Back in the days when our home was packed tight with teenagers, many a conversation was had around our dinner table concerning “needs.” Things like the latest iPhone upgrade, parent-funded automotive repairs, a Spring Break trip to Florida with friends (also parent-funded), a shopping spree worthy of the Kardashians…you know, needs as defined by many Americans in the 13-18 age range.
Normally, I preferred to sit silent and wait for one or more of the kids to step in it; I never had to wait very long.
Whenever I finally did leap into the fray, I almost certainly sounded like the out-of-touch old guy who tells stories about walking five miles to school in a snow storm, uphill…both ways. What typically came out of my mouth was something similar to, “Actually, the laws and governing authorities of this state are pretty much going to line up with the idea that your mother and I are obliged to provide you with food, clothing, shelter and an education. While I recognize that many of your peers believe that they are owed unlimited data service, alongside 24-7-365 access to their smart phone, even on school nights, those parenting guidelines have yet to make their way to the floor of the Missouri legislature.”
This manner of response, of course, always went over pretty big with the assembly; many parenting popularity points were scored.
While I love mocking my older kids, it doesn’t take much effort for me to remember how screwed up my priorities were as a teenager, too. And of course, because we all love our children, we delight to provide far more than the bare necessities required to keep them breathing; particularly in our country, many of our children grow into young adults equipped with far more privileges and blessings than they really “need.”
However…having raised multiple individuals (successfully?) to adulthood, I think I can safely say that, far more than food, clothing, shelter and an education – as good and necessary as those things are – what our kids “need” from us is a coherent answer to the rightly-perceived frailty and temporal nature of their own existence. In a word, the single greatest gift a parent can give to their children is hope.
Kids are far smarter and more observant than we typically give them credit for. Teenagers, in particular, have a razor-sharp ability to detect (and mercilessly parody) all of our parenting inconsistencies. When we say one thing and do another, our kids pick it up immediately; the lesson they learn is dangerous and unhelpful. Teens see very clearly how we tend to “cut corners” whenever the time comes to apply our much-publicized biblical worldview to the blood-and-guts details of daily living.
Most noticeably, our kids already have eternity stamped on their hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11) and the accompanying God-given clarity to push through our Official Belief Systems to Projected Ultimate Outcomes. We see this most clearly in the teen who voices his or her rejection of the classic American paradigm: “Get a good education, get married, have kids, work to build a lasting legacy,” runs the risk of being met by, “Yeah, so what? I’m still going to die anyway…what’s the point?”
The single most crushing need our children possess – whether they are willing (or even able) to articulate it – is the need to know that their life matters above and beyond the “markers of success” with which our culture seeks to evaluate them. Authentic, lasting hope is inextricably tied to the promise that who we are, and how we live, truly matters in an eternal sense…that God has graciously given all of us a voice which continues to echo in His ears forever, undiminished even by our physical death.
As our kids grow, they are more than able to discern that the world is a dangerous and oftentimes scary place to live. People are killed who didn’t wake up that day expecting to die. If we cannot offer a compassionate and clear reason for the hope within us (1 Peter 3:15), we miss the opportunity to point them to the Source of peace in the midst of frightening times. More damaging, when we live out of accord with the hope that we profess, we deprive our kids of the lived-out integrity they need to witness if they are ever going to overcome futility and depression.
“You need a license to fish, but anyone can have kids.” This shopworn joke, while tiresome, nonetheless points to the truth that, at least in our culture, there are no real requirements for becoming a parent past the ability to conceive. Scripture, by contrast, provides clear requirements for parents. Namely, that we are to talk to our children constantly about God and instruct them as to why there is deep meaning and importance attached to every single day, hour and second of life graciously given us by a loving and personal God (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Absent a life lived in accord with the hope we profess – imperfectly, inconsistently, but nevertheless with perseverance and authenticity – we can shower our kids with as much merchandise as our bank accounts will bear and yet be baffled when their search for lasting purpose comes up short.
Before the Second World War, when all things looked grim, King George VI spoke to the world on Christmas Day 1939: “I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied: ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.'” After the war, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer surveyed the ruins and said to Billy Graham, “Outside of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I know of no other hope for mankind.” Those words of King George VI and Adenauer are needed even more now. Few things are as dire as a looming war. Nothing is as dark as the grave. Jesus alone knows the way out of that dire darkness. That is the message we must believe, live, and embody. Then our young can mount up with wings as eagles—and see the world of hope through his eyes.
Ravi Zacharias Reveals the One Thing That Fills Him with Hope for the Future
Lamentations 3:16-24 (ESV)
He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;
my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, “My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the Lord.”
Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”