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 14 & 15
Some of you know I was on quite the journey of self-discovery for most of 2012. Well, “self-discovery” isn’t exactly the term I’m looking for. See, I was trying to figure out what God wanted the last half of my life to look like, so, in one sense, there was an awful lot of navel gazing. On the other, there was an awful lot of hoping God would shine a flashlight down a dim path. Whatever word you’d use to describe that process, that’s what 2012 was like for me.
In that process, I was given a lot of books from friends who swore by them. For the most part, there were helpful items in each and every one. The crux of these book were usually a variation from the question every high school guidance counselor throws out there at some point: “What is it that you love to do?” Followed by, “Find a way to do that and make a living.”
Also part of that process were a series of “profiling instruments.” You know, questionnaires that provide some insights into your strengths, weaknesses and passions. Stuff like that. I took a bunch of them, some straight out of those books and others at the request of potential employers.
I discovered that I’m a Golden Retriever in one of them. Very loyal. Even-keeled. Adaptable.
Another showed me that I’m an INTJ. I like systems/organization. I value intelligence & competence. Long-range thinker.
You get the idea, right? I took a bunch of those kinds of tests.
But the two that I was most intrigued by focused on how I saw myself (they are, after all, self-reporting tests) against how others saw me. One of them I took and then 10 friends who knew me well took the same test with me in mind. Fascinating results. In that one, I saw myself as very strong in one area, while those that knew me well put that one in the middle of the list, elevating another area I didn’t see in myself. See, I saw myself as a very strong teacher, while they saw me as very strong in leadership/visionary characteristics. To be sure, there was a lot of common ground, but I was surprised that what I thought was a major strength wasn’t high on their list.
Then I took one that evaluated the type of person you are when you’re relaxed/comfortable/normal, and then showed you how you behaved when you were aware that others watched you. That one was interesting, because it was almost like I was two different people. When I was my “most natural” I wasn’t very decisive and blase. When I was being watched, I was very calculating and deliberate in decision making. When I was my most natural, I was extremely introverted, but around others very outgoing.
It reminded me a great deal of the time when I came back into Christian circles after a 3-year hiatus after my dad died. In that, I went from a formal, highly liturgical church environment to a more informal, deeply academic/intellectual one. Episcopal to Bible Church, for those of you that will understand that.
So, here I was, with all my teen insecurities and such…and a LOT more familiar with pop culture and different social mores than my new circle of fellow-Travelers/Tribesmen. They were PK’s, MK’s, and had been immersed in the Bible and such while I had been steeped in liturgy and the Book of Common Prayer. My previous circle was okay with all sorts of things, from musical choices to styles of dress and use of alcohol and all that. I learned pretty quickly that it wasn’t the same deal in my new circles…politics gambling and haircuts and abstaining from alcohol and music/movies/TV/books were all used as spiritual measurements.
That said, there’s a lot of focus in chapters 14 & 15 about behavior. Stuff like a woman can build or tear down her own household (that stupid saying about “If Mama’s not happy, nobody’s happy” is awful…Mama needs to choose happy and serve even when she doesn’t feel like it. But I get the gist that Mom sets the tone of a house, but don’t justify bad behavior.) Walk in righteous ways. Watch your words. Be a person of discernment. Walk away from fools. Share your joy. Be careful around backsliders. Watch your temper. Don’t show favoritism to the rich. Tell the truth. Help the poor. Don’t envy the rich. Righteous behavior is good for society. Earn your pay. Understand people are capable of horrible things, and don’t do them. Don’t be lazy. Be careful of who you associate with and take good advice. Live with a joyful countenance. Be humble before the Lord.
And, let’s be honest, if this was the list of traits our children showed, wouldn’t we be thrilled?
But there’s a very real danger afoot, parents. We can manage behavior and get all those traits. And if we’re honest, there’s really a little slice of all of us that wants our kids to be model citizens so all of us can rest easy under the fishbowl of our friends/acquaintances observations of our parenting skills. We can hold our heads high at the PTA meeting or the baseball field or church group because our kids are making all A’s and making the honor choir and earning Eagle Scout awards and helping old ladies across the street. We can say, “See? We do it right at our house.” Because it gets rewarded in ways big and small, we focus on them.
And we neglect their hearts…which is what God values.
See, all the parenting books are written from a position of strength. It’s hard to get a book deal if none of your kids are following Christ or wound up in jail or does drugs or dropped out of school or or knocks over little old ladies crossing the street. Well, you CAN get a book deal, but the book will be about how YOU deal with those things and Oprah will let you on her show as the author in her Book Club. But those books are about YOU and not parenting.
Anyway, the undercurrent of chapters 14 & 15 is that these traits are held because your child has an authentic walk with their Savior. Not behavior for behavior’s sake but because they love God deeply and want to follow Him…the “inner” comes long before the “outer.” It’s harder to measure the “inner,” too. I mean, David was the man after God’s own heart and broke pretty much all of the Top 10. His later life was spent dealing with the consequences of breaking pretty much all of the Top 10. Yet, even in his moments of stupid-head, we see him being contrite. We see him writing some of the most gut-wrenching Psalms. We see him not writing any Psalms during a spiritual dry spell in the time between his annointing as king and ascension to the throne.
So, how do we focus on the heart instead of the Eddie Haskell behavior? (Yes, I realize some of you may need to Google that…so if needed, do so now).
First, we live it out before them. In my years in youth ministry, I’d see parents who said all the “outer” things but did little, if any, of the “inner” things. They wanted their kids in small groups and going on mission trips and serving but lived their lives in such a way that did none of those things. They wanted their kids to be outwardly good without giving them the inner foundation…not only as an ideal but as a lifestyle So, think through the ways you are being inauthentic. Confess to your kids where the person you are when others are watching is different than the natural you…and then ask them to hold you accountable. Oh, and view the professional Christians God has put in your lives as servants who will help you parent, not as experts who will do the job.
Second, trust God with your kid. He loves them more than you do. We have to let them fail. They have to have their “King David” moments. And, yes, their consequences might have long-term realities. But if we hover and protect, well, sometimes we can hinder the work of God in their lives. So, we have to learn to forgive when they roll in drunk one night or we discover they had sex or fail a class or whatever their Achilles’ Heel happens to be. We have to learn to instruct and let them win a few and lose a few so they can learn (sometimes the hard way) to make their walk with God their very own.
Third, we need to cut each other some slack as parents. It’s a hard gig. We all have wins and losses. If we live out the position of strength in front of others all we do is reinforce the wrong thing. As we walk alongside others in the parenting fray, don’t be afraid to comfort those who need it, celebrate the joys with those celebrating, encourage those who are struggling with tales of your own struggling, and cut their kids some slack. I admit, I got kids who have an inherent wiring that generally makes my parenting pretty easy, but we’ve had our moments. Others got super-stubborn kids or those that are walking a darker path. Empathize honestly. See parenting for what it really is: You don’t really know how good of a parent you are until your kids are out of the house with their own kids & lives. Everything else is process…so stop measuring parents & kids in the process.
Because as this generation is showing us by their church attendance (18% of kids born in the early 1990’s are attending churches with any consistency now…anyone? anyone?) they’re looking for the real deal. Eddie Haskell doesn’t do it for them, and like the Cleavers they see right through him in all his forms…if our evaluative tests and profiling instruments show a gap between who we say we are and who we are, well, we need to get to work, no?