It may seem strange indeed to begin a study about child rearing in the Book of Ecclesiastes. However, the impetus for these writings came after Mary and I drove away from our oldest son’s apartment in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The story speaks for itself, though it gathers momentum in my life each time I reflect on the power God revealed to me through it. Kyle, who is 33 at this writing, has been a continued point of inspiration to me as the Lord has spoken through him in many different situations and experiences of life.
In the summer of 1996 he began his doctoral work at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Throughout the summer Mary and I readied ourselves for the move. We did all of the practical things week by week in preparation. We began to gather furniture and household items for him to set up in his new apartment. On numerous evenings we would find ourselves working side-by-side putting everything in order.
With my woodworking background we decided to custom build his headboard for his bed. He wanted a colonial style piece with an “ATM” (the Texas A & M University logo) in the middle. While I worked he would watch and we would talk. It has become so apparent that our quality times have always been hidden in the quantity time we have spent together. That is certainly a principle of truth that has not escaped my attention. Those times that were well planned were not usually the most significant times of sharing and growth for either of us. Nor have they been with the other boys.
The days turned to weeks, and the weeks to months, as the summer slipped away. And, it was time to load and travel to Chapel Hill. After arriving and unloading, we began the task of setting everything in order. After the last box was unpacked and the last picture hung, it was with a mixed reaction that we heard Kyle pronounce that it looked like home. Our goal has always been to lead and develop our boys to be responsible, independent adults. This was his way of announcing that we had reached our goal. He now indeed had another home. While there were many opportunities for laughter, this was one for tears. Tears of joy and accomplishment, but never the less they were tears.
We stayed a few extra days after that moment, visiting with relatives who lived in nearby Raleigh. And, the time came to leave for our home in Weatherford, Texas. He followed us to the car; we hugged and said our good-byes. And, as I saw him turn to walk away, I knew that it was indeed a time to cry.
I am convinced that when Solomon wrote these immortalized words of wisdom in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, he knew the deeper spiritual truth of life in its full eternal perspective:
“Everything on earth has its own time and its own season. There is a time for birth and death, planting and reaping, for killing and healing, destroying or building, for crying and laughing, weeping and dancing, for throwing stones and gathering stones, embracing and parting. There is a time for finding and losing, keeping and giving, for tearing and sewing, listening and speaking. There is also a time for love and hate, for war and peace.”1
While our lives are so often compartmentalized into thirty-second sound bytes, and sixty-second commercials, we forget the eternal implications of our daily activities. Had I focused on just that moment, I would have missed the fullness of life that God has brought to us. This is not to say that driving away was in any way an easy thing to do, but with the knowledge that it was the best thing, God blessed Mary and I both with a great peace.
There have been other moments as crucial in the development of the knowledge that there is “a time to laugh and a time to cry.” David, our middle son, provided such a moment during his senior year in high school. He has always been a very good athlete. In fact, he has displayed a real gift for soccer, which has brought him several recognitions. When David began high school, he desired to try out for the football team as the field goal kicker. However, the athletic director at that time would not allow him to focus on such a narrow position. He was forced to make a choice between soccer and football. For three years he chose soccer, and excelled. With a change in athletic directors between his junior and senior year, he again requested to try out for the sole position of field goal kicker. He was encouraged to do so this time. He made the team and was awarded the starting position.
None of us really knew what he would be capable of accomplishing. We knew he was very strong in practice, but he had never been tested in a game situation. The first scrimmage was an anxious time for all of us. You can imagine our relief when he stepped up to the line and kicked his first field goal with no problems at all. The year progressed and his reputation began to grow. The coaches expressed great confidence in his ability to kick long field goals. He regularly practiced from 50-55 yards. As was inevitable, the time came in a tight game for the coaches to decide whether to try a 52-yard field goal to win the game, or another play for a very long first down. The head coach called David to the side and asked him to kick. We were hushed in the stands. It was a moment that stood still for all of us. The announcer called out his name and number as he entered the field to try what would be a school record as well as the longest in the state thus far that year. They broke the huddle and lined up for the kick. He took his three steps and sent the ball straight for the goal. As it rose in the air for what seemed an eternity, it came just over the goal post for the game winner. The stands erupted in cheer. The team ran out on the field in congratulation. It was indeed “a time to laugh.”
