Building Sons Into Men
[M]en are an endangered species. I really believe that.
Over the past 15 years, I have been working directly and indirectly with college students. Almost 10 years ago I noticed a trend that -- at the time -- was alarming. That alarm has now been going off non-stop since, and I'm finally seeing it come to fruition.
What became obvious 10 years ago to me was that boys were growing up only to become older boys; never maturing to a place of living as Godly men. Because of this, we started a new ministry for boys finishing high school, and called it "Young Guns." The point of the program was to teach boys what it looked like to "live a life worthy of the calling [they] have received" (Ephesians 4:1).
Fast forward 10 years, and what we have now are boys who have no clue what it means to be a man. Our college staff regularly ask me if they can just come by my house, and watch me interact with my family. To me, there is nothing magical happening at my house, but for them, they are thirsty for an example of living as a Godly men. (Last year, I bought these smaller gloves for each of my boys. They were probably their favorite present they got last year. I bought them here.)
And now I look down and have 2 boys of my own; a 5-year-old and 3-year-old. As I interact with them, all the conversations I've had with young college students over the years flood through my mind. What has God instructed me as their father to teach them and -- in light of the culture we live in -- what are some practical areas that I need to build into them as well? Here are a few I am focusing on, and how I am doing it:
1. Teach them about God. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
I thought this wouldn't be that difficult until they started asking me those questions that only a small child can formulate: "Dad, if you just prayed for my hiccups to go away, why am I still hiccupping?" Good question. I want my boys to begin to learn about God by showing them who He is with easy, concrete examples. God is a warrior, a strong tower, a rock, a strong foundation, a dad, etc. Easy to understand concepts that help build a picture in their minds about who He is.
I've written a blog post already about this, but the Jesus Storybook Bible is an incredible resource for young kids. Each night, I gather my boys -- and sometimes my daughters -- and I just read them a story out of this Bible. I think we are in the middle of reading it through for the 3rd time. It is engaging, easy to read, has good pictures, and really helps tell the story of Jesus through the entire Bible. My boys love that time each night. (They now fight for who can sit on my right side while I read, after I told them it was a seat of honor in biblical times.)
2. Teach them to work -- hard. (Genesis 2:15)
God created work for men. This was not a result of sin. Before sin entered the world, God had already instructed Adam to tend the garden. When I leave for work, I want them to know, "I get to go to work today." As well, I get to teach them to work around the house. They "help" me mow the lawn, split firewood, and clear debris. Right now, they love it. I want to teach them early that work isn't a punishment, but a way to glorify God.
3. Teach them to obey.
This is consistent throughout scripture. Obey God. In order for them to do that, they need to learn on a smaller level. Steph and I work hard to teach them to obey quickly, consistently and joyfully. We do many "let's try that again" moments. When they obey correctly, we slap many high-fives and hoot and holler.
As part of this, we want them to know there are consequences to sin; one of those is separation. Many of us have stories of people around us who lost their jobs, their families or their integrity by sinful decisions in their lives. We want to teach them early how when they choose to disobey, there are consequences. It's no fun to sit on our stairway at home in "time out," but necessary. I want them to feel the separation as young boys. Hopefully, I'll be able to build on that later in life.
4. Teach them to lead. (Ephesians 5)
This is not a power-grab type of leading. This is leading by taking responsibility; a leading that is motivated by serving. You know how little boys try to whine and moan because they are trying to explain why they made the poor choice they made. I want my boys to learn how to lead by taking responsibility.
If it was their fault, they need to own up to it. John Eldredge uses the phrase "offering your strength." My boys need to learn what it looks like to offer their strength to others: to those that are being picked on, to women, to their friends. Our culture consistently offers us pictures of men who are greedy, prideful and starving for more power. I think teaching my boys what it looks like to lead begins by teaching them to take responsibility.
5. Teach them to love. (Ephesians 5)
What does it look like to love God, love your wife, and love your kids? Boys today need to see "tender warriors." What does it look like for a dad to submit his heart to God, and to seek to follow him daily? I want my boys to see me reading my Bible in the morning with a good cup of coffee. They need to see me on the couch with my wife, as I tickle her or cuddle. They need to see me lovingly teach, encourage, train and disciple them.
They need to know I'm their biggest fan. I am because they're my sons.
In case you've never read the book, I highly recommend Steve Farrar's book King Me. After reading it a few years ago, it quickly became one of my favorite father/son type books. I have just started going through it with a young dad that I know. There are some great concepts in there about the choice we will make; are we -- as men -- going to spend our time building kingdoms, or building future kings?
What else should we be teaching our boys, and how? Any good ideas of lessons to learn, or good presents to possibly get for them this Christmas that would help in the process as well?