This is part of a series; read Part I here.
This past winter I watched a new family from Latin America inch their way from their car up an icy ramp toward shelter in a church. A chilling wind seemed to reach inside their good clothing and create a sense of shock and confusion. The ground beneath their feet had always been a source of firmness and assurance. Now, things were as uncertain as if a major earthquake had moved everything.
Family life in our world is experiencing a similar shift. With broken families, blended families, single parent families, and every imaginable combination of human beings labelled family, it
would be comforting if scripture had a three step plan to take our children from childhood to adulthood. Unfortunately, there is no set plan.
Perhaps the closest instruction comes from Deuteronomy 6:5-9
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”1
We may promise to the gathered family of God that we will raise our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, but that still doesn’t give us a blueprint to make it happen. Every parent faces the humble task of desperately depending on God’s grace to translate biblical truth and principle into real life transformative relationships. And through it all, they must accept that the good work which God begins is a work which he alone can bring to completion.
The key stories which fuel our mind and heart don’t take long to anchor in place. The modeled stories from our families speak powerfully to our sense of who we are and why we are. We don’t change just because we want to. The stories which speak powerfully to a father may soon be speaking even more powerfully to the son who looks up to him.
James Bryan Smith, in his book ‘The Good and Beautiful God’2, writes that “We change by the process of indirection.” By indirection, he means that we examine the ‘narratives’ we’ve come to believe, the practices which are habitual for us, and the relationships which are significant to us. Under the leading of the Holy Spirit, we adjust these elements which shift the core of who we are and how we live.
Tasks are a method of indirection to bring about lasting change in the heart and mind of a son.
Fighter pilot, Cameron Schaefer3 , reflected on fatherhood after examining his newborn son. He understood that our society has ‘waypoints’ on the road to manhood but he quotes Edward Abbey
soberly: “in the modern techno-industrial culture, it is possible to proceed from infancy into senility without ever knowing manhood.”
Intentionality is essential if we are to make the crucial adjustments of beliefs, habits, and relationships before we begin to significantly impact our world.
A huge tension lives within the heart of fathers. As men, they look to results as the evidence that the world is still functioning effectively under control. As fathers, they feel the pull of relationship despite results and fear that this might compromise what is needed to equip and prepare their sons. Knowing what is needed can help ease the sticking points.
There are three things a son will need in order to complete his journey through the transition phases. He will need hope for the future, confidence in the present and peace with the past.
In this book, I am supporting a process of father mentored tasks to help with the transition. While it is feasible to have mothers or uncles or other significant adults walk a young man into manhood, the ideal would be the father. Wherever there is no father, of course, the best possible alternative is essential.
Consider each of the three phases.
Peace with the past. In order to achieve peace with the past a boy needs to know that there is forgiveness for his mistakes and there is healing for his wounds. While the mistakes and wounds may not be significant after 12 years of life, it is crucial that forgiveness and healing are clearly applied to whatever level of experience has occurred. While this peace with the past can be solidified through the tasks it is important to be aware of this potential sticking point in the preparation phase.
If a son feels anchored to the past then he will exert strong resistance to stepping into such an unstable phase of transition. While forgiveness and healing will be lifelong pursuits, there needs to be a solid taste of these realities during this phase of life.
Confidence in the present. In order to achieve confidence in the present a boy needs to feel like his closest relationships are secure and that his identity is established. A vital part of the tasks is to assure him of the security of relationship he has with his father and to assist him in the establishment of his identity as a young man.
If a son is overwhelmed by insecure relationships and an uncertain identity he may become emotionally stuck in this phase. Many of the young men growing up in the chaos of dysfunctional homes and unstable parental relationship can be set up to struggle past this stage.
Hope for the future. In order to achieve hope for the future a boy needs to believe that genuine opportunities for success are available to him. He also needs to believe that he is developing the skills needed for what he will be facing in the years to come. The 12 tasks are intended to provide this sense of hope.
If a son cannot believe that the opportunities before him are within his grasp, and if he cannot believe that the skills he has been given in life are enough to help him with the challenges ahead, he will wither. In time he may choose alternate forms of acceptance or belonging in an effort to belatedly prove himself.
The fear begins early and lingers long.
Groups and individuals who prey on the vulnerable seem to have an instinct for younger men who are stuck without confidence or hope. The tasks can be a valuable aid to protecting young men while they are growing through their vulnerabilities.
When both father and son have peace with their past, confidence in their present, and hope for their future, there will be a strong unbreakable bond that will positively impact the relationships and society around them.
The tasks encourage a father to see his son’s ability (as designed by God), to provide initial opportunity, and to foster motivation. It isn’t helpful to create tasks beyond genuine ability, or to select tasks where no opportunity will exist, or to design a series of challenges without sufficient motivation.
A father’s modeled example before his son, significant participation beside his son, and consistent gentle coaching behind his son, will provide the stimulus to keep from getting discouraged and give up.
There is no way that I could expect my son, Richard to be a top ranked mechanic, engineer, or carpenter when I never modeled those abilities, never exposed him to opportunities to learn, and never gave him motivation to acquire the skills needed. Perhaps, in a different environment, I should have. Instead, he learned to communicate passionately with people about significant human tragedy through verbal and written mediums.
My expectations are buffered by what I modeled, gave opportunity for, and motivated him toward. They are also channeled by the community and environment we live in, the other models in my son’s relational sphere, and the buy-in from other family members.
Richard’s tasks encouraged him to see the peak and to take a step toward it. He still does that. His tasks encouraged him to express himself, to understand his wo
rld, and to engage with it. He still does that. The twelve tasks challenged his mind, his body, and his soul.
The tasks are not just jobs to complete and check off. They are character builders designed to stimulate what is happening inside the son so that he has all he needs when his body grows, his opportunities expand, and his relationships and environment shift around him.