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4 building blocks for raising children

GPS - 4 building block for raising children


For a number of years, I saved a single-frame cartoon drawing that showed a freckle-faced, scruffy, blond-haired boy (maybe five years old), who was barefoot, shirtless, and in cut-off jeans, walking down a dusty trail on a hot summer afternoon. That image alone captured for me what my boyhood was like. Innocent, for the most part. Easy going. A little guy kicking around in the backwoods of the Ozarks, never too far from home or from a fishing hole.

But what still brings a smile to my face is that the boy in the cartoon was carrying a pair of skinny old cats, whose tails he had tied together in a crude knot. The caption at the bottom of the cartoon read “And he was bound to acquire experience rapidly.”

Boyhood is meant to be like that. A discovery around every corner, abundant adventure, and rapid growth — embedded life lessons disguised as sharp-clawed cats!

All men start there. Some men never leave.

Boys will be boys

This was part of a previous blog post that you can read here…

Wanted: a GPS

Men don’t like being lost, and we hate asking for directions. But we love gadgets, and that’s why we love mobile devices that have a global positioning system (GPS).

A number of years ago, I was deer hunting. It was overcast, I was deep in a dense thicket in the woods, and there were no landmarks to help me get my bearings. As an avid hunter and outdoorsman, I was proud that I had never been lost. In fact, I couldn’t understand how any real man could get lost. But after a couple of hours of walking in circles, I came to three very humbling conclusions: (1) If I went in the wrong direction, there was nothing but forest for twenty miles; (2) the sun was going down, and it was going to get dark and cold; and (3) I really was lost!

Fortunately, I stopped going in circles, and another couple of hours later, just before dark, I stumbled out onto a road not far from my truck. But if I had carried a GPS device with me, I could have plotted a course and avoided a healthy dose of humiliation.

When Barbara and I started having children, I didn’t want to admit it, but I was lost in the thick woods of parenting. I discovered that raising children involved more than potty training, settling sibling squabbles, controlling temper tantrums, assigning chores, teaching manners, and playing in the yard. With six young children, I needed a reliable guidance system, and I found it in the Scriptures. I decided to dedicate a full year of studying the Bible, discovering the irreducible essence of what children need from parents.

I found that there are four building blocks for raising children: character, relationships, identity, and mission. Every child needs teaching, training, and modeling in each of these areas.

Building block no. 1: Character — “What Is wise and what Is foolish?”

I define true character as “response-ability” — the ability to respond rightly to authority and to the challenges we face in life.

A boy doesn’t know it yet, but life is hammered out on the anvil of his choices. The problem is that wisdom does not come naturally to boys. As the book of Proverbs tells us, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” (22:15). If a boy is going to step up in life, he needs an older man who will model a lifestyle of wisdom and charge him with becoming a man of character, making right choices, and acting responsibly. A boy needs to know how to choose what is right (wisdom) and not what is wrong (foolishness).

Building block no. 2: Relationships — “How do I love others?”

When asked what the “greatest commandment” was, in essence, Jesus said, “Life is about relationships with God and others” (see Matthew 22:37–40). A boy needs to know how to build authentic relationships — how to communicate and speak respectfully, how to forgive and ask for forgiveness, and how to control his natural selfishness. He needs to be trained in how to love other imperfect human beings.

Many of these lessons will be learned in the laboratory of his home, as he gains understanding in how to relate to God, his parents, and his siblings. He needs to know that if he doesn’t have relationships, he misses life.

Building block no. 3: Identity — “Who am I?”

Every person is born with a unique identity that has its origins in God. Genesis 1:27 declares, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” A boy can never fully determine who he is unless he understands that he is made in the image of God — with a body, soul, and spirit.

A boy’s identity involves his “spiritual address” — his relationship with God. He needs to understand that there is a God who governs the world. As he grows up, he will be tempted to become self-focused and self-absorbed. He can begin to think that he is the very center of the universe and may be less likely to look outside of himself for meaning and purpose. A boy needs to realize that as God’s creation, he is accountable to God for his life and how he lives it.

Boys get their first glimpse of their heavenly Father by watching their earthly fathers. In essence, God has given fathers the assignment of saying, “Welcome, son. As imperfect as I may be, it is my desire to take the next couple of decades and introduce you to God.” If you are a father, this is your assignment. This is your privilege. No other man on the planet has the same responsibility for your son.

A boy also needs help as he grows up in this culture to answer questions such as: What is my sexual identity? What does it mean to be a boy and not a girl? He needs to have his budding masculinity affirmed and embraced as he grows up. In short, it’s not just “okay” to be a boy. It’s good. Very good.

A boy needs to understand that he also possesses emotions that are part of his identity. From the very start, at birth, his security — and ultimately his stability — depends on the love (or lack of love) he receives from his parents. The emotional support, affirmation, and affection he sees demonstrated between his dad and mom are as important as anything they teach him.

Building block no. 4: Mission — “Why am I here?”

Every boy, every person, needs a reason to live — a purpose that provides meaning and impact. The apostle Paul wrote, “For we are His [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Boys need to begin to grapple with their mission in life. And they will get the first glimpse of what having a mission looks like from their dads.

For many men, their primary mission in life is to build a successful career, provide for their families, and retire comfortably. That is what drives them, and that is the vision they pass on to their sons. But I think there is a much greater, nobler mission to pass on to boys. One of my favorite passages about children in the Scriptures is found in Psalm 127: “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them” (verses 4–5).

This is powerful imagery. Think about what an arrow is created to do. Was it designed to stay in the quiver, comfortable and protected? No, it was made to be aimed and shot by a warrior at a target, to deliver a blow in battle.

Can you see the connection? Boys need to understand that they are not here on earth just to achieve worldly success and comfort. They’re here to strike a blow against evil, to make a mark on their world. Just like you. After all, dads are arrows too.

Lost boys can become lost men

These four foundational elements represent the DNA of life. If a young boy misses just one, he can miss life as God intended it.

Think of the men you know who struggle and can’t quite put life together, and see if a big part of their problem can be traced to some misguided or missing perspective in one or more of these four areas. They don’t yet know who they are as men or who they want to be. They have no spiritual address and wander aimlessly. They don’t know how to love and sustain a meaningful relationship with a woman or with a male friend, and they are lonely. They don’t know how to make good value judgments or how to keep their promises, and they are foolish. And they just don’t have a real purpose for their lives. They never seem to “nail it.” They’re drifting, dreaming, shifting, hoping — they never experience what God wants to do through their lives. And that is a wasted life.

I’ve found that many of these men never had a father or an important male figure in their lives. We’re paying the price in our culture for this lost generation of boys. It’s time for us to deal with our own disappointments, lay aside our guilt and regrets, and reach down and help a boy “step up.”

This post was taken with permission from the book Stepping Up, by Dennis Rainey.  (2011-05-11). Stepping Up (Kindle Locations 757-765). FamilyLife Publishing®. Kindle Edition. No reproductions of this piece without the consent and permission of FamilyLife are permitted.

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  1. June 28, 2013    

    I am re-reading “Stepping Up, A Call to Courageous Manhood.” I learned several lessons the first read, and expect I can learn more this go-round. FamilyLife Today (heard on WAVA, 105.1) has been a blessing to me as I commute to work in the D.C. area

    • MenSteppingUp's Gravatar MenSteppingUp
      June 28, 2013    

      Love hearing that. Glad you are being fed by FL Today and Stepping Up. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Ed's Gravatar Ed
    July 23, 2013    

    Thanks for this inspiring post. I absolutely enjoy the Psalm 127: ‘Like arrows in your hand…’ It has so much power and is very motivational.

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