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Lent 2013, Entry 16

This series I’m writing is based on a simple idea: Occasionally, I’m reading and praying in Proverbs with “parenting eyes” and blogging whatever comes to mind. That’s the plan, for good or bad. Today, I read Proverbs 24-26.

“So, how we doin’?” the teen would pat my wife’s belly right after she asked the question, too. This went on for about two years. Every single time she saw Tracy, that’s how the conversation started. She really wanted us to start a family.

When you think about it, that’s a VERY personal question…but we didn’t mind. We started a ministry with these teens and developed deep relationships with them. She asked us this question if we were sitting together at a football game, or a concert for the choir she was in, or at a basketball game together, or a pep rally, or if she was over at our house.

See, we had a rule with the kids. We’d purchased a home near the local high school and told the teens we ministered to that our house was their house. If the curtains on the large window that faced the street were open, they were free to walk right in. Didn’t have to knock. Our house was their house. They took us up on that. Our home was a beehive of activity. They watched college football all day Saturday there. A carload would stop by after the movie but before curfew. They held Nintendo Tecmo Bowl tournaments there. They even took advantage of our large flat yard and would hold croquet tournaments in the summer evenings and we would often pull the grill around front and cook burgers and they’d play until it got dark.

We didn’t know we were doing “relational ministry” or “teaching the Gospel in the context of relationship.” Those terms came later. But going to their lives and letting them come to our young-married life was the cornerstone of our discipleship. When we moved, we didn’t have a big window on the front of our house, so we put up one of those decorative flags and the kids could walk in if the flag was up. If the flag was down, it was family time. We even had a special cabinet loaded with junk food they could dive into it whenever they walked in.

If you can’t tell, my wife is gifted with hospitality in that our home was full of teenagers around 4 nights a week and she always said that our home had life and she preferred the noise of a happy home. This continued even when we had our children (you have no idea how happy Leslie was when she asked how we were doing and Tracy told her she was pregnant)…and our kids were used to a house full of teenagers. They never knew any other lifestyle.

So, when they hit high school, we always encouraged them to bring their friends over to the house. We went to our kids stuff…and we got to know our children’s friends outside the arena of school & church environs where they aren’t fully themselves as they acquiesce to the expected mores of the environments they’re in. We wanted to gauge the hearts of our own children by seeing what kinds of friends they were drawn to hanging out with. And, yes. That changed a good bit as interests and activities developed or waned…but we’ve always felt like you can’t be effective in discipleship without being proactive in building authentic relationships.

You have to dive into the lives of your children…and I tell parents that you want an environment where your kids can invite their friends over. Now, I’m not saying that you have to pull out a blanket & your popcorn and stay in the room while they watch the movie and all that, but you need to let their friends know they’re welcome in your home. That you are interested in them as people. That you care about their friends, too. I know this will make some of you parents uncomfortable…but try to get over that. You’ll be glad you did.

See, really all you have to do is pay attention.

Just show up and support your kid at whatever event they’re doing. From your spot in the crowd, see who they hang out with. Ask them about those people later (you know, like, “That girl with the tie-dyed shirt. What’s her name? How’d you meet her? Is she a good friend of yours or what?”). Have your child introduce her to their parents. Stuff like that. And make it clear that your kid can have plenty of friends over to watch a movie or hang out by the pool or shoot hoops or whatever they do. You’d be amazed at what you can learn just by setting out a cooler with sodas in it, and the information you can gather for the cost of delivered pizza while you serve and then clean up…or if you offer to drive AND pick up a van full of kids to the middle school event. Sure, you’re losing your Friday night, but you lost those the minute you had kids anyway.

So, all you do is pay attention to the things these clumps of kids say & do when they’re being themselves outside of school & church. What are you looking for? I think Proverbs 24-26 give us a LOT of clues.

The key is to look for wisdom vs. foolishness in their context.

Do their conversation highlight that they kind of envy the kids who aren’t making wise choices? Are they those kinds of kids always scheming and plotting in ways that go beyond goofy mischief? Are they resilient kids who overcome obstacles or do they fold when the going gets tough? Do they talk about age-appropriate deeper things, and show elements of compassion and care? Do they show elements of seeing bigger pictures and making decisions looking at longer-term consequences? Do they have their deepest friendships with those with good morals while still having relationships with those who don’t know God? Is there a general honesty, or do you feel like they’re all hiding something? Do they tend to be dedicated to their interests or do they just skate by manipulating a system and killing time? Do they have hearts that lean toward God (like David, their actions might fail on occasion, but are they contrite and repentant)? Are they an eye-for-an-eye kind of kid? Are they argumentative and looking for a fight? Are they faithful and loyal? Are they thoughtful with their words? Is their speech generally encouraging? Are they people who say high-minded things but don’t really live them out? Do they make the same mistakes over and over? Are they all talk and no action? Are they gossips and/or drama starters, always stirring the pot? Do they put up false fronts? Do they set up traps hoping others will fail the tests? Do they lie as a lifestyle? Are they deceitful?

Now, let me remind you of the point I’m trying to make: I know they’re young and there will be elements of this in the lives of kids. But you can tell a LOT about the heart of your child by who they’re drawn to. So many parents believe it’s their kids who are good-hearted and the other kids “bring out the worst in them.” Such a dangerous way to think, because we should be asking how it is that our child’s heart is DRAWN to people who are foolish. It is only then we can instruct our children.

And we’ll never discern where our child’s heart is if we’re not proactive in being where our children are and having their tribe in our homes (yes, if your child doesn’t ever have friends over, that’s a red flag and you need to figure out the reasons for that…and my guess it’s because they don’t want you to see/know their friends) and observe the elements of wisdom and folly as seen in Scripture.

“So, how are we doin’?”

We’ll never know unless we pay attention to who our kids are when they’re just being themselves.