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Slippery Slopes

Posted by on December 22, 2013

There is a well-worn axiom that says our parents get wiser as we get older. The truth is we tend to grow in our appreciation of what they were trying to tell us as we experience more of life. There’s nothing like rounding a bend on the path of life and suddenly encountering the very pothole that our parents said would be there. The first time it happens we’re pretty sure it must have been a lucky coincidence, because our parents couldn’t possibly understand what life is like in our world. When it happens again we acknowledge there might be a tenuous connection and grudgingly accept that maybe some of what they told us has merit. By the time we hit adulthood and become parents we’re usually seeking them out.

As with so many other things, Karen and I often fell back on the wisdom of our parents when we encountered teachable moments with our boys. As the years went by we built on that, using bits of wisdom we stumbled upon from other sources. Sometimes the “conventional wisdom” about parenting in our generation didn’t ring true for us and we had to decide on our own approach. We preferred for those insights to arrive with plenty of time to spare, so we could mull them over and refine them before they were really needed, but more often than not we were like teachers desperately trying to stay one chapter ahead of the class.

One of those bits of conventional wisdom was the notion that our children must be protected from the evils of the world by us sheltering them as much as possible. Coming as we were from the idea that we were trying to raise men, this strategy seemed like it could result in children who were ill equipped to face the world once they were on their own. That might not be the case for every child raised under those conditions, but we thought our chances of raising men who were capable of handling what the world throws at them with strength and integrity were better if we prepared them a little differently. For example:

We told them sex, drugs, and alcohol are FUN.

It might seem like a better idea to warn children away from such things, by telling them that they are awful and dangerous and that they have the potential to ruin lives. All of that can be completely true of course. I’m not implying that we encourage these things in any way, but when we leave out the reason that people are so easily ensnared by them we set up a potential showdown between our parental assertions and the reality of experiencing them. If our child ever encounters circumstances in which they actually do try something we have told them is awful, and they discover that it’s actually kind of awesome, then we give them grounds to doubt whatever else we have told them about it. We’ve unlatched the gate to the slippery slope.

If we tell our kids instead that there’s a really good reason people fall into these traps, we equip them to make an informed choice when they encounter such an opportunity. It doesn’t guarantee they’ll make the right choice, but hopefully they’ll at least consider the possible consequences before they decide.

Thankfully, most of the lessons our boys learned about these things were a result of things that happened to other people instead of to them.

There was a pastor who fell into sexual sin. A football coach who let alcohol get the better of him. The suicide of a kid at school who got wrapped up in drugs. These were people we knew, and our boys had front row seats as each situation played out. Horrible prices were paid in each case, not only by the people themselves, but also by the people around them. Their families and friends. The people who had respected them.

In each case, a person was lured in by an illusion of “good” and they kept going because they thought they were smart enough, or strong enough, avoid the pitfalls. In each case they were wrong.

Growing up is filled with challenges of many kinds. Aspiring to manhood sometimes demands that we place ourselves in the path of what seems dangerous in order to test our mettle. We learn a lot about ourselves that way.

We don’t know for sure that we’re brave until we face what we fear.

We don’t know for sure that we’re strong until we flex our muscles against something powerful.

But the beginning of maturity is realizing that not every challenge is best met head-on. In some cases the bravest thing we can do is turn and walk away. Doing so acknowledges that what is being left behind might be fun, and we might very well be able to handle the potential hazards, but it also might not be worth the risk. And there might be something better. When compared to costs and potential rewards for other challenges in life, the payoff for this one might not be so good. In fact, accepting some challenges just reveals our fear. Fear of being excluded. Fear of being unpopular.

Jesus was presented with some pretty tempting options when he was fasting out in the wilderness. How much harm could there be in eating some delicious bread after having fasted for so long? Surely the sight of hundreds of angels swooping down from Heaven to catch Jesus would have immense impact on his ministry! And if he were made king over all the earth, how different history would be!

Wonderful, amazing possibilities! Yet Jesus knew that each carried with it a cost that far outweighed the benefits. He chose the tougher path because it was the better path. The true measure of his strength and courage was revealed when he turned and walked away.

Navigating the “narrow path” is a lot easier when we do it with our eyes open.

originally published 12/1/11| next post Life’s not Fair

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