Today we come to one of the points I’ve been trying to build to in all of my letters so far. I’ve written a great deal about what I don’t want to do as a parent. Today I’d like to share some of what I do hope to do.
My highest aspiration as your dad is to equip you to make wise decisions about your life: How will you live? How will you spend your time? What will you believe – spiritually, philosophically, politically? Who will you marry? These are all big decisions that will have a profound impact on your life. I want to make sure that you’re well-equipped to make them.
One of the worst pieces of parenting advice I’ve come across thus far was from a very popular parenting book, which says the way to teach your children how to make wise choices is to make wise choices for them.
This strikes me as exactly wrong in very nearly every way possible. If I make all your choices for you, and expect you to blindly obey them, how are you ever going to learn to think, discern and decide for yourself? If I teach you blind obedience to me, what am I teaching you about how to respond when you come across a charismatic, inspiring spiritual or political figure who claims to be deserving of your absolute, blind obedience?
So my goal is to give you as much choice over the little things in your life, as early as possible, so that you learn what goes into making a good decision, and how to deal with the consequences of a bad decision.
Yesterday I wrote about rewards and punishments . . . about intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. I believe allowing you to make choices and letting you deal with the positive and negative outcomes of those choices is intrinsically motivating. I believe that when you understand the natural progression of events that stems from a choice you make, it will help you determine whether that choice is something you want to keep choosing. This is, to me, very different than setting up arbitrary “do’s” and “don’ts” that have very little to do with anything other than my own personal preferences, and rewarding or punishing you for your success or failure to accommodate my preferences.
Of course, this won’t be easy . . . and of course teaching you how to make wise choices necessitates allowing you to first make unwise choices at times – in areas where I can be confident you are able to handle the consequences of those choices, and where I can help you do so. I’m not, of course, going to allow you to experience the consequences of running out into the street . . . that’s not a choice I’m going to give you the opportunity to make. I might, however, give you the opportunity to discover the consequences of running to quickly through the living room, because those are consequences you can handle . . . and in the course of handling them, you can learn the natural results of your actions.
I think this is how God deals with us. I think He created us to make real, genuine choices, and to be responsible for the results of those choices. The first thing God did after creating Adam was bring him all the animals and allow him to choose their names. Then, He gave Adam and Eve a far more momentous choice . . . the choice to sever their relationship with Him. God didn’t have to put that tree in the garden. Then he didn’t have to allow the serpent access to tempt them. And He could have stepped in at any time and stopped them from eating its fruit. But confining people into a bubble where they have no freedom to make their own decisions isn’t relationship, it’s hostage-taking. And God is pretty clear that he wants the former.
So Adam and Eve made the wrong choice. And Even after they did so, it wasn’t God who severed the relationship. He still showed up for their regular evening walk. It was Adam and Eve who went and hid.
And we’ve been hiding ever since. God wanted to address his people face to face at Mount Sinai, but they insisted that He speak to them through Moses. Then, once He’d given them a country of their own, He wanted to rule them directly. They insisted on a king.
We still bear the scars of that severed relationship. All of us suffer because of that choice, but He’s also given each of us a choice to restore the relationship. It’s the most important choice any of us will ever make . . . and I hope to have many long conversations with you as you grow older about that choice, and the natural results of deciding one way or the other.
In the meantime, though, I want to demonstrate relationship to you just as God does to me. I want to give you real opportunities to make real choices, and while I will always share with you the choices I think you should make, I will never stop extending the hand of relationship just because you make a different choice.