Estimated reading time: 7 minute(s)
We had an interesting conversation with our teenager the other night.
Ian is thirteen. That means he’s officially a teenager. He’s been there—especially in his own mind—for quite a while now, even before the calendar said he was. That’s how he came into the world, actually. He’s usually ahead of the game.
And that’s his biggest problem. He’s pretty talented in a lot of ways, and he’s quite intelligent. That can very easily add up to a big trap. It can start to seem like you’ve got it all figured out.
I think at some point we all face that. And you might be saying, “Greg, of course he thinks he knows everything … he’s a teenager!” And, you are certainly right that what I’ve said so far could be said of most of us (maybe ALL of us?) in our teen years. It is the time when we are discovering ourselves. When we are invincible. When we are definitely smarter than our Mom & Dad.
But see, the thing is… this has been plaguing Ian since before he could speak.
There’s a war being waged in his spirit. I can’t know that, of course, or see it directly; but I see evidences of it. At once Ian is the most gentle, caring spirit, and also completely unbending and arrogant. He can be both.
From his earliest days, when we were training him the simple ‘yes’ and ‘no’ of what he could, and could not touch, where he could, and could not go, Ian has defied us. He has somehow had deep within his spirit a need for autonomy. More than a need, a conviction. He. Is. Right. It causes him such grief with his Mom, especially, but also with me. We’ve spent so many hours and hours talking about it, praying, learning from Jesus, and hopefully even showing by example.
But he persists in his right-ness.
The other night after a long day of head-butting with Mom, we had an emotional, confrontational “talk”. (It was mostly me doing the talking.) What came of that was a nugget of truth (at least, truth from Ian’s perspective) that helped me see the command from Scripture, “Children, obey/respect your parents…” slightly differently.
What I saw was that those words are not the end, but just the beginning.
God’s blessing comes after our will (as children) can quietly and trustingly submit to our parents. There are two things we learn from that. First, we are learning to submit ourselves to someone we trust whom we know loves us (like our heavenly Father), and second, we are learning the value of obeying Father, even when it doesn’t yet make sense to us—which we will have countless opportunities to practice through the rest of our adult lives.
Ian said, “So then I’m just supposed to lie?” He meant that he doesn’t agree with us, so, if he complies with a respectful-on-the-outside “Yes, Mom” and the subsequent carrying out of his orders, then that equals obeying? That is somehow a good thing?
In reply I said, “No, Ian. You are not supposed to lie. It’s not a lie. It’s a choice. You are saying, ‘God, even though I don’t agree… even though I think I’m right here… I’m going to trust you. I’m going to show my parents respect, and willingly do what they are saying is best, because I trust you, and your love for me.’ We hope that you can trust our love for you, too, and the wisdom we have gained by our quarter-century of additional experience. But the first choice you make, and the one that matters, is to choose to trust God.”
And I realized, that’s so true. I added, “Ian, I think the only thing God asks of you while you are a child, is to respect and obey your parents. As you get older, a LOT more will be expected of you, and you will be responsible for a lot more choices. But right now, it starts with this simple one. If you can choose to do that (respect your Mom and Dad, and do what they say, even when you think you know better) then you will start to see God’s blessing. When we trust him, he begins to unfold more truth in front of us. Not to mention, you’ll have peace—inner peace, peace with your Mom, with me, and your simple choice will begin to grow peace through our whole household.”
This is not “pick on Ian” time. Ian is (as I said earlier) incredibly talented in many things (sports, writing, reading, knowledge, understanding and caring about people, art, humor, and more). I love my son, Ian. He’s also—at times—incredibly hard to be around, because he does not see himself as an equal (or, in the case of his parents, a subordinate). His arrogance, unchecked, will eventually—once he is no longer under the protection of our supervision and guidance—be his ruin.
Pride, the worship of self, is the beast that is in all of us. Somehow, God put something in us that has a great desire to protect us, to defend us and all that represents us. It is the undoing of many. Perhaps it’s stronger in some than others (that’s what we seem to see in our firstborn son) but it is definitely something we all battle.
Ian and I had a subsequent discussion about heroes and villains. He’s writing a book with some seemingly ordinary folk who have super powers, who battle other seemingly ordinary folks who have super powers (or super technology). It’s a classic good versus evil, superhero story. He’s got some fun twists he’s working on, and he’s becoming a pretty good story teller, so it should be an entertaining read!
We thought about the one most common distinction between the “good guys” and the “bad guys” in any story, “super” or not. The answer was surprisingly consistent, and easy: bad guys are always in it for themselves, and good guys are always looking out for other people, even (especially) at their own peril. Those are heroes, the ones of us who sacrifice self for someone else, expecting nothing in return. (If reciprocity is expected, then the “selfless” act was really not selfless at all.)
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
I’ve quoted those few sentences from Philippians 2 here before. A few times, I believe. Don’t forget the sentence that comes next (perhaps the more familiar words):
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
There are so many commands in the Bible. Do this, don’t do this; go here, stay away from there; be this, don’t be this. It trips us up, big time. We get stuck on the “dos” and “don’ts”. The one thing that matters is to love God (and trust him) with all that you are, and equally important, love other people like you’ve been loved. There’s no “me” in that. The me is the “others” part for you. YOU are taken care of by me, and by everyone else who is “taking an interest in others, too”, and by our Father.
What more could you ask for?
So we’ll keep trying. We’ll keep loving. We’ll keep talking, praying, studying, and doing—leading by example. We’re going to fail. We do all the time. But hopefully part of our example is a humble acceptance of our own brokenness, our own quite obvious IMperfection.
Do what’s right… love mercy… walk humbly with [our] God.
And in the end? Well, we don’t get to know the end. We only get to live the now. We hope that as we do what God is asking us, that he’ll bless us by giving us the joy of seeing HIS Life lived brilliantly in and through our son (all our sons, and our daughters). They will each get to choose to trust him along the way. It might be “easier” for some of them than it seems to be for Ian in his short thirteen years so far. But I have a hunch that each of them will face their own obstacles, just as great, just as impassible …
But nothing is impassible with God. (Or, something like that.)
And it is HE whom we trust. From the very first, when we say, “Yes, Mom,” and “Yes, Dad”. And through the rest of life, with the first choice to trust—when much (or all?) seems to say otherwise—we take the first step and choose to trust him.
Then we begin to know the Life he has for us, the Life he is.
It all starts with a simple choice.