At the end of the game, with parents and fans gathered outside the locker room, one of the coaches came looking for me. He asked me if I could come over to the doorway. There was that moment of anxiety thinking that perhaps something had happened to David. However, when I saw him standing in the door, arms outstretched to embrace me, I knew nothing could be more right for him at that moment. He exclaimed, “Dad, I did it! I did it!” And he had. It was a wonderful moment.
The weeks passed as if they were days. The team did very well finishing second in their district and qualifying for the state playoffs. It was an achievement that has not been duplicated in the years since. Their confidence was very high as they traveled to meet Western Hills High School in the first round of the playoffs. It would be a tremendous learning experience for all of us.
The day began with rain and a very strong northerly wind. The stadium was laid out from north to south so that one team would be moving with the wind at their backs for half the game and against them for half the game. My son’s team chose to end the game with the wind in their face. By the time the game was coming to a close it was blowing at 25-30 mph, not the ideal conditions for a kicker! The score was very close. It was a seesaw in scoring. David had already made a 39-yard field goal in the game against the wind. He looked as strong and confident as ever. As the minutes began to slip away it became more and more apparent that he would be called upon to win the game. With four seconds remaining in the game, the coach called on him to attempt a 43-yard field goal. They lined up, the ball was snapped, it was in the air, and again time seemed to stand still. It certainly had the distance. It appeared to be headed for the center of the goal. In fact, the crowd began to cheer before the referees gave the signal, however at the last moment a swirling gust of wind carried it a foot wide of the goal post. The game ended along with the season.
Almost in shock, we began to file out of the stands. I made my way to the locker room, as was my habit throughout the entire season. We waited for the boys to dress and come out. There were many well wishes expressed. Even the referees explained that they were ready to signal good until the last moment when the wind blew the football wide. It was, in their words, “a tough break.” Coaches and players alike were consoling to David. But when he came out of the locker room and our eyes met, I knew this would be “a time to cry.” He came to me and without a word we embraced for a long moment. I simply said, “I love you, son.”
While I did my best to encourage him, it was he who encouraged me. The moment when he broke the school record and won the game was a great moment; however, this moment was by far much richer. It carried with it a sense of the power of God to transcend any experience of life, good or bad.
God has not exclusively used our two older boys to teach us. Our youngest son, Aaron, has also been an integral part of the process of learning to seize each of the moments of life.
Aaron is the more creative and artistic of the three boys. He has never been particularly interested in athletics. He has had experiences athletically, but they were not fulfilling to him. On the other hand, he is gifted with musical ability. Once we saw his interest develop around the piano we provided for him opportunities to study and develop this talent. He progressed rapidly. In fact it was not long until his instructor, who was also the church pianist, arranged for him to work on and play an offertory piece in the evening service of the church.
We had such confidence in him. He had practiced the piece so often that he had it memorized from start to finish. The night arrived for his performance. He took his place on the bench, his teacher near by, and a church full of people. He placed the sheet music on the stand and began to play. He did very well until the middle of the second page. For some reason he lost his place and could not recover it quickly enough to save simply stopping and starting again. I knew it would crush his sensitive spirit.
The people were very kind and gracious. They applauded his efforts, many coming later to express their appreciation for his attempt. In his mind he had failed miserably. At the end of the service, I immediately went toward him. Before I could reach him, he began to cry. I held him and knew that nothing would make that moment any easier. For him, at least, it was “a time to cry.”
After most of the church had cleared, we lingered for a few minutes. I asked him to play the piece again for me. He hesitated at first. After encouragement from some of the others, he went to the piano again and this time played the piece without faltering. It was a beautiful moment as he finished and looked up to the applause of those few who were standing by in observance. This time, when our eyes met, there was a different expression. It was “a time to laugh.” We learned much from that experience. Failure is a part of life, because attempting any achievement brings with it the risk of failure. Failure is not the problem, unless it is failure to attempt. Teddy Roosevelt said:
"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat." 2
Parenting is full of those moments. The real key is in preparing yourself and your children for capitalizing on each of them. As each of the subsequent chapters are read and studied, you will see what I have designated as “lessons.” These discovered principles are not complicated or difficult. They are, however, time consuming. They are not intended to be quick fixes for the lack of investment in either time or presence that has plagued America’s families for nearly two full generations. They comprise some basic principles of parenting that have been proven in my life and the life of my family. And, while I cannot claim to have a perfect family, I have seen each of the boys develop into positive, affirmative Christian young men; that is our goal as parents.
That should be all our goals as parents. We want to hear words like confident, positive, well-liked, strong, competent, and bright describing our children. We want them to be well-balanced individuals able to stand independently as adults in life. Through the seven “pearls of wisdom” I have come to discover there emerges a philosophy of family life to teach and model a godly approach to the seven basic areas of life.
