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. The next set of entries will have to be different as the verses/chapters I’m reading are, as one of my former students referred to them, “Christian fortune cookies.” In other words, two lines of insight with no real connection or continuity among them for nearly 400 verses. So, there will be more smaller entries rather than longer ones and the verses will be pretty much randomly selected as ideas pop into my brain from wherever they are. Today, I read Proverbs 11.
My neighbor Sam was a character. Retired guy. Playfully cracked wise at any other neighbor within earshot.
When we first moved in, my daughters were 7 and 5. That perfect age when the training wheels came off and biking around our cul-de-sac could carry an entire 2-hour parenting shift/duty and draw a neighbor or two out for a chat. Sam was always first to come out. He puttered a lot and was always around. And, after his morning coffee with his “Liar’s Club” (his retired friends) and golf he had his afternoons free to harass the neighborhood until his wife told him to stop talking nonsense and come in for supper.
One afternoon’s exchange went something like this:
Sam: What did you do wrong in a past life?
Me: Excuse me?
Sam: Wrong. In a past life. You had to do something wrong if the universe gave you two pretty blonde blue-eyed daughters.
Me: Not following you, Sam.
Sam: Well, I had the same thing when I was your age. Pretty little girls they were. Pretty little girls grow up and get curves. Boys start coming around, and we both know what they’re after because we that’s what we were after when we were their age. I mean, you don’t look under the bed unless you’ve hidden there before. Anyway, that’s when the trouble starts.
Me: What kind of trouble?
Sam: Well, with the boys comes cars and beer and making out and well, you know, they’ll break curfew and roll in drunk and you just hope you keep them from getting knocked up. And after all that trouble they put you through, you’ll wind up paying for their wedding to a guy you don’t even like but you have to because he’ll be coming over for every holiday. That’s why you had to do something bad in a past life. Karma comes back around. So the universe gave you pretty daughters.
So folksy. Most of our interchanges had that kind of tone where I was never quite sure if he was in character and “talking nonsense” or if he meant what he was saying.
A few years later I had the parent of a high school daughter give me some words of caution before Kid1 started middle school. The mom told me that the high-school years (her daughter was starting her senior year) were a “cakewalk” compared to middle school. She told me that it’d be good for me to read a book called Queen Bees & Wannabe’s (which the movie Mean Girls used characters as stereotypes of the five types of girls listed in the book) and it would give me some vital information on how the middle school life is for girls and how harsh the territory truly was. “High school is a lot better. The middle school years were awful. The girls haven’t grown into themselves yet and the ‘have’s’ and ‘have not’s’ start separating themselves. The braces and glasses and acne and all can lead to a horrible year. Brent, there’s no animal meaner than a mid-school girl.”
So serious. I had no doubt this mom was truly trying to help and meant every single word of what she was saying. Interestingly, that same author wrote a follow up book about the “Queen Bees & Wanna-be’s” and how that looked among suburban moms. Apparently, mid-school wasn’t the end of mean animals.
Whether Sam was serious or not didn’t really matter to me. Whether the mom was taking an isolated case and making it apply to all or whether or not it was the full truth didn’t really matter to me. See, I felt like Proverbs 11, at least as far as parenting daughters goes has verse 22 at the heart of it:
Like a ring of gold in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who rejects discretion.
See, here in the ‘Burbs, our children are like the the ones in NPR’s “This American Life” (narrated by author Garrison Keillor) fictional town of Lake Wobegon. It’s described as a town “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”
Our suburban life gives our kids every chance to fall in line with beauty by almost any standard you want to apply it to. I mean, let’s be honest, every parent sees their kid as handsome/beautiful–and, frankly, rightfully so. They are. We see our kids as bright, even if that doesn’t manifest itself academically. We see our kids as talented, and they all have a niche where they can get noticed for that talent. They have lots of advantages and and are destined for universities or trade schools or military service or entrepreneurial endeavors where they’ll do pretty well.
Look at us: We’re beautiful. All above average.
But if we don’t set the bar high…
…and by that I mean as high as Scripture sets it…
…for our kids, well, maybe “karma” will come back to bite us (no, I don’t believe in the concept, just go with the illustration, kids) or maybe our kids will become “mean animals.” That bar of moral sensibility. That bar or propriety. That bar of good taste. That bar of ethics. That bar of self-control. Our kids will be rings of gold in a pig’s snout. A waste. A pig is a filthy animal. A costly ring of gold in it’s nose simply doesn’t harmonize. You can do it. It just doesn’t make any logical sense.
Chapter 11 is loaded with all sorts of notes that hint at the moral sensibility, propriety, good taste, ethics, and areas of self-control all around verse 22. For example, before it: honesty in business dealings, being humble, integrity, the value of right living over cash, that right living keeps your path straight, the danger of slander, the importance of being trustworthy, being generous with possessions, and the beauty of being kind. That’s the short list.
And, after that verse: desiring what is good, the importance of valuing your family, generosity is again highlighted, as is right living over cash, and how righteousness gives a person life like a tree in season, and the importance of “winning” souls.
These are the things that that make our children truly beautiful, no? No matter what they look like. No matter their academic success. No matter the applause and accolades they get for their talents. No matter the military service or business success or excellence in their trade.
Because the chapter all shows us plenty of realities of the “flip sides” of those behaviors. What might happen if they take shortcuts to success or if they let it go to their heads. What might happen if they make poor moral choices or would rather pursue material things rather than seek Him. If they don’t pursue righteousness or lack integrity. If they’re greedy or they run their mouths or rude or do things that cost them trust over the long haul. If they don’t value their family. If they aren’t generous. If they don’t look out for the good of others.
Our kids can have all the beauty and advantages. Look at us: We’re beautiful. And the world will rise up and call them blessed. And they’ll look like a ring of gold in a pig’s snout.
So, in all fairness to Sam…I don’t believe in Karma. Sure, I believe actions have consequences (a free aside: Parents, we’ll do well to stop shielding our kids from those)…but I don’t think that having beautiful daughters results in bad choices and I’d encourage all of us to set the bar where Scripture does and teach our kids these things.
I mean, sure, some kids are the mean animals. But we need to truly trust Scripture. I mean, we SAY we do, but do we really? It says about itself that it’s profitable for telling us what’s right, showing us where we’re wrong, showing us how to fix those things, and for training us how to live right lives. That Greek word for training is the repetitive training that is required in raising children. Over and over. Over and over. Even when you don’t think they’re “getting it.” Even when it seems like you’ve told them a thousand times the exact same thing. You have to stay diligent…
…or they’re gold in a pig’s nose.
So, for today, I’m bouncing around a few things in my own brain about parenting…
…like, in what ways have I valued what the world says is wisdom over what God says is true and communicated that to my kids?
…like, in what ways have I failed to set the bar high for my children?
…like, in what ways to we value “beauty” instead of righteousness?
…and, in what ways have we failed to stay diligent in these matters and allowed some “drift” to happen?
That should keep us busy for a while.