From Teenage Thorn To Adult Rose
“You can either complain that rose bushes have thorns,
Or rejoice that thorn bushes have roses.”
-- Author Unknown
A teenage child is like a rose bush – one of God’s wonderful creations engulfed by beauty, yet protruding with an armor of defensive thorns. For a parent, a teenager can be a wonderful creature to admire from a distance, but sometimes impossible to get close to without a protective shield in place to guard against the child’s prickly eminence.
Think of the rose bush. In order to intimately admire it we must be fully protected by insulation thick enough to shield us from the painful pricks and jabs of the thorns, yet thin enough to allow us to maintain our mobility and sense of touch. Our gardening gloves offer this type of insulation – they softly encapsulate our skin, yet still enable us to pull the thorny stems close, absorb the beauty of the roses, and inhale their soft, fresh scent. In this same way, wearing gloves of emotional strength, parental maturity and unconditional Christian love can insulate us from the thorns of fear, hostility and anger that protrude from our teenage children whenever their modes of defensiveness are engaged. The key is not to allow this insulation to make us thick skinned. Somehow, we must still preserve our ability to feel.
This “insulation” process can be tricky. Sometimes we can overly insulate ourselves from our children’s spiteful jabs, and we end up creating a wall that actually barricades us from them. Being insulated is not synonymous with being apathetic. We cannot insulate ourselves so much that we lose our sense of feeling and mobility and are left feeling fearful of embracing our children or of praising their inner beauty.
Sometimes it is hard to remember that the defensive thorns of a teenager are his “protectors” from the dangers of the world. Just as God gave the rose bush its thorns as protection against its hostile environment, he provided his children with the wisdom to design their own thorns as well. These self-designed thorns protrude from a teen’s eminence like the quills of a porcupine – serving as protective shields from worldly pain, sorrow and humiliation. Bitterness, anger and self-conscious behaviors are some of the biggest thorns of all. And yet, these ugly thorns are incongruently intertwined with an inner beauty that we cannot help but admire, even if it is from a distance. Of course, more times than not, we end up getting hurt or “jabbed” by unkind teenage words or actions during our attempts to admire this obscured beauty. But witnessing the beauty of their laughter, the gleam of hope in their eyes, or the products of their giving heart makes it worth enduring the pain from a few nasty pricks. As parents, we must try to remember this.
All too often, teenagers wish to be admired and loved from a distance rather than to share an intimate moment of closeness with their parents. On the rare occasion that they allow us to get close, maybe even hold them, we are usually forced to place our arms somewhere in between the sharpness of their thorns. But we can learn to be at peace with this.
Think about it. We want our rose bushes to turn into something healthy and beautiful, so we try to look beyond the thorns and remain consistent with our care taking – we begin to understand that thorns have purpose and that they are extensions of the rose that are contiguous to its beauty. We try to be loyal with our feeding and nurturing duties. The same holds true for our children. Blooming teens must be fed and nurtured consistently to maintain their physical, spiritual and emotional well-being. This enables them to grow, flourish and eventually flower into loving, responsible adults. A teenager should be fertilized with the nutrients of love, admiration and respect; fed and watered with God’s Word, and allowed to reach towards the rays of the sun for its life-sustaining light.
However, helping something beautiful flourish also includes fending off the invasive enemies in the world. Our children must be carefully and tenderly pruned in order to protect them from these worldly enemies, cruelties that can attack them like a disease or fungus, beginning at their roots. The “weed killer” of discipline must also be used so that a teen does not choke or die from the wild, uncultivated invaders – the “weeds” that try to raid their territory and drain the nutrients from their otherwise healthy, fertile soil. These weeds of turmoil can include drugs, alcohol, premarital sex, juvenile delinquency and more. If a teen’s cultivated foundation is tampered with, it can weaken his physical, mental, emotional and spiritual strength. Consistent, firm discipline with our children is the key to maintaining a strong, durable foundation for them that is resilient, yet unbreakable.
One important thing to remember is that not all thorns are visible – some are hidden. But a parent can learn to recognize these, too. For instance, it is usually obvious when a teenager is angry: A frown, glare or scowl begins to protrude from his eminence. These are his “thorns” of hostility – warning signals that announce his wishes to be left alone. However, we are forced to be more intuitive about the hidden thorns and what causes the release of this quill-like armor. Becoming more attuned to the hidden thorns requires getting to know your child and recognizing certain edgy behaviors that may actually be warning signals. Edginess can be a symptom of anything from anxiety and fear to hunger and lack of sleep. To distinguish its causes, we can learn to become more attuned to our teenager’s school and social activities as well as his eating and sleeping habits. As with a rose bush, experiencing a few pricks teaches us to avoid thorny areas in the future; it prevents us from aggravating the places we already know have thorns. Instead, we either admire from a distance, or decide to handle only the blooms, which must be done with care and tenderness.
So, what are we to do about the thorns that continue to hinder our care taking? What protection allows a parent to shield himself from these thorns, yet still admire and cherish the beauty of his child? The only insulator is a mind-connected heart, a Christian heart filled with emotional strength, compassion and unconditional love that is connected to a mind holding the Christian-based wisdom of parental maturity. As long as the parental heart remains connected to a mind filled with knowledge about guidance and discipline, we are insulated. Once our heart becomes our insulator, it serves as our shield of protection. A heart that remains filled with unconditional love and compassion will always be accessible to our children. Eventually, we will learn to adapt to our children’s emotional environment like a chameleon, changing colors with their emotions so that we can blend into their life without disrupting it, and finally remaining an integral part of it forever. We will also learn to give thanks for their thorns, for these are the self-developed protectors that God gave them to help them survive in an unpredictable world. Without thorns, rose bushes would be helpless and hopeless – without thorns, our children would never get the chance to bloom.
The glory of the young is their strength; the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old.
--Proverbs 20:29 NLT
THE AUTHOR: Melinda Neeley is a freelance writer from Morrilton, Arkansas. During her early years as a journalist, she was a reporter for the Log Cabin Democrat and a feature writer for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. She was also editor of several local newsletter publications and publications assistant for the Small Business Advancement National Center at the University of Central Arkansas. Her published writings include: “House of Stone,” Reflections: A Poetry Quarterly, Winter 96-97; “The Cemetery Women,” www.healingwordspress.com, Fall 2003; and “From the Hollow of a Bell,” Ascent Magazine, www.bcsupernet.com/users/ascent/, February 2004. "From the Hollow of a Bell" was also released last spring in a short story anthology, Clerestory, published by DLSIJ Press. Currently, she and her husband run their own construction firm. She also enjoys writing mini biographies for people who wish to have lively, inspirational accounts of their lives recorded on archival paper. You may contact Melinda via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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