One of our practices, while milady &
I were raising our kids, was to have a “date night” every week,
so we engaged a young lady from our church, named Bella. Bella knew
that every Thursday, she had an appointment babysitting our three
young kids, while Mrs P & I went out on a date together.
the date night is not for business, household or otherwise; it’s
for maintaining and strengthening the relationship. Sometimes we had
dinner, sometimes it was just a walk in the park, but the business of
bills or work or leading our church was off limits. However, “I
love you!” was permitted, even encouraged!) (’Nother comment:
Date night was an outstanding investment we made in our marriage; got
us through some ugly seasons.)
to Bella. Bella was a great young lady. She was the oldest daughter
of a couple who were “pillars” in our church, and she was
amazing, and the whole church knew it. She was active in the youth
group, earned good grades, and didn’t hang out with the scruffy
kids at school. Her parents were real proud of her. She was at our
house every Thursday evening for several years.
Thursday, we came home after a quiet dinner, and a police car was in
our driveway. It seems that Bella had left our kids alone in the
house, and gone off to a quiet place to make out with her (hitherto
unrevealed) boyfriend; someone had reported the trespassers, so the
police showed up.
had told the policeman who arrested them about our home and our kids,
so a cop was parked in our driveway, making sure nothing happened to
our kids until we got home.
had some difficult conversations that evening. In a couple of months,
we attended Bella’s hastily arranged wedding.
there was Bennie. Bennie was an Eagle Scout. He was squeaky clean:
good looking, short hair, bright eyes, had memorized hundreds of
was the oldest son of one of the church’s elders, and the whole
community was proud of him. He led worship, taught Sunday school, and
was making plans for Bible college when he snapped.
parents were completely undone when he went missing. “He’s such a
good boy! He’d never do something like this to us!” they wept.
weeks later, Bennie showed up, covered in poorly-drawn tattoos and
addicted to methamphetamines. His parents wept some more, and tried
to “fix him,” but he disappeared again, this time for the better
part of a year.
know more of these stories, but you probably know some, too: good
kids, kids who seem to have everything going for them, and then one
day, during that terrible transition between youth and adulthood,
they snap, they go off the deep end. Most of them don’t really come
kids were coming up on their adolescence, so I was intensely
interested. I grieved for Bella and for Bennie, and for their
parents, but I wanted to do what I could to keep my own kids from
this sort of flaming crash-and-burn. I talked to God about it. A lot.
Hours, weeks, months.
night, I was sitting next to my campfire, praying for my kids, when
he began to unveil some things. Now, the unveiling took a lot of
time, weeks, probably months, and I don’t have time for that whole
story, so let me cut to the chase.
seemed, in at least these two cases, that these kids felt immense
pressure. They carried the heavy weight of expectation of sainthood,
of perfection, from their parents, from their extended families, from
their friends, from their churches, from everybody they knew.
was overwhelming, stifling, constraining them while they were young,
and they grew more aware of these expectations as they grew, until
the weight that nobody knew they carried crushed them.
think there were three factors to this.
first was that eventually, as they touched on adulthood, they
realized that they didn’t have to choose to wear that weight any
longer. But they didn’t know how to lay it down, didn’t know how
to get help, so they just threw it off and ran screaming from anybody
that they associated with that crushing burden.
second factor was that they were heroes as children, showpieces as
youth and adolescents, but now they were facing that great unknown:
adulthood! They had no idea how to be heroes or showpieces as adults,
in fact, adulthood in general was overwhelming, so they cut and ran,
away from adulating, away from responsibility, away from perfection.
third, he showed me that these particular kids were living on their
parents’ faith, not their own. And when the pressure of looming
adulthood got to them, they couldn’t live on their own faith. They
were making the physical transition to an adult body, but not the
transition from their parents’ relationship with God to their own
relationship with God.
showed me that I was similarly proud of my amazing children, and I
was setting them up – particularly my all-star firstborn, for the
same sort of implosion.
