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Five Things

August 29, 2019

If you knew you could only give your kid FIVE THINGS – non-material things – before they leave the nest, what would they be?  What five life-skills, attitudes, patterns would you want them to take into the wide world awaiting them?

When our three girls were growing up, I was so busy making it up as I went along I didn’t think I could get a hand free to write a list.  (One of my favorite lines in a song comes from a Steven Curtis Chapman song: If I could get one hand free, I’d be pulling out my hair.  That’s what it felt like back then, even though it probably wasn’t as bad as it felt.)  Besides, nobody ever challenged me to make a list like this.  Anyway, I don’t remember it.  It’s possible I wasn’t paying good enough attention, so. 

It’s one of those things that, if I had a rewind button, I’d go back and do.  There’s no rewind button, though.  To harvest wise words from an unknown philosopher, at this point, “It is what it is.”  By God’s good grace, our three girls grew up and became more like their mom than me.  They’re all three making fabulous lives as adults, and they all three are my heroes.

I’ve already written about one of the things I’d put on my list of 5: Learning how to fail (One Essential Skill You’re Probably Not Teaching Your Kids).  In my opinion, this is an essential skill.  No matter how you define success, people who don’t know how to fail rarely figure out how to succeed.  And as you know, everybody will fail.  Often profoundly.  It’s a paradox, but undeniably true.

OK, after teaching your kids how to fail successfully, what are the other skills you’d want them to carry into their future?  Coming up with four more things for a good list won’t be easy.  If it is, you may not have identified the most important things.  You may only have gathered the lowest-hanging fruit.  But some low-hanging fruit is valid for this list, so don’t throw it out automatically.  At the very least, let the low-hanging fruit prime the pump for fruit that’s a little higher up in the tree (forgive my mixed metaphor), because higher up the tree is where the best fruit may be.

This may look like low-hanging fruit, but it’s actually a ways up the tree.  In 2014, retired Admiral William H. McRaven delivered the commencement address at the University of Texas, Austin.  The title of his address was, “Make Your Bed.”  If you Google “Make Your Bed,” you’ll find his speech in a variety of lengths and forms on YouTube.  It’s worth a listen.  His talk was so well-received that Admiral McRaven expanded it into a book.  It, too, is worth the short read.

The point of McRaven’s speech?  Doing little things, like making your bed every morning, contributes to the depth of your character.  A very strong case can be made that if you don’t learn how to take responsibility for the small things in your life, you won’t be able to own the big things.  When you take responsibility for small things, you put yourself in a position to deepen your character.  If you don’t learn to steward your own life, to take responsibility for yourself and your decisions, you simply can’t grow depth of character.  And depth of character is the gold standard in the real world.

I’d put “Make Your Bed” on my List of Five.  Um.  By the way, your kid probably won’t start making their bed while they’re at college unless they start making it while they’re home, before they head out for higher education.  Take it from a guy who managed to go half a semester without making his bed in his Junior year of college.  (Don’t judge me.  I hadn’t heard the speech yet.)

If you want your kid to make their bed, you’ve got to quit making it for them.  Granted, the Navy has leverage you probably don’t have in this effort.  As a parent, it’s hard to enforce bed-making without coming off as a dictator.  The Navy doesn’t give a rat’s furry behind if a sailor thinks they’re dictatorial.  The point is, though, if you make your kid’s bed, they won’t need to make it themselves.  So they won’t.  Teach them how to make their bed and then tell them making it every morning is their responsibility, not yours.  It will take 7 or 8 years, but they’ll eventually thank you for it.

As great as “Make Your Bed” is, I wouldn’t put it at the top of my list.  I wouldn’t even put learning to fail successfully at the tip top.  That place is reserved for something of timeless and ultimate value.  It may sound like a Sunday School Answer, but I’m sticking with it.  The star at the top of my FIVE THINGS list Christmas Tree is (a drum roll, please) knowing how to nurture their own faith walk, and then choosing to nurture it for themselves.  

More than 40 years ago I heard a profound remark that shaped a whole lot of my ministry life: God has no grandchildren.  Your relationship with God is undoubtedly shaped and influenced by your parents, but your actual walk with Him is by your choice, not by your parents’.  Everybody either chooses to say yes to Jesus or not to say yes to Him of their own will.  Your momma’s faith and prayers can draw you to Jesus, but actually coming to Jesus is your choice, and no one else’s.  God has children, but no grandchildren.

So if you’re a follower of Christ, you get this incredible honor of introducing your kids to Him and influencing them toward a life wrapped up in Him (St. Paul worded it this way: “hidden with Christ in God,” in Colossians 3:3).  You pray for this.  You model your faith in front of them.  You take them with you to church.  And to do service in the Name of Jesus.  You sometimes do this even though they’re not really jazzed by the prospect.  Sometimes you require them to do this.  You do these things because you want to expose them to an authentic relationship with Christ, one they will want to choose for themselves.

But you don’t get to do any of it for them.  The best you can do is to set the table.

I’m bumping my max word count, so I’ll press the pause button with this question: are you setting the table?  Take a couple of minutes and do some reflection.  Ask someone you know who knows you well enough to be able to have a sense of it what they think about this question, from their observation.  Your spouse, maybe.  Or someone you admire because of their maturity and their walk with the Lord.

CAUTION: do not ask someone who tends to be judgmental.  You’ll just set yourself up for unnecessary criticism and discouragement.  That won’t move you any further down the trail.  Ask someone who’s mature enough to tell you the truth in love.  Ask a mature grace-person.


From → Marriage, Parenting

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