This series I’m writing is based on a simple idea: Each day, I’m going to wake up, pray and read in Proverbs with “parenting eyes.” Then I’m going to blog whatever comes to mind. This could be brilliant or an epic failure. But that’s the plan. Today, I read Proverbs 4.
Time has erased whatever it is I did or said that gave my 5th-grade daughter reason for her reaction. In this particular instance, I was able to keep my wits about me and calmly gave my daughter a lecture on how to respectfully disagree with authority figures. It was a calm discussion and, being a pastor’s kid, she was also given a reminder about the contrast of “works of the flesh” and “fruit of the Spirit.” It was a beautiful parenting moment that ended in 5th-grade daughter apologizing and asking forgiveness and hugs and smiles. Lesson = successfully taught.
Less than half an hour later…
Very loud questioning of my college football team’s coaching strategy. There may have been expletives.
Pillow, thrown like a fastball, into the chair.
“Hey, Dad. Is it okay not to show the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ when you’re watching football?”
It was a beautiful parenting moment that ended in 37-year-old Dad apologizing and asking forgiveness and hugs and smiles. My kids were always quicker on the draw to forgive me than I seemed to give to them. Lesson = successfully learned. Well, for that particular Saturday, at least.
It wasn’t the first time I’d have to apologize and ask forgiveness from my children. It wasn’t the last. Our children saw us at our worst and my wife and I were okay with that. We’d decided that the best course of action raising kids in a full-time ministry household was to let them see real life. They may not like what they see, but at least it would be real. We didn’t want them to discover that our faith was built on me teaching a bunch of ideals that really didn’t pan out in real life. Real life would be lived in our home, warts and all. That was actually the easy part.
The hard part came later. As our girls grew and ran into real life outside our home–didn’t matter what age–from Pre-K to even now with both graduated from high school and in serious Facebook-official relationships, they’d tell us about whatever dilemma they were having. Our response was usually to give them some solution to the problem to which they’d respond, “Dad, you don’t UNDERSTAND. You don’t know what this is like!” We’d try to find some event in our past that somehow related to their situation to prove that we DID understand and do indeed know what it’s like. They remained skeptical.
After one of these Cosby-like recounting of an illustration, my daughter asked me, “Dad, did you EVER mess up? All your stories are about you doing great when you were a kid.”
In my pride, I’d become the hero of all my stories. Ugh. And my mom certainly would’ve loved to have been there to hear my kid ask that question.
I was taken back to the time I thought that I could never be a youth pastor because my well-meaning one had lots of illustrations, too. He never missed a quiet time. His prayer life was amazing. He always had date nights with his wife. He always went on mission trips with a few trials which he amazingly served faithfully. On and on it went. I remember thinking, “I might like to be a youth pastor but I’ll never be able to. I’m a mess. He’s got it all together.” He was a hero of sorts, too.
I resolved to be a lot more honest with my girls. About the time I cheated on a test or time I copied homework, whether I got caught or not. About the time I got caught in a lie and didn’t fix the relationship. About the dent in the car I never told my mom about. About the time physical temptation won out. About the time I drank too much. About the time I screwed up big-time talking to a parent and they left our church. All of it…as long as it seemed appropriate to the discussion and I really did try not to be too Cosby-esque in recounting them.
See, lessons can be learned about wisdom even (especially?) in the negative. Chapter 4 shows us that. “How?” you ask.
Solomon is writing. The wisest man who ever lived. Ever taken a look at Ecclesiastes? He said he made a choice to discover just how valuable wisdom was in this life. So…
…he gave himself over to whatever pleasure he desired. Think that through for a minute, kids.
…he gave himself over to wine.
…he gave himself over to material possessions, including big houses and wine groves and big parks.
…he gave himself over to big money.
…and so it went.
Read these words slowly, from Ecclesiastes 2:10 & 11: “I did not restrain myself from getting whatever I wanted; I did not deny myself anything that would bring me pleasure. So all my accomplishments gave me joy; this was my reward for all my effort. Yet when I reflected on everything I had accomplished and on all the effort that I had expended to accomplish it, I concluded: “All these achievements and possessions are ultimately profitless – like chasing the wind!”
He was a king. He gave himself whatever he wanted with no denials. He was pleased. But looking back on it all, he learned something: It was a lot of energy & effort signifying nothing. The imagery of “chasing the wind” is pretty vivid, too.
Solomon mentions learning from his father and mother.
David, his dear old dad, had some very big wins on his kingly resume. Killed Goliath. Led Israel to all sorts of national glory, military and otherwise. Revered as their greatest king. The Messiah is to come from his lineage, right? Also lived in exile and acted crazy to save his own life. Murdered a man after committing adultery with his wife. Fought off rebellion from his own son’s power play to take over the throne.
Bathsheba, his mom, the Queen Mother. While we don’t have a lot of record of her thoughts, I think it’s safe to say she saw the effects of poor choices every single day in her life as David’s wife. My guess is she wasn’t hurting for examples.
And Solomon says his dad taught him the importance of wisdom, alongside his mom.
You think it doesn’t have gravity when a guy who murdered another man (who, my guess would be that Bathsheba loved that man given his integrity and loyalty) and whose mom had been through the death of the child her affair created decide to talk about the importance of wisdom? My suggestion is that it ADDS to the importance.
So when David, who had one of his sons sleep with his concubines in public view and unrest in his palace…or the mom who had been through it all alongside him, too…say things like…
…don’t forsake wisdom.
…wisdom is supreme.
…your steps won’t be hampered.
…you won’t stumble.
…avoid the wicked and their ill-gotten gains.
…stay on the path, don’t even turn left or right.
…these words are LIFE.
…guard these words because they’ll protect you.
Well, they have great meaning. Even in the shipwreck of garbage around them and the shrapnel and collateral damage of forsaking wisdom. Even in the broken bones caused by slipping off the path. Even in the wins of folly there are hidden payments and lessons learned. They are antiheroes.
And the encouragement to all of us as parents is to be real with our kids. To drop our pride. To admit, in age appropriate ways at appropriate times, the lessons we learned when we stepped off our paths. Those lessons have gravity to our kids. We fear they’ll seize some sort of moral high-ground and use it as license to do the same things. But my experience is that if you avoid glorifying those experiences and tell them the truth about the consequences and unseen payments, well, they tend to take them to heart. They think about them when we’re not around.
Sure. Sometimes, a hero is needed.
And sometimes, the antihero is needed, too. Never be afraid to let them see that side of you. You’d be surprised at the rewards.