For the sake of disclosure, I am not a father of a son or daughter. My time will come, but at the present time, I do not have any children of my own. Do I fully understand what my siblings and relatives and friends deal with on a daily basis with their children? It is not as if I can exchange knowing glances with any of them about potty training little Johnny or Lucy. There are some things that I will need to experience firsthand in order to grasp in a fuller way the weight of fathering a child. This is not to suggest that I cannot empathize with the struggles and hair-pulling circumstances faced by my siblings, relatives, and friends.
Here is an example of what I mean. I have zero experience raising a child who later rebels against everything I taught him or her. What I do have some experience with has to do with rebelling against authority figures. When I attended middle school, I warred against my teachers. I talked back to them, refused to follow directions, and basically acted like a little stinker. Needless to say, my behavior lead to many after-school detentions. During these middle school years, the Lord took hold of my life in a profound way. I repented of my sin, professed faith in him as Lord, and followed him in believer’s baptism. Little by little, my defiant or rebellious spirit began to lessen over time.
My experience is rare for a twelve year old. Most adolescents continue in their rebellion throughout high school and into their early twenties. Some turn the corner, but many remain steadfast until the end. It seems to me that fathers and mothers need to spend many hours on their knees before the Lord. It was the Spirit of God who reined in my heart and soul. If the Lord had not plucked me out of my rebellion at twelve, I would be on a very different trajectory. I still have memories of friends and acquaintances from middle and high school who took sharp left turns toward shaky living.
During my teen years, I remember becoming more aware of the differences between my peers and me. No matter how awkward or imperfect I was in following Jesus, I kept seeing how he preserved my life from life-altering choices. My friends and I bonded because of our shared experience with living in a fractured home. I cannot explain what lead me to run to the Lord while my friends ran away from him. It had nothing to do with being smarter, being wiser, attending church, you name it. In fact, the youth group that I attended and the surrounding church culture actually made it harder to follow Christ.
Divorce was a bad word twenty-six years ago within certain Evangelical streams of the church. This brought with it a stigma much like Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter. Because my two brothers and I came from a divorced home, this put us at odds with our peers. There was pure nastiness taking place between the church leaders and my parents. Those church leaders had kids who attended the same youth group as my brothers and me. Please excuse my language, but like my dad used to say, “crap flows downstream.” Both of my younger brothers hated the youth group, and they stopped going as soon as they could. I understood their decision, but I knew that I went to the youth group because of the Lord rather than my peers.
Where did I get the will to behave like that let alone the idea? Again, I see this as insurmountable evidence of my genuine conversion by the Spirit of God. There was a moment where I made a decision for Christ as the saying goes; however, an objective, third party would struggle long and hard to find any compelling reasons for the choice that I made at twelve. If I had written out a list of pros and cons with respect to following Christ, the latter column would have won out by a wide margin. My background was no different than that of my friends. I did have an inner desire to obey the Lord, read my bible, and live it out. Frankly, I attribute all of that to the Lord. His fingerprints are all over my salvation.
Two verses come to mind as I end this piece. They capture the essence of my youth to a tee:
“O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds” (Psalm 71:17, ESV).
“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word” (Psalm 119:67, ESV).
Leave it to the Psalms to contain pithy statements.