Not too long ago, our second eldest child turned 16. With her elder sister just 21 months ahead of her, ushering in a second learner driver feels like déja vu of the craziest kind. While we steel ourselves for another 100 learner hours on the road—and all the grey hairs and mini heart attacks that go with that experience—it does allow for some precious extra hours with our child. Somehow that L plate reminds us daily that we have so little time left with this child who is teetering on the precipice of adulthood.
It was with this thought in mind that my husband and I penned a letter to each of our girls on their 16th birthdays. In the midst of presents and parties, we wanted them to know that the best gifts that we could give them were not material, but something that communicated our heartfelt desire for their spiritual good: for their salvation in Christ and for wisdom in living for him. I include a combined version of our letters here, hoping that it might encourage other parents, —especially those facing the last stretch of children living in the home.
To our darling daughters,
For this birthday, we want to give you a few gifts. By the time you’re reading this, you would have already received 16 little gifts to unwrap. They’ll be small, playful, practical or poignant gifts as a nod to the 16 years you’ve had with us on this earth. But, perhaps more importantly, we would like to have in writing six extra gifts that we want to uphold as you venture into these next few growing up years.
In no particular order, they are:
#1. We want to give you the gift of still not allowing you to date.
You know this already, as it’s long been spoken of in our home. But, being that this is the birthday that marks the same age that I turned (shortly) after Dad and I started dating, I figured it would be a good time to reiterate for posterity.
You know that Dad and I love you very much. For this reason, we want to give you a gift that our teenage selves did not understand nor would have valued at the time. It is a gift that we see, only with hindsight, as good—so good! That is, the opportunity to grow in understanding of who you are and what you may value in a marriage partner one day, without the complication of romantic relationships at an age when you can’t really do much about it. We also want you to have opportunities to practice being godly in all kinds of non-romantic relationships: to practice serving others; to practice listening; to practice sacrificial love. We feel that this is best facilitated when you aren’t consumed by the desire to spend all your time with just one person (or fending off raging hormones, for that matter!) One day, our Father may well bring someone into your life as a marriage partner. How wonderful it would be to give that person the gift of an uncomplicated romantic past and the gift of the kind of maturity that comes through learning to be Christ-centred, placing others before yourself.
We want you to have opportunities to practice being godly in all kinds of non-romantic relationships when you aren’t consumed by the desire to spend all your time with just one person
#2. We want to give you the gift of on-going, reasonable protective boundaries.
You will want to push back at this, most likely. But we will keep insisting on knowing where you are, who you are with, and what your plans generally are. We will continue to claim the right and responsibility to monitor social media and communications. We will seriously consider your requests for the freedoms you’ve yet to enjoy and we pray that we will make wise decisions that allow you to explore independence within a reasonable context. You’ll get to continue to be the teen from the family with The Strictest Parents On The Planet (Not Really, But It’s Fun To Moan) and we pray that you will continue to value that.
#3. We want to give you the gift of allowing you to have convictions independent of us.
While we’ve always felt that we have allowed you independent thought, I don’t think we’ve always done a great job of communicating that to you in our actions and words. Of course, our home is not a democracy and we might sometimes make decisions that you may not love. But at the heart of it all is a desire to allow you space and boundaries so that you can grow into your own convictions. Sometimes, that will mean heated discussions. Sometimes, the boundaries will feel more stifling than giving. Sometimes, it will mean extending you the opportunity to make independent decisions and to live out the consequences. Yet we will always be praying that your convictions will be driven by God’s Word.
#4. We want to give you the gift of being heard.
We know that sometimes we just don’t understand. Sometimes, we think we do and well, really, we don’t. Sometimes you may feel that you don’t even know what is going on in your own head and heart as you process complicated thoughts and emotions. While Dad, you and I will all get this wrong more often than we care to admit, we want you to know that we long for you always to be able to bring your worries, your pain, your frustrations and even your deepest sins to us. We want to hear your heart and share your pain—even if it means that all we do is listen.
We want you to know that we long for you always to be able to bring your worries, your pain, your frustrations and even your deepest sins to us.
#5 We want to give you the gift of high expectations with much grace.
With more freedom to make independent decisions comes greater levels of responsibility. We choose to expect much of you. We expect you to think carefully about the reasons surrounding your decisions. We desire that you choose that which is holy and pleasing to God.
Katie, when you turned 13, we gave you a ring with the specially chosen verse of 2 Timothy 2:22 inscribed on it. Today, on this your 16th birthday, you will have received a small gift engraved with a reminder of that verse. Our prayer is that, as you find yourself surrounded by the youthful passions of this world, you will flee from what is wrong and instead pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.
Kiera, when you turned 13, your ring was inscribed with Romans 12:1-2. For your 16th birthday, we chose to give you another small inscribed gift with those words in the Bible—not to conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. May you always use the Word of God to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Girls, whether it’s around decisions regarding independence of travel (ahem, learner’s license!) or spending more time outside our home or decisions about friendships, future plans, jobs, studies or worldviews, we will continue to desire for you that which is within God’s will.
#6. We want to give you the gift of repentant parents
Dad and I are super flawed. You know that. We know that. We don’t like to admit that as much as we should. But, we should, and my prayer is that you will find us more ready to be godly, honest, forgiving, and repentant than we have been in the past. I pray that the Lord God will continue to grow us in godliness and that you will bear witness to this in such a way that you can’t but be able to praise God and love Him more.
Dad and I are super flawed … My prayer is that you will find us more ready to be godly, honest, forgiving, and repentant than we have been in the past.
Girls, ever since you were tiny babies, staring so intently up at me as I gazed at the precious lives in my arms, I have felt a deep overwhelming sense of awe, love and responsibility. It is with the same sense of awe, love and responsibility—as we look to these next years at the threshold of adulthood—that we continue to pray that the gospel of the grace of God, who sent His Son, the man Jesus, to atone for our own wrongs when He died on the cross and rose again three days later, will root itself deeper and deeper in your heart all while spilling out in greater waves of delight and joy as you share his gospel with those around you. They are no small prayers, but they are uttered with great trust in the wisdom of the God who hears them.
Happy 16th birthday, with all our love and prayers,
Mum and Dad