The first of these areas is leadership in the spiritual dimension of life. So many parents believe it to be the responsibility of the church to provide this teaching. Nothing could be further from God’s design. Moses instructed the new nation:
“Listen, Israel! The Lord our God is the only true God! So love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength. Memorize his laws and tell them to your children over and over again. Talk about them all the time, whether you’re at home or walking along the road or going to bed at night, or getting up in the morning.”2
The spiritual lessons we model and teach for our children become the stackpole of their future. There is no support for them to build upon if we do not provide it through their daily experiences. This requires a conscious effort in the family.
The second of these areas is leadership in the emotional dimension of life. Positive emotional growth is neither accidental nor guaranteed by the passage of time. In order for our children to possess a strong positive self-image with healthy self-esteem they must be given the knowledge of who they are in relation to God. They need to know whom god made them to be and how they fit in to the world He created. This is not accomplished overnight, nor is it achieved without a planned approach. At the end of this book we will look at what I have called “the real blessing.” It is an essential for the well being of our children.
The third of these areas is leadership in the intellectual dimension of life. This is not to suggest that we can develop our children beyond their God-given capacity, however all too many parents have abdicated the responsibility of the development of their children’s intellectual development to the schools of our nation. While the school is an essential element in providing information and training, it is only a tool for our use. It is still the parent’s responsibility to provide opportunities for growth, modeling for them growth in our own lives. After all, wisdom is the greatest of all treasures. Knowledge, or the possession of facts, is nothing without wisdom. Solomon certainly understood this in the writing of Proverbs:
“God blesses everyone who has wisdom and common sense. Wisdom is worth more than silver; it makes you much richer than gold. Wisdom is more valuable than precious jewels; nothing you want compares to her.” And, “Let instruction and knowledge mean more to you than silver or the finest gold. Wisdom is worth much more than precious jewels or anything else you desire.”3
The fourth of these areas is leadership in the social dimension of life. Helping your family establish good friendships are imperative. There comes a time in the life of our children when friends cast a stronger influence on our children than we do. If children have a positive peer group in which to live, it will make their development much safer.
The fifth of these areas is leadership in the physical dimension of life. While not all children are gifted with athletic ability, every child is better equipped to handle the stresses of life when they are directed physically toward the proper sleep, medical attention, nutrition, and physical exercise in life. It is our responsibility as parents to find those areas of interest to our children in this area that we might encourage them to grow physically. For many parents today, this area has been neglected to the detriment of themselves and their children.
The sixth of these areas is leadership in the cultural dimension of life. While no two individuals have the same level of interest in the arts, experiences should be designed and provided for our children to experience this part of life. If they are to be fully equipped in life, this dimension is a part of that equipping.
The seventh of these areas is leadership in the financial dimension of life. The issue of money is one that often determines goals and direction later in life. Children often perceive their relationship to others based on wealth and/or possessions. It is essential that a clear understanding of the values of a positive life be established outside these parameters. Jesus was very clear in this principle.
“You cannot be the slave of two masters! You will like one more than the other or be more loyal to one than the other. You cannot serve both God and money. I tell you not to worry about your life. Don’t worry about having something to eat, drink, or wear. Isn’t life more than food or clothing? Look at the birds in the sky! They don’t plant or harvest. They don’t even store grain in barns. Yet you Father in heaven takes care of them. Aren’t you worth more than the birds? Can worry make you live longer? Why worry about clothes? Look at how the wild flowers grow. They don’t work hard to make their clothes. But I tell you that Solomon with all his wealth wasn’t as well clothed as one of them. God gives such beauty to everything that grows in the fields, even though it is here today and thrown into a fire tomorrow. He will surely do even more for you!”4
These are the points of balance in life that develop confidence, positive self-esteem, strength, and competence. These lessons involve surrender and submission, discipline and humility, grace and mercy. Throughout the book I hope you will see the pilgrimage of our lives as an illustration of one way of developing these characteristics in your family. I do not believe that the means is important at all. It is the resulting knowledge and application that are essentials. God teaches all of us in different ways.
1. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, C.E.V.
2. President Theodore Roosevelt; "Citizenship in a Republic," Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910
3. Deuteronomy 6:4-7, C.E.V.
4. Proverbs 3:13-14; 8:10-11, C.E.V.
5. Matthew 6:24-30, C.E.V.