My new friend Randy wrote to me about a tradition he and his wife have with their sons. Each young man has a rite of passage celebration when they reach the age of thirteen. Randy explained the format in his message.
"When my eldest, David, turned 13, Carol and I were moved to have a group of men over for his favorite dinner and share 'Words of Wisdom' with him. All we asked was that they share something with him that they wished someone had shared with them when they were 13. It was an amazing night, which we have never and never will forget. A dozen or so godly men investing in a great kid. We ate David's favorite meal (Swiss steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, Snickers cake...), then spent time sharing around the table, one at a time. Now comes time for our middle son, Joel. Tomorrow is the night."
What a wonderful idea! How I wish I had known about this when my sons began that transition from boy to man. To have men of wisdom and character share their thoughts and experience with each son would be priceless. Randy asked me if I would share something with Joel. It was an interesting challenge to write about what I wish I had known at thirteen because that age stunk for me. But God had used what I perceived to be an awful period to help make me who I am today. That is what I shared via letter with Joel.
I have not had the privilege of meeting you but I look forward to correcting that soon. However, I have had three sons who have made the passage you are making from young man into manhood. Your Dad asked me to share a few thoughts about this season of your life. I went back to my experience at age thirteen. To be honest, it was not the best time of my life. To be really honest, it was awful. I was overweight, not popular, and uncomfortable around girls.
Now I realize that what I once considered some of the worst moments of my life I am grateful for experiencing. In many of those spiritual valleys you could not have begun to convince me that God was molding me or that those experiences could ever be of value. I knew the Scripture just as you likely do; that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. I now realize that mere knowledge of that promise is not enough. It comes down to our foundational belief of who God is. Do we believe His Word? I mean really believe His Word? That He will actually cause even the worst event to something work for ours or someone else's good? That requires faith in a God that is trustworthy.
Do we know His attributes? Do we believe (really believe) His promises? If we do, then we must accept the troubles and "we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good". Romans 8:28 (MsgB)
I have developed a heart of compassion for those of you who are wounded. Why? God gave me the privilege of being wounded early in my life. That sounds crazy as I read back over that last sentence. It is not a sentence that I would have written twenty, ten or perhaps even five years ago. But I can see that my struggles as an overweight, geeky and generally outcast adolescent molded my heart to empathize with those who are hurt and ostracized by their peers.
Had I been the coolest guy or the best athlete or the most handsome I most likely would not have developed a sensitive spirit to others. So God gave me the opportunity on all of those fronts to develop sensitivity. I did not enjoy that period of my life. I would have given anything at that time to be one of the popular kids. I would have told you that I would gladly trade nearly anything on the spot to be the starting quarterback or the big man on campus. I was desperate to be part of the cool group. With the benefit of hindsight I can promise you that I am grateful for every refining difficulty and problem. Such a dramatic change in attitude is a matter of time, growth in my relationship with Jesus and my trust in the truth of His promises. As G.K.Chesterton wryly noted, "Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump; you may be freeing him from being a camel." Had I been freed the burden of my "hump" (that tough teenage passage), I would not be who I am today.
So I hope your experience right now is better than mine. But if it is not or if it changes in the future, always remember that God is in control, He loves you even more than your wonderful earthly father, and He will work it for good even if you cannot see it at the time.
Congratulations. Happy Birthday!
Just a couple of days later I received an actual letter of thanks from Joel. I didn't know that any teenagers knew about stamps and envelopes. His thoughts were mature and articulate. Joel finished with this phrase, "thanks a million for helping me as I take a step into manhood!"
You are welcome. And remember to pass that on to other young men some day. This whole experience was a blessing for me. There are a lot of bad kids out there but they are outnumbered by kids like Joel. You just have to look a little harder to find out about them. It is worth the effort.
Dave Burchett is an Emmy Award winning television sports director, author, and Christian speaker. He is the author of When Bad Christians Happen to Good People and “Bring’em Back Alive – A Healing Plan for those Wounded by the Church.” Dave is available to bring his unique perspective to your conference, meeting, or broadcast. Dave and Joni, his wife of twenty-nine years, have three grown sons. You can reply by linking through daveburchett.com.