gave us a few strategies to protect our kids. Fair warning, these
things did not make our church elders happy, nor did the kids’
grandparents always approve. But we have healthy adult kids, and
we’re still friends, so something went right.
they were younger, we built a great big treehouse in the back yard so
they and their friends could do that thing that all kids need to do,
but church kids don’t usually get to do: play. Be kids. And they
could do it in our yard, under our oversight. We had water fights
there (I bought the balloons, and loaded them, while milady chased
screaming kids with a Super Soaker and maniacal laughter!)
the same reason, we bought a bunch of video games (we chose which
ones we spent our money on, but we sought their counsel). For
birthday parties, we rented a projector, invited the friends, and had
a 16’ wide videogame on the wall. We played some of the games, but
never as well as they did.
encouraged them to do things, to stretch their experiences, with
their friends. Go camping with your teenage friends (here, use my
sleeping bag, my tent; this is how you set it up), make a fancy
dinner with friend (here, use our kitchen, we’ll go somewhere else
that evening). We ignored it when they snuck out of the house at
night, but we did ask the next morning how their midnight walk had
gone. Sometimes, we walked together in the dark. Often, I bought
chocolate milk for us at the 7-Eleven.
made an under-the-rose deal with them. If ever they got an invitation
to go somewhere or do something and they didn’t want to go, or
didn’t feel safe, we would be the heavy: “No honey, you can’t
go to that. We have a family event that evening,” even if the
family event was just dinner and a movie at home. (And we’d always
come and get them, any time, any place, if they called and said, “I
want to come home.”)
“rule-keeping” was part of the heavy burden that had broken Bella
and Bennie, we practiced breaking the rules together. We’d go off
the trails when we went hiking (waaay off!), and I’d show them the
edible plants, and we’d eat them! We learned how to start a fire
rubbing sticks together, and then we put it out in a great big hurry
because we were in the garage when we finally figured it out. We’d
play hide and seek in the grocery store and in the mall. We took off
our coats and hats in the spring rain and sang silly songs as we
jumped in puddles. We played Frisbee golf on all the important
they were approaching age 18, the age of legality, some of them made plans to
get tattoos. Since I had no authority to prohibit an 18-year-old from getting a
tattoo, I contributed to the “tattoo fund,” and discussed designs
and colors with him. (The final choice was an ancient family motto, in Latin,
no less! It looks great!)
have a handful of things in my mind as I come to the end of these
very fond memories.
Please don’t make the mistake of thinking we got it all right. We
surely did not. But we actively loved them. We stayed in our kids’
lives, we stayed in communication together, we stayed in prayer. In
the end, they’re still our friends, they’re still excellent
people, though they sure turned out to be different than the good
little church kids we’d originally (and ignorantly) envisioned.
I’m offering some perspective here, some opinion: There’s a
reason why some kids blow up when they approach their majority. A lot
of it has to do with how the generation before them handles the
expectations they lay on them, how they train youth to become adults,
how they give hope for a mysterious transition. Maybe with some
understanding, we can choose wiser paths to lead them down. Every kid
needs understanding. Like adults do.
I offer these as testimonies. There are some people who are facing
similar situations and they don’t know how to respond, and these
stories will give some folks hope, give other folks ideas. Your kids
are every bit as worth saving as mine are. Every family needs hope.
In these, I’m offering a worldview that you can borrow, a worldview
that says “people are more important than their reputation,” or
“not every rule is for obeying.” You see, there’s more life
outside the lines that everybody is coloring inside of than there is
inside them. Wherever you want to exercise your right to color,
that’s an excellent choice! Everybody needs freedom. Decide for
yourself. Teach your kids to do that too.
If nothing else, here are some excellent ideas for prayer, for your
kids, for your grand-kids, for the kids of your co-workers.
last child you know – every one of ’em – needs prayer.