to learn how to use your own voice.


For not trusting your heart when you were brave enough to open up and share it with us,

Resulting in you feeling like you had to keep your thoughts to yourself.


For trusting your words when we should have realized that you were prone to hide your faults;

Instead of taking the time to pursue the truth about what you were hiding.


For the times we told you that you could talk to us about anything, but then we acted awkward when you did,

When you needed a safe place to speak about uncomfortable topics.


For the times we avoided difficult topics--like sexuality,

When you needed an older and wiser voice helping you in your journey.


For ignoring pain in our own hearts, pretending to have it together,

When you needed to see us in the process of vulnerability and healing.


For the times we (either intentionally or unintentionally) withheld truth from you,

And you suffered the sting of betrayal by the ones you needed to be trustworthy.


For the times we came across as if we would be crushed by any of your failures,

So you chose to hide your struggles out of fear of burdening us or disappointing us.


Just writing this list makes me cry. And, I know that this is just a sample of many things that we as parents so often don’t get right.


Teens, please hear my heart when I say I am so very, very sorry for the ways in which we as parents hurt you.



The second source of pain that I often hear about is, sadly, the Christian community.


It would be a lot more comfortable for me to sit back and point my fingers at others who sometimes misrepresent the love of Jesus Christ. As a missionary in Thailand, it is hard to take a look at my own heart and admit that my words and actions may be responsible for turning some away from Christianity. That’s a heavy load to carry.


But the truth is, just as I am a parent who has caused pain, I am a Christian who works with teens and has sometimes added to the suffering in their lives. And, so, again, I feel the need to apologize for my actions and attitudes, as well as the actions and attitudes of others in the Christian community.


I am sorry for the times we...


Put way too much emphasis on behaviors,

When God looks at the heart.


Gave you the impression that God disapproves of you,

When the reality is that He is crazy about you.


Treated others in the body of Christ with disdain,

When God repeatedly instructs us to live in unity and to love one another.


Put the burden on you to "not let the name of God down,"

When God is quite capable of holding His own name up.


Came across as haters,

When the truth is that God is love and we should be characterized by His love that overflows out of us.


We taught you about many different areas of the Christian walk,

But we neglected to disciple you about your sexuality.


Blended into the culture around us,

Because we let our desire to fit in override our obedience to God’s plan.


Acted like sin is no big deal,

When God sacrificed His Son to pay the costly price of sin.


Used our authority in spiritual positions to control or abuse those that we have perceived as "under us,"

When Jesus is the model of loving servant leadership.


Reduced sin to a list of specific actions,

Instead of acknowledging that all our hearts are prone to a sinful and selfish leaning.


Made Christianity into a religion with an impossible checklist,

Instead of a relationship with a loving Creator.


Made you feel unworthy to receive grace,

Instead of pointing you to the miracle of the forgiveness and beauty of the cross.


Negated your feelings and your desires,

Instead of inviting God in to enlighten us about who you are and what we can learn from those stirrings in your heart.


Spoke careless words and come across as know-it-alls,

Instead of being in the posture of listening to your hearts.


Believed we have all the answers,

Instead of looking to the One who does.


Dismissed your opinions,

Rather than valuing what you have to say.


Preached one thing, and then our hypocrisy revealed that we don’t do what we teach,

Instead of being people of authenticity and integrity.


As a Christian who has caused pain and who represents the greater Christian community which has caused pain, please hear me when I say I am very, very sorry.


In conclusion, as I have felt the weight of the pain that we as adults pass on to the next generation, I am also struck once again by the beauty of the gospel. I don't have to punish myself for my list of failures. Instead, Jesus has already taken the punishment for every sin of mine. I only have to receive the grace and forgiveness that He offers.


That is also true for every other parent who has regrets. Jesus wants to lift the weight off of our shoulders and remind us that He took care of all of our sins when He died on the cross. The weight of shame and regret is not ours to bear when we believe the good news of Jesus' death and resurrection.


We can continue to grow in loving our children well when we press closer to the One who is perfect Love.


As I feel the sadness of the imprint of failure from one generation to the next, I also remember that Jesus came to heal every hurt. He alone can fill up the empty and broken places in the hearts of teens.


Teens and young adults, for all of you who have been wounded, there is a Rescuer who has come to heal and restore and redeem. He is the One who will never disappoint, never let us down, and never betray us.


If your heart has been hurt from the adult voices speaking into your lives, I encourage you to listen instead to the voice of the One who created you, who knows the very deepest places of your heart, and who sent His Son to die for you. There is good news for you and I pray you open your ears to hear it.


I welcome your thoughts about this topic. Did any of these apologies resonate with you? Are there any more you would add to the list? Have you been able to receive healing in an area where you were hurt? Have you been able to find God's forgiveness and peace in the areas where you have failed others?


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