Saturday, March 05, 2005

Scolding Squirrels and Pesky Parents

How Life Doesn’t Come Naturally to Humans

As I was walking out to my car today, a squirrel hopped down from one of our trees, bounced across the lawn, and scurried up one of our neighbor’s trees. He found a perch to his liking on a limb about 20 feet up where he hunkered down and scolded me with all his little might. I noticed that about ⅔ of his tail was missing, which really got my attention and started me to thinking: “Wow, you’re in a bad mood! What’s with the attitude? And what in the world happened to your poor tail?”

Driving away, I kept thinking about my little woodland critter-criticizer. But now I was thinking in broader categories: “Squirrels use their tail for all kinds of stuff. He must be quite a survivor to live with the little stubby one he’s got. How did he do it? I wonder if he had a tail-loss support group for a while…” And then my train of thought derailed entirely and careened off in a direction that can probably happen only my randomly wired mind…

I started marveling at all the amazing things animals do without any training whatsoever. Little birds leave the nest without ever learning how to build one. Squirrels just know that it’s time to gather food in the fall. Salmon swimming upstream, beavers building dams, bees making honey, whales singing their song… who teaches them this stuff? Sure, some animal species do a little more “child-training” than others, but for the most part, life just comes naturally to animals.

Not so for people, though. We don’t “do life” very well if we’re left to ourselves. Infant human beings have a very limited repertoire of innate abilities: sucking, the falling reflex, stuff like that. And it’s true that a normal, healthy child has incredible potential for development, some of which happens naturally: motor skill progression, language acquisition, and all the other cool stuff you study in developmental psychology. But generally speaking, human beings require purposeful care and training to live, or at least, to live well.

Think about it… Imagine if you had to approach life entirely on your own, no teachers, no models, nothing. You’re given all the raw materials of life but no instruction for how to use them. So you start in on teaching yourself the skills of childhood—tying shoes, adding numbers, telling time, reading words. It’s conceivable that you could eventually learn to do it all on your own; after all, somewhere back there in history some pioneering mathematician worked out 2 + 2 all by himself. But can you imagine the inefficiency, the repeated failures, the frustration, the wasted time and energy?

And then you come to the skills of adolescence and young adulthood—choosing friends, making major decisions, developing your own views of right and wrong, learning to handle your own emotions and desires. Once again, it’s conceivable that you could eventually learn to do it all on your own. But just imagine the inefficiency, the repeated failures, the frustration, the wasted time and energy. Our instincts don’t serve us very well when it comes to this stuff; for our species, life goes better with a teacher.

But here’s where it gets a little sticky… For some strange reason, somewhere along the way to adolescence, we get the idea that we’re ready to go it on our own. We come to believe we’re ready to live by our own instincts. We’re convinced that life comes naturally to us, and we don’t need the help of models or teachers anymore. Hmmm… how strange. But I’ve gotten ahead of myself a bit…

Ever think about what God could have done? He didn’t have to set up our world this way, right? I mean, He created this world; He wrote the rules; He could have set it up any way He wanted. He could have created us to be just like squirrels, where everything just comes naturally and we negotiate through life perfectly well from start to finish with very few dependencies or needs. But He didn’t do it that way. He created us with built-in deficiencies, a need for careful training, an irremediable lack if left to ourselves. God made us this way on purpose.

And then He gave us some built-in, batteries-included, complete package, personal tutors to help us learn what we need to live well. Any idea what I’m talking about? Think it’s your school? Nope. The internet? Not really. Angels who come down and help every new generation? Not quite. God’s solution for our inability to live well on our own is our own parents.

These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Dt 6:6-7)

God commanded our fathers to teach their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments. (Ps 78:5-7)
Why all this strange contrasting of human development with squirrels? Cuz I want you to take full advantage of the access God has given you to your own personal life coaches. Here’s what I mean…

If you’re still living at home or simply away at college, realize that God gave you parents for a reason. Don’t be so foolish or so arrogant as to assume that you’ll do perfectly fine negotiating through life on your own, thank you very much. Remember how nice it was to have parents who could help you learn your multiplication tables? Well, why not ask them for help with that problem at your lunch table… or with that really huge question you’ve been afraid to ask… or with that temptation you’re struggling with… or with that relationship that you’re mulling over… or whatever else it is. God gave you parents; use ’em!

But not everyone has that option cuz their situation is different. Know what? The family is still the answer even for people with really dysfunctional parents… or only one parent… or none at all. How is that true? Well, that’s where the church comes in as the “family of God.” What your own parents lack in character or wisdom or influence, God intends for you to get from a church family. Even when you’re out of the house and on your own, God still wants you in a family. He gave you the church; use it!

So here’s the deal… You might as well give up on the idea that you’re ready to tackle life on your own. It’s not gonna happen. Ever. Life doesn’t come naturally to humans. We need instructors, teachers, models, and friends. In short, we need family. So quit acting like you’re some squirrel. It’s time to quit reading this blog, get off the internet, and get talking to your parents!


Anonymous said...

Hey, Great blog!
Very thought provoking.
Even though at the time being I struggle with this wisdom, I know that it is true. I wish that the parent-child relationship was easier to mantain and develope.

Anonymous said...

Only once you are older does the parent-child relationship become easier to maintain! And even then sometimes it doesn't work until you are really older!
I would imagine that Pastor Josh had a bit of a struggle w/this when he was the age his teens are right now . . . But then that's what qualifies him to be able to share what the Lord has taught him! Along w/the heart he has for his young people to not make the mistakes that he did or could have done or almost did!

Anonymous said...

Who's responsible to take initiative in deepening the relationship...the parent or the child?

Anonymous said...

I just want to say that I love hearing everything that you have to say as long as it's not *cough cough* nevermind.. Oh yeah and I think it's nice that you also know our IP number? =) Have a nice life and to anonymous, I think it's both the parent and child's responsibility and the dogs.

Josh said...

Who's responsible for taking the initiative? The parents! (...although I firmly believe that teens ought to pursue the relationship, too, which is the whole thrust of this post)

In his outstanding book on parenting teens called Age of Opportunity, Paul Tripp writes: "A parent who has his hope in the Gospel will puruse his teenagers and will not stop until they leave the home. We won't wait for them to come to us for help. We won't argue with them as to whether we are needed or not. The call of the Word is clear. With hearts filled with Gospel hope, we will question and probe, listen and consider, plead and encourage, admonish and warn, and instruct and pray. We will awake every day with a sense of mission, knowing that God has given us a high calling. We are walls of protection that God has lovingly placed around our teenagers. We are eyes that he has given that they might see. So we converse and converse and converse."

Josh said...

CORRECTION: Tripp recommends that we "pursue" our teens, not "puruse" them.