It was a beautiful spring day. A light cool breeze, but you could feel the heat of the sun on your skin and after a seemingly long winter it was nice. A whole group of little boys in a makeshift field for baseball practice. My oldest son, Sankie, was one of the boys moving from t-ball to coach-pitch baseball.
One of the coaches was throwing balls high in the air so they could practice getting under it to field pop-fly balls…and then it happens.
I stood there watching to see if he was going to come running over to me or would he allow the pain to subside in a few seconds and go back and get in line so the other boys could check out his red, swollen face? These are the little rites of passage that grow us. Everyone wants to run to mom or dad when there is unexpected pain. But as children get older, they begin to learn that mom and dad really can’t change the pain inflicted, they can merely be there present with them in the middle of it.
Sankie stood there with the coach rubbing his head and checking out his face for about twenty seconds. I could tell he was dying to come over to me, but he was also trying to hold back the tears and hold in the cries. He took it well. The coach said “Man, what a tough guy! You’re alright. You’re gonna be okay!” He said some words that MUST come from a dad, but MUST also be affirmed and confirmed by other men around their lives.
As a dad, I cannot fail to affirm and confirm his steps in becoming a young man. We cannot sit in passivity allowing them to “find their own way.” We must lead them spiritually, emotionally, physically, and even culturally. We must be honest with them and guide them to know there are dangerous waters ahead, but there is no need to fear. They can become the type of Christ-follower who takes hurts and trials in this life, while enduring temptation, because of what Christ has already done on our behalf.
After practice, he came running over to show me what had happened. And now, the embarrassment or fear had given way to almost prideful accounts of his injury. I told him I saw it happen. I told him it's probably going to happen several times in baseball--and maybe even harder. But I also told him I was proud of how he got right back in there and was pretty tough. He needs to hear that from me on lots of occasions. He needs to hear that from other boys and other men also. Next year, it may not be baseball, it may be a musical instrument he's trying to learn or it may be some difficulty in academics. It may be that his growing desire for more autonomy needs to be met with gospel humility--which is much more painful than a ball in the shins or missing a few notes on an instrument.
Our job as parents is NOT to keep them protected from any and all possible pain and suffering in life. Although, that is a popular thought for many parents. Our job is to prepare them for the difficult path of life in being able to handle it when it does come. We cannot bubble-wrap them so that all the evils of this world will never touch them. This isolationist attempt usually shows it's weakness immediately after their 18th birthday. Instead, we teach and prepare their minds for the path that is knowingly filled with hurtful evils and try to lead them to know how to navigate that path. They will make mistakes. They will fall many times. We must point them to continually looking to the gospel after their fall--because it is the "great news" that overcomes the painful, "bad news" they will encounter in life. And we must train them to learn to look to the beauty of the gospel before falling into sin--so they may enjoy the pursuit of Christ and His Kingdom. They will definitely get hurt in this life. But in God's economy, avoiding hurt never seemed to be part of the deal. We need to point them to the sovereign, present, ever-sufficient Person of Jesus Christ as the all-satisfying refuge in the middle of suffering and hurt.
Sankie P. Lynch