As parents, we are thrilled that such a ministry exists and that each of our four oldest sons has participated in a small group with their peers. We know that we can't be the only voices in our children's lives and desire to have godly mentors for our children. As children transition to adulthood, they tend to listen to outside influences more than what their parents say. This is part of launching our children well; providing people who will speak into their lives, and teaching them to seek them out.
Dangerous Men has also been a blessing to us as we celebrate rites of passage with our children. Long before we had any teen-agers, we were intentional about thinking through specific ages that we would like to celebrate and ceremonies that we would like to accompany those steps into adulthood. Our desire to do so started with the reading of Raising a Modern-Day Knight by Robert Lewis. We took the idea to celebrate milestones, made it a little more Anabaptist (the whole knight thing was foreign to us), and found a way to include our daughters as well. Later, the Good Doctor chose to research this idea of transitioning to adulthood when he prepared his doctoral dissertation work. He found that while many civilizations and countries celebrate rites of passage, the concept is completely missing in western cultures. In fact, it is almost counter cultural. After his qualitative study was complete, the Good Doctor came up with this statement: The transition to healthy manhood involves a process of accumulating greater responsibilities and experiences in the company of at least one other man who has already made this transition.*
In our home, one of the rites of passage we celebrate occurs when a son turns 16. All of the men in that child's life are invited to a celebration. (Don't worry, the daughters aren't forgotten. The only difference is that all the women in her life are invited to the celebration. Get it?) The men are sent an invitation with the following information:
And since the last of our triplets turned 16 recently, last night was his night. Even though I'm not there for our sons, I love to read the letters that are given to each of them and then I put them into a scrapbook for him to read over and over throughout life.
Here are some of the highlights of last night's letters:
"I'm grateful that your dad invited me to spend the evening with you celebrating. The question of becoming a man is difficult for today's young generation. You are bombarded by so much at such a young age. I will offer my humble opinion on what it takes to be a man. I must be honest in the fact that no one ever did what you're doing tonight when I was your age. I would offer up that you have the opportunity of a lifetime to hear from other grown men what it means to be a man. I would also posit that many other men you will hear from never had this opportunity either. So what you will hear is what it means to be a man through the lens of past mistakes and failures that otherwise may not have been made had we had this information earlier in life."
"Leadership and being an example to others is directly related to your connection with [our son]. That boy admires you, not just because you are the cool teenager, but because you truly care about him. You are teaching him truths that will help him guide his thoughts and decisions for years to come. You set an example for him to follow, which as his father, am so grateful for in his life. Even the 'little things' like your handshake when you first see each other are ways that you purposefully attempt to connect at his level. Psalm 78: 72 - 'He shepherded them with a true heart and led them with skillful hands.'"
Some thoughts on driving a car...
"-driving a car is a huge responsibility
-slow down, it's ok to ride in the slow lane
-the most important part of a car sits behind the wheel, it's not the bling accessories
-when reacting to another driver, you never know what the other driver is going through
-follow the rules of the road
-if you ever get lost, take time, pull over (safely), and ask someone"
Connected metaphorically to life..
"-becoming and being a man is a huge responsibility
-as life comes at you, be careful to not get caught up in the fast lane
-what matters most is what's in your heart, God really doesn't care about bling
-be ever mindful of others and what they may be going through
-rules of the road = The Bible and wise counsel of others
-when troubled times come, don't be afraid to seek out help"
"You are a gifted young man, with many talents in many arenas, but especially when it comes to music. Sometimes masculinity is mistakenly thought to exclude love of the arts. God made the world with intricate beauty - think of the vast array of colors in flowers, the unique camouflage of various insect and animal species, the awesomeness of a river roaring down from the melting snowcap of a majestic mountain. Historically, many of the best tailors, musicians, writers, composers, clothes designers, gardeners, sculptors, painters, chefs, and architects have been men. We have been made in the image of a Creator, and have that creative drive instinctively. God put a love of art, music, and beauty inside us to draw us to Him...I encourage you, young warrior, to continue to cultivate the gifts within you. You have a good heart. Continue to love and lead others. The Kingdom needs a man like you, to bring the redemptive work of Jesus to those who are lost and hurting."
"As you already know, you will receive mixed messages about what 'manhood' means and it can be difficult to determine the truth. I encourage you to focus on your personal relationship with God, and hear His plans for you, specifically how the gifts and talents He has given you can be used in the world around you. I believe that you have been blessed with some great examples of Godly men, starting with your father and grandfathers, brothers, and other family members. As you look around and consider the men in your life, you will see Godly examples in your youth leaders and youth pastor, in the adult men of McBIC who have watched you mature, and even in some of your peers in the youth group. Be thankful for the examples that God has placed in your life, and use these me when you need encouragement, support and advice."
"I have seen many virtues in your life. I have seen the patience that you have shown in caring for Victor. I am sure that you are needing to show patience in sharing driving privileges with three sixteen year olds in the family at one time. I have seen the virtue of being a team player as you have performed with your family in the King's Strings ensembles. You have shown that you have perseverance and have worked hard in becoming a top notch viola player. I was happy to see you be rewarded for that hard work when you earned the fourth chair in district orchestra and qualifying for the regional orchestra! I have also seen you as a person with a gentle spirit. This is a wonderful virtue as you work with other people."
3 thoughts about becoming a man...
"Don't hide your weaknesses. We all have them, and when we are able to acknowledge our challenges and even our failures, we build trust and relationships that are strong.
Be willing to take risks. It's so easy to go with the flow, but if you feel the nudge of God, follow it. And surround yourself with people of the Spirit who will be honest with you if you are falling into self-centeredness.
Listen, listen, listen and love, love love. Listen for the voice of God in its myriad of forms. Listen to those who seem very different from you. Listen to those who care about you. Love yourself. Love those who are nearest to you. Love those who the world says are unlovable."
"You also have a heart for people and a compassion for those around you. I sense that God will lead you to help many people around you. You will be a protector for the weak. I would caution you, however, not to follow others blindly. Choose your friends wisely. You cannot follow God's chosen path alone. But poorly chosen friends can easily lead you astray. Learn to differentiate also between friends or peers, and mentors or coaches. They serve valuable but very different roles in your life. And finally I would encourage you to have a plan for your life. With God's leading, and the advice of your mentors, set goals for yourself and stick to them."
All of the letters are important and special, but maybe Dad's and PopPop's are just a little more special. Many verses are shared, advice given, challenges made, encouragement provided. As one participant said of last night, each time affirmation of character was given, our son grew taller and taller in his chair. That's what this night is about.
Our children have free will; they get to make their own choices. As Christian parents, we pray they will choose to love the Lord our God and love others. We need to be intentional to raise up adults, living in community, who are independently dependent on God.
*The Good Doctor is not sexist. A dissertation needs to be specific and limited. Since the Good Doctor is a man, he thought it would be better in the context of this study to meet with, and ask questions of, men. If I were to allow him more degrees, I suppose he could, at a later time, study the process of becoming a woman. However, he has many degrees and no funds so that will not be happening. If it bothers you to read this post in light of all the masculine comments, just stick she/her in there and it can read the same. It just hasn't been studied yet, for the reasons just stated.