Sometimes a father can make a suggestion to his eighteen-year-old son that works. Earlier this summer I invited our oldest son Kyle to join me in a discussion of John Piper's "Dont' Waste Your Life." It was not a suggestion I made spontaneously. In fact, from the beginning I was dubious as to whether it would work all that well. (I had some residual memories of a similar experiment three summers ago, when Kyle declared that walking four miles a day -- which at the time I was in the habit of doing -- was not a big deal, and I challenged him to walk with me four miles a day for 90 days, after which he would receive $200. The journey, and the destination, were really not very pleasant, although Kyle did earn his $200). So anyway, after thoughtfully considering how to approach Kyle, I decided how to cinch the challenge. For each chapter read, I would treat him to a movie of his choice (plus snacks) if he would spend the trip to the theater and back (thirty minutes each way) discussing the content of the chapter in question.
Even then I wondered at the irony of discussing a book whose title is "Don't Waste Your Life," when I questioned whether the process would turn out to be the same painful experience as the summer years earlier. I didn't really want to waste my emotional energy in a father-son project that might result in frustration and irritation.
It is really surprising how enjoyable this process has been. Kyle has been committed to reading the chapter (especially diligent on the verge of a new movie he might be interested in seeing, but diligent nonetheless), and we have been engaged in many interesting conversations. For the first time ... ever ... we've ridden together without music dominating the ride and with conversation setting the tone and agenda.
John Piper's theological position is not very close to my own. He is a good-hearted Calvinist who understands God's sovereignty in ways that this warm-hearted, free-will Methodist will never understand. While I cannot accept much of Pipe's theology, I certainly resonate with the purpose of his book. To make Christ the center of one's life and to live in ways that others perceive as risk-filled for the sake of meaning and purpose is something Piper and I can agree upon wholeheartedly. And really, when it's all said and done, it seems to me that there will be less concern on God's and others' parts about the purity or clarity or uniformity of doctrine and more concern with how we have lived the mission of Christ.
Kyle and I have had the opportunity to discuss theology and Christian life. We've talked about the nature of humanity (are humans sinful by nature or does God intend for something different?) We've thought about the nature of lukewarmness and whether or not that results in spiritual lostness. We've talked about the nature of God and what our response is to such a God. And, just a few nights ago, I had the opportunity to apologize for something that's been clouding our relationship for weeks. I have had to come to the point of releasing something that I have hung on to for too long. I hung on to it for basically selfish reasons -- a tool of relational manipulation, a means of reinforcing disappointment, and as an opportunity for asserting parental authority.
And my motivation for such an apology came through a book whose author's theology I cannot affirm. It came through the author's reminder of the incident in Jesus' life when confronting a crowd of self-righteous legalists, he asks the antagnoists of a life-worn woman, "Where are your accusers now?" Seeing no one remaining to accuse her further, Jesus says, "Then I do not condemn you either. Go and sin no more."
Reading those words again, for they were not new ones to me, I knew the onus was upon me. I had been wasting opportunities for respectful interactions because of my unwillingness to let go. I had been jettisoning moments for pleasant conversations with my oldest son whom I love dearly in order to fulfill a smug self-righteousness that I cannot honestly wear. I had been fostering an environment of mistrust to salve my own disappointments. I had been wasting my life. To offer another words of apology with an attitude of humility that says, "There are many things about myself that I regret and would hope no one hangs on to any longer," is indeed freeing.
I have learned something profound. Don't waste your life in assigning blame, assuaging self-doubt or posturing self-righteousness. Find life in understanding, compassion and humility. Sometimes a father can make a suggestion that works, even for himself.