Teen growth: It's going to get messy and that's okay!
Sometimes being comfortable with a mess, and seeing the value in imperfection, is key to future nourishment and growth.
There's a grove of trees which is sacred to me, and also to many of my faith. A few decades ago, a forestry expert was sought out to analyze if that grove was being properly cared for. The evaluation was summed up in a simple phrase - “You are loving this place to death.”
No one knew that keeping the grove as a “pristine city park” had been hurting, not helping the grove. Meticulous care was a disruption to an important process taking place. Decomposing limbs, leaves, and dead trees would provide life-giving nutrients to the soil -- if left where they had fallen. After this advice a different approach was taken, they began leaving the mess. Listening to this information in a recent *podcast, I couldn't help but think of the years spent raising our teens.
As our teens were navigating decision-making and developing their faith, mistakes were inevitable. Poor choices were a lot like dead trees, dropped leaves, and fallen branches. If as parents, in our sincere concern, embarrassment, and/or anger we swooped in too quickly to clean up the mess, we were disrupting an important process. We needed to trust God and His ways when it came to sacred groves. We needed to learn how to help (and not hinder) their nourishment and growth.
The night I learned this, was when I heard one of our teens calling for me in the same scared and worried tone as when they were little. Concerned, I ran to his/her room and found my otherwise confident child upset and afraid. In the conversation that followed, what was shared shocked me. Then, I felt scared! And angry. I began to panic, Who else knew about this incident? And what "punishment" should be given? Looking back, those thoughts remind me of the desire for a pristine forest. Another thought changed my course. It was, Stop it. This is your opportunity to be there for your child.
In the same podcast, **Jenny Lund continues,
“We don’t usually talk about preservation when it comes to a grove because trees die. ... we’re less (about) preserving individual trees as we are about preserving or restoring the living organism of this grove…”
In those moments with my teen, I had to identify what really mattered. Was I more concerned with perfection or progress? Did I view my child as his/her choices or their potential? It can be like seeing trees instead of a beautiful and sacred grove! If as parents we are seeking only to preserve trees - or each and every choice made on a daily basis - we may be missing the point; preservation of the whole.
As I prayed for help that night, words came that were not mine. I told my child their mistake wasn’t permanent because God had a plan in place for things like this. The despair felt could, with repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, be temporary. As I spoke, it felt as if I were saying those comforting words to the both of us. Later, I realized the issue at hand was common amongst teens and often goes unaddressed. Entrusting my Savior with the "mess," rather than trying to make it quickly "go away," allowed me to be part of the nourishing work of His Atonement. I also realized that consequences don't always need to be "given," often the pain experienced with poor choices is enough. As we worked through the situation together, we felt clarity and our Savior's love.
Because communication with young, maturing "groves" can be fragile, there were lots of times conversations didn't go as well. My husband and I learned it was never too late to undo a poor reaction or to seek the Savior's help. Mistakes were to be expected, they were the necessary fallen branches in our own lives, helping our continued growth as well.
At the end of the podcast, Jenny Lund says the owners “purchased buffer property” around the adjoining farm because it was important to expand the size of the grove. She says having a small grove “really creates an island” where trees are more susceptible to disease, pathogens, and “all kinds of attacks.” The same was true for our teens.
Like a grove of trees, our teens were at risk when disconnected and alone. They needed someone they could trust with the attacks coming at them.
As parents, we could be the “buffer property” - someone willing to provide both limits and room to grow and expand.
Our children are now adults. The teen years were difficult, heartbreaking, and rewarding. While I wanted to prevent and protect them from every possible sin and mistake, it would have been like "loving them to death." We had to be resilient during that time - parents and teens. We had to look to the Savior to make sense of the dead trees and fallen leaves and branches of our lives. Today, as each of us continues to do that, we strive to keep trusting God's plan. I know our Heavenly Father sees each of us as a beloved and sacred grove!
*Podcast Episode 6: "I Had Seen a Vision, The Joseph Smith Papers Project
**Jenny Lund is director of the Historic Sites Division of Church History for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.