In theory it should always be easy to love on our sons. We birthed them, we snuggled them, some of us fed them from our own bodies. We have a special unbreakable connection. There will always be a special love.
But when they get older, more independent, balancing what we say with the words and ways of the world, we learn that loving isn’t always that easy.
I don’t mean to suggest a lack of affectionate love – not at all. I’m not talking about rejecting them. I’m not even hinting at disliking them. I talking about how the acts and behaviors that demonstrate true love become harder and harder work.
No longer is it enough to snuggle and hug them and tell them how great they are at jumping high in the air (or whatever new feat they have accomplished).
There comes a time when loving them means getting sweaty and dirty – engaging in the difficult and ugly of addressing the many wrongs of this world. It becomes setting boundaries that sons don’t think they need – or even the boundaries we hope they will never need but can not take the risk of leaving unset.
It is starting the difficult conversations, knowing that there will be discomfort. It is realizing that although they might not be facing an issue right now, they have to be prepared because waiting until they face the issue is too late.
Last week I read Ann Vos Kamp’s letter to her son about the situation all around our world that is showing itself right now in Steubenville Ohio. It is an amazing letter, well written, personal perspective, laying out the truth in the most loving way. I quickly sent a link to it to my friends who are raising young men.
I am inspired by Ann’s approach – talking to her son about an issue that he hasn’t faced; bringing up a subject and giving direction without accusing him of already doing wrong but making it clear that passivity on the issue will lead down the path of destruction for more than just himself.
That’s part of the key – addressing the issue before the wrong has already invaded his thinking. Is that possible? Isn’t it more likely that the attitudes we so look down on have already begun to seep into our boys? Isn’t that the nature of our fallen world – that we spend time rooting out evil because we are so inept at keeping it from entering in the first place?
Then perhaps the challenge is to find a way to root out the wrong without making what is just and right in a boy feel defeated and useless. Every parent must ask “Do we have the strength and the skill to take on this challenge?”
Ann’s son is older than mine. Yet I am convicted that the time is now to address so many of these hard things. Now is when to start the conversations that will last for years, making make us all uncomfortable along the way. These issues must be fleshed out before the world smacks my son in the face with a situation that requires a wise and godly response and he is found lacking in the necessary resources.
Taking a cue from Ann, I will write a series of letters to my son about these hard issues. I doubt I will share them all publicly, but maybe a few. More than anything I want my boy to become a man with the dark places lit by knowledge of where the path leads, with the Lamp lighting the way for his feet. I want him to know in advance what the Truth says about how we are to live and how we are to love each other.
It was so much easier when the challenge was to keep him from touching the hot stove or teaching him to share his toys when he had friends over. Now we are faced with issues such as self-control, peer pressure, mixed messages from media and general culture. We can’t hide from all those, and he has to know how to handle it. But he has to learn in the safety net of our family.
How do we create a safety net that allows life experiences to be real and full, but doesn’t leave him dangling by a thread?
He must understand the serious nature of the dangers out there without being thrown to his doom. We can’t so protect him from the realities of this fallen world that he doesn’t realize the true nature of the threats to his spiritual and physical well-being.
This is not new, this recognition that truly loving our son is hard work. That educating him in the ways of the Father is more than just memorization and recitation.
We have known for some time that cultivating a desire for holiness, (holiness being that state of being called out and set aside as different from the rest), requires letting him live in recognition of the harsh realities of our fallen world – that Steubenville is not an isolated incident. That drugs are not temptations that only face those who are already drug addicts. That being responsible for himself goes beyond making sure he gets his immediate needs met. That passing by the hurting people of this world without giving it a second thought because they aren’t our responsibility brings about a spot of cold hardness to our hearts – and too many cold hard spots left to sit on our hearts bring only about a heart of stone.
It is hard work loving a son in this way.