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Lent 2013, Entry 17

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 29 & 30.

Almost 20 years ago I was part of a student ministry leader’s test group for a new curriculum called True Love Waits. It was designed to teach students what the Bible said about God’s view on sex…which, naturally, was certainly understood by our evangelical tribe. That reality gave a lot of wiggle room to talk about other issues such as dating and STD’s and the like. I taught the curriculum as it was given to us at first, and over time it morphed to a hybrid of the best stuff and then my own stuff.

Yes. I stayed away from the PR part of the movement as it morphed when folks found out you could make serious cash with the sale of yard signs (“My Child Took A True Love Waits Vow!) and locker magnets (“I’m Not Ashamed of My Virginity”) and conferences and more updated curriculum packets. When you take a single-issue and try to “raise awareness,” well, it usually skews away from the original intent and I felt like it did with this organization. Stacking pledge cards to the roof of the Georgia Dome or across the Golden Gate Bridge didn’t do much for me. But I digress.

As I said, I taught the curriculum as given at first and in my first year we had a large group of students go through the program. We changed it a bit in that we didn’t do pledge cards but instead the kids put a ring on their wedding finger. Yes. I’m aware of the irony that i had my own little speck of “raising awareness.”

Later on, we involved the parents as the teachers. The curriculum we wrote required their transparency in front of their children, which made many very uncomfortable and they fought through it…but ultimately the parents said they enjoyed the process and felt closer to their kids.

We had the kids & parents stand on the stage and the parents put the rings on their kids’ fingers and there were hugs and smiles and and family joy and dinner as a very large group to celebrate. Most parents felt like the journey was over for them. They were sure that their child knew “right from wrong” and would inherently abide by that…

…even though by this time they were mostly 14-year-olds making that decision.

We all know there’s a HUGE difference in an idea at age 14 and how 18-year-olds apply that knowledge. Even though the parents had walked their kids through all the realities of “how far is too far” blah blah blah dating blah blah blah STD’s blah blah blah abundant life blah blah blah God’s will blah blah blah fruit of the Spirit blah blah blah there seemed to be two underlying realities:

First, did the child really TRUST God? You know, if you’re 14 and haven’t had a serious relationship, would you still trust God’s Word if you fell in love? What if you didn’t fall in love until you were 28 or whatever, would you still trust? We did our best to make the kids aware of the potential speed bumps they’d face in the future and even asked them that question: Would you TRUST God?

Second, would the parents really TRUST God with their kids? See, the thing that most youth ministers don’t want to admit is that you’re seen as successful as long as the kids don’t have sex, don’t get drunk/stoned, and they get into good colleges. Parents eat that stuff up. What they don’t like is the idea (or worse, the reality)that the spiritual life gets messy and/or fuzzy as their children make their faith their own. The question would be whether or not they truly trusted God, or did they simply want kids walking that “well-worn path to successful mediocrity?” Spiritual formation is often a slow business with hard-to-quantify results.

Sometimes neither trusted God. I saw plenty of parents who trotted their kid into my office one afternoon and demanded the child give me back their TLW ring…and then felt like some sort of failure as parents because their kid who knew better made an unwise decision which somehow they viewed as a reflection on their parenting skills. I’d try to get them all to take a 30,000 foot flyover of the situation and sometimes that went well, others not so much.

Sometimes both trusted God. One time I had a 28-year-old from my first year kind of laugh as a college freshman in our group got engaged at Christmas with a wedding planned for the summer. As the happy betrothed was flashing her ring to hyper-excited friends, the 28-year-old flashed me her TLW ring that was over a decade old and said, “They should be making the fuss over this little reality. She only had to wear hers through high school and mine’s likely to have at least 15 years of use.” I know her parents and they’d commented a time or two about that little reality…so they were still in communication about these types of things.

To me, this idea of truly trusting God is the crux of Proverbs 29 & 30, especially 29:15-18: “A rod and reproof impart wisdom, but a child who is unrestrained brings shame to his mother. When the wicked increase, transgression increases but the righteous will see their downfall. Discipline your child, and he will give you rest; he will bring you happiness. When there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but the one who keeps the law, blessed is he!”

As parents, we’re supposed to impart wisdom…through discipline. I know this sounds like a broken record in this series, but that drill-instructor-type diligent training. Structured. Focused on His wisdom. Repetitive. Over and over until we get it right. Failure to do so brings chaos, which requires even more energy and effort to reign in so the question becomes where do you want to expend that energy. You signed up to be engaged when you decided to have kids, so the only issue is do you want to be proactive or reactive…and what these verses certainly say is to put your efforts on the front-end. Course corrections or (in contractor terms) “change orders” are harder and add costs. If you discipline your child, you’ll be blessed.

Now I need to take a little rabbit trail here and tell you, loudly, “PROVERBS ARE NOT PROMISES!” Christians would do well to stop quoting them as such and treating them as such. They’re general observations with a measurable results, but not guarantees. However, more often than not, they prove themselves in the measurables.

And that’s where the trust factor comes in, parents. When you teach them about…

…the consequences of rebellion against authority; the dangers of falling to sexual temptations; the reality of flattery; the warnings traps of giving in to temptations or the joy of standing firm; the consequences of anger; the benefits of surrounding yourself with good advisors/friends; the importance of watching your words; the results of pride; the abomination of injustice and oppression…and that’s just the lessons of chapter 29.

If we dive into Agur, the son of Jakeh, in chapter 30, we teach them about…

…the true beauty of the words of God in our words and our lives; the importance of telling the truth; the desire to know God above what the world tells us is successful; the importance of family and respecting elders; the of being satisfied with what you have; the ugliness of adultery; the consequences of gluttony; the dangers of exalting yourself, the revelation of God in nature.

Because the reality is that we’re temporary stewards of the blessings of God when He gives us children. And we’re to raise them to follow Him and His ways. To show them that there is a God of grace who loves them more than we ever can or will.

Because the reality is that sometimes we mistake protection from the world system for love. When our role is never to have kids under our wings for their entire lives. Our temporary stewardship is a short-term (even if that quarter century seems like a million years) investment in an individual who is supposed to leave your nest and do whatever it is that God has for them…and if we’re honest, that is scary because we usually have it drawn up a bit differently.

Because the reality is that investment requires teaching them and then letting them fail even though it kills us. Even though we hurt for them more than they hurt for themselves. We have a huge emotional investment to the degree that we’ll save their bacon by dropping off their forgotten homework or check their grades on line for 7 years of our lives for reasons we don’t really understand or we’ll humiliate them by trotting them into their youth pastor’s office to return a True Love Waits ring because of our own pride…

…when we know that God loves them more than we do.
…when we know that we have to depend on Him to change their hearts.
…when we know that His plan is better than ours.
…when we know that His ways are not our ways.
…when we know that, well,

…True Love instructs…
…with great patience…

…and does indeed wait…

…on Him.

Which require us to trust…because the reality is that true love does indeed trust. Do we trust the Lord with our kids and the results and the all-too-circuitous path He takes them on?

And that, my parenting friends, is a tough question to both ask and answer.