Have you ever been in the shower with a bar of soap and dropped it repeatedly? You go to pick it up off the floor and you don’t have it quite tight enough so it slips out and falls again. Then you reach down once more, determined to grab it more firmly, only to grab it too tightly and it pops right out and shoots at the opposite wall! Bars of soap are very slippery. They are not an easy thing to hold onto. It requires just the right touch, not too tight, not too loose.
I like to use this metaphor when it comes to talking about managing, parenting, guiding, directing, disciplining, and instructing young adults under your care. It isn’t like it used to be when you could simply order them to do this or to do that and if they didn’t you simply punished them and made them! You tell a toddler not to touch a hot stove. He doesn’t believe you and reaches for it again. You smack his hand. That takes care of it for a moment. Maybe, eventually, he reaches for it when you are not looking and burns his hand. He learns quickly why you told him not to touch it. You wanted to avoid his hand getting burned, but it will heal and the lesson is finally learned. If only it could be so simple with the complicated issues that face our teens today.
I was reared by a father, God love him, who did his very best; but also simply didn’t know what to do and how to handle all the issues thrown at him by way of the teen culture with which his children were all involved. He did his very best. As I look back, I see times where maybe he was too lenient and times where he brought the hammer down so hard that I simply rebelled. My rebellion is my responsibility not his. Nonetheless, these are my memories, and I am trying hard not to make the same mistakes with my children.
If only I could let them touch the hot stove and get a brief, but easily healed pain, as a result and learn from it. The issues you deal with when they become small adults though are far more significant with further reaching consequences than a temporary burned hand. Some of the decisions they make now will affect them for the rest of their lives. Some of the decisions they fail to make now will do the same. As a parent I have done my best to train them up in the way that they should go. I have given them principles and instructions and taught them what it is that the Word of God says on various issues. In the long run, though, I know that it might just take them experiencing a few things for themselves to really learn these lessons. I don’t want to stand by and let them make these decisions, but the alternative is to insert myself into their world in a forceful, unwanted way and that has its own negative consequences. I am once again striving to hold onto that slippery bar of soap.
This has once again come to the forefront of my mind because of a son that is currently involved with a young girl, and we watch with fear and trepidation as they appear to be getting closer and closer at the tender ages of sixteen. It is scary. We want him to make good choices, but we cannot for all intensive purposes be there every minute to guide him in all of his actions. He must make choices for himself. I would like very much to forbid this and forbid that. I would like very much to demand that they not spend time together. I would like very much to tell him not to hold her hand, not to put his arm around her shoulders. I want to scream to him that he is so clueless as to the power that is behind his hormones and emotions that are driving him currently. I want to MAKE him see what it is I am talking about. I want him to truly KNOW that my fear is valid. I want him to KNOW that he is walking on dangerous, soggy ground and can quickly sink into a region of space that might threaten to undo him.
I do my best. I talk to him about these issues. I remind him of what it is that God expects of us. I remind him that he is bought at a price, that his body is not his own, that he should do all things unto the glory of God. I remind him that he is too young for a marital relationship and that certain physical behaviors are reserved just for that—marriage. I try to gently warn him that one behavior leads to another and that in the end he might not be as strong as he thinks he is. I DO tell him he needs to be resolved in his mind to set limits and boundaries and commit to stick to them. I pray and I pray and I pray. And you know what? He does seem to listen.
He will actually tell me that I have some good points, though he thinks I am making more of it than need be. He will tell me he knows what I am saying to be true. I feel better for a time. It is good that we can have these talks. His father has his own talks with him in more fatherly, manly ways. Together we are hopeful that he will remember our words of admonition when push comes to shove.
Right now he only spends time with his girlfriend in mixed company. No alone time. That is good. There will come a day, though, when despite my efforts to get my sons to embrace a courtship mentality he will likely be driving his own car and want to pick this sweet young girl up and take her somewhere all by himself without anyone else. Is the ground work laid enough? Have I done my job? Will he remember our words? Will he remember God’s Word?
I have come to the conclusion that since holding this bar of soap is so difficult that I must get myself one of those ropes. Ever seen them? Soap on a rope, they are called. The rope is my lifeline to God. I have to give it over to Him. At some point my son’s relationship with Jesus is his and no longer my responsibility. I try to find the balance of rules and regulations with freedom to make choices and mistakes of their own. It is not an easy thing to do. In the end I do the best I can and lay it all at the feet of Jesus, for He has begun a good work in my sons and He will be faithful to complete it. I cannot be with them every minute to remind them of truth and pitfalls and help them make right choices. My job as a parent is to work myself out of a job. Just when does that happen exactly? LOL! When is it that I let go of the bar and grab on only to the rope, my lifeline, as tight as I can, praying all the while? When is it that I am supposed to still be holding onto the bar with a grip that is neither too firm and neither too tight? I weary of trying to find the balance.
But then again I must not weary in well doing for I shall reap a harvest in due season if I faint not. So, though I would like very much to gravitate to one extreme or the other, I will continue to try to hold onto this bar of soap. I would love to lay down the law and cut out all temptation and all activity that could possibly cause my son to stumble and fall. My fear is that then I would lose his heart. Then he would not get to stretch his wings and practice flying before he actually has to. I would also like to simply throw him from the nest and let him fly now all by himself so that I don’t have to worry and watch and stand by as he struggles to find his way. But I cannot do that either. The extremes are easier to be sure. Moderation is the key. Moderation in all things we are exhorted to do.
So, I see myself standing in the shower with water running all over me, a shower of circumstances and difficulties that pose threats to my hold of the bar of soap. I stand there letting the warmth of the water wash over me enjoying it while I can because I know that any minute the bar of soap might just slip out and fall to the shower floor. You know. That is okay. God will be there to catch that bar of soap and hand it back to me with a dose of wisdom and grace that will help me know just how tight I need to hold it so that it doesn’t slip out again. And when I weary I can always hold onto the rope. Right?