What Did Your Parents Do Right?
Usually when people find out that I am the oldest of five kids and that we were pastor’s kids and pastor’s kids are indisputably and historically the worst kinds of kids to roam the planet, yet now all five of us are, in some form or fashion, involved in a Christian vocation or ministry, they ask this question, “What did your parents do right?” It never fails. Every time. People want to know the secret. People want to know what magic formula my parents used or what they laced in our Cheerios as kids to ensure that we would turn out the way they hoped and prayed for.
It’s a question that never gets any easier to answer, because I can never pinpoint just one thing. Because that’s always it, isn’t it? Human nature. We want to know the one thing—the one secret. But it’s like asking the captain of a Norwegian ocean liner the one thing he did right to guide his vessel through the icy waters of the Antarctic and Atlantic oceans in order to dock safely into New York Harbor. He would probably stare at you blankly (besides the fact that he doesn’t speak English). Because it’s not just one thing. It’s a combination of one things! Little things that add up throughout the voyage. And little things that add up throughout the 18 years of living under the same roof.
And more often than not, the subject always goes to sex. And the question becomes, “How did you and your siblings have such pure dating relationships?” And it’s then that I want to put the breaks on the whole conversation and ask, “Whoa, … were you there? Could you see what was going on behind the scenes?” No. My brothers and I were far from perfect. We never claimed to be. But I can say proudly, and with great humility, that each of us entered into our marriage as virgins (We have one sister, Joy, the youngest of 5—a precious jewel made by God, the master gemologist. She is a sophomore at Columbia International University and she’s never going to marry as long as I can help it! Sorry, Joy! I do love you!). It was a gift that we swore we would never give up, except to our wives on our wedding night—a promise that we all kept by the grace of God, and continue to keep by the grace of God.
Thanks to my pastor and his recent blog post/contest (check it out here), I’ve been challenged to think through, yet again, what my parents did right in helping to prepare my siblings and I for a lifelong marital commitment. I couldn’t begin to fully explain everything they did right, but there are a few things that do stick out in my mind that I think helped mold my thinking in this critical area. I will say from the get go that most of these things relate more to my dad than my mom, because he took the initiative (as all dads should), he wore the pants, and he willingly took on the biblical role of the head of the family (Ephesians 5, 1 Timothy 3 & Titus 1 to name a few), though it certainly cannot be understated the value and the role that my mother played during this critical formulation of discovering who I was and who I was becoming.
1. Open Communication – I remember particularly during my teenage years, when I observed many of friends’ dads tuning out to the needs of their kids, becoming distant and removed for reasons unknown to me, my dad seized the opportunity to become even more open, more in tune, more sensitive, more involved in our lives than ever before. Dad had an annoying way of getting to the heart of what was going on inside of me. If I was riding beside him in the passenger seat of the car and there was obviously something going on inside of me due to the tension-filled silence that could be cut with a knife, he would gently and repeatedly pat me on the leg and say, “So, Josh … what’s going on?” In a way that only he could, and only I could be annoyed at, he found a way every time to break through the wall that I tried so hard to erect, yet failed miserably to finish. He annoyingly, yet all-too wisely broke through to my hard teenage heart with every pat of the leg and initiation of words. I’m not a dad of a teenager yet, but I think I know this much that I can offer a word of advice. Remember Dad’s: With teenagers, you often have to be the one to initiate conversation and do so to no end. It might annoy them (and perhaps you too), but they’ll love you for it later.
2. The Perils of Porn – Before I ever remember being the least bit interested in the opposite sex, Dad began to talk with me about the destructive nature of porn. I remember thinking how gross it was that Dad was talking to me about this. I remember feeling super-uncomfortable and totally ready to get back to fort-making and shooting G.I. Joes with my Red Ryder pump-action b.b. gun. But Dad knew that a time would come when I would be presented with this garbage in one form or fashion, whether through a friend, or an innocent perusal of the magazine rack at the convenient store. Dad knew it would happen. And he wanted to get to me first before it did. We often watched Sunday afternoon football together as a family, and inevitably the skimpily-clad women of the beer commercials made their way into our living room. In one effortless motion, Dad pointed and clicked. Zap. The girls were gone. Thirty seconds later, we were watching the game again. My brothers and I thought nothing of this. It was normal. As we visited the homes of our friends, we often wondered why this practice was not observed by our friends’ dads. It was one simple little action that spoke volumes.
3. Purity Rings – One of the most practical things I can remember as a teenager that helped to shape my thinking toward sex and the importance of waiting until marriage, was a simple little ceremony that we held within our church youth group. After going through a sermon series on sexual purity, we capped off the series by inviting the parents to come and be involved in a purity ring ceremony. Prior to the event, my parents purchased 14-karat gold rings, identical to wedding rings, and presented them to me and my younger brother, Smooth, during the ceremony. They prayed with us as we signed pledges that we would save ourselves sexually for our spouse the night of our wedding (NO, this was nothing weird or cultish, and it was definitely not something our parents forced us to do. We did it on our own–our own initiative–our own desire). The ring became a daily reminder of the pledge and commitment that I had made before God, my parents and my future spouse to save myself sexually for my spouse. Little did I know, 400 miles away, in Charleston, SC, Tasha’s parents were presenting her with a similar ring with the same meaning. These rings that were worn by Tasha and me all the way through high school and college were then used in our wedding ceremony on March 23, 2002 as we presented them to each other as a testimony to the world and a reminder to each other that we belonged to God and each other.
4. Consistency– Consistency is the last factor I’ll mention. Growing up, it’s funny the things that you interpret as normal—the things that are so engraved in who you are and the environment you grow up in that you don’t even think to ask whether these things are normal or not. As I look back now on the things that were a normal part of our home and environment, I realize the amazing consistency that was true of my dad, both in and out of the pulpit. There was no disconnect from what my dad preached in the pulpit to what he lived out in the home. When people ask me what it is that attracted me to Christianity rather than repelling me from Christianity, that’s my response. Consistency. Not perfection. Not unrealistic idealism. Not a quest to raise faultless children. Not ridiculous expectations. No. Just consistency. Constancy. A steadiness and reliability from words to actions. Actions to words. Back and forth. I observed my parents loving each other and loving Jesus. And without realizing it, I knew that’s what I wanted. That was normal. That was how God designed it to work. That was what I wanted to bring into my marriage. And that is what I pray my children will observe in Tasha and me.