When we lived in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, we lived a short walk from a major intersection, 91st Street and Aspen Avenue. I would often take Samson, the Brittany spaniel we owned at the time, for walks around the neighborhood, and occasionally I could convince the girls to come with me. Yes, they loved their daddy. Yes, they loved Samson. But mainly, they loved ice cream. And on the opposite corner of the intersection of 91st and Aspen, there was a Braum’s ice cream parlor. Samson and I would cross both streets with the girls and then wait on the sidewalk and watch through the glass door as two little girls, not ten years of life between them, walked up to the counter with a $5 bill and ordered some ice cream.
Kylie was likely too young to understand what was going on; she just followed big sister around like she usually did. But Taylor was completely aware, and she could not have been more thrilled. It was not even the ice cream itself; it was the fact that she was acting like a grownup and being treated as a grownup in return. If you asked her, I suspect she would tell you it was the greatest moment of her life up to that point. It’s still one of mine.
It’s also an example of what I talk about all the time with regard to parenting: giving children opportunities to fail safely. Had we lived in Detroit, or Baltimore, or St. Louis, the worst-case scenarios likely would have made this exercise unworkable. But in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, it was manageable. Maybe they would have had the money taken from them by some bratty middle-schooler. More likely they would have just frozen at the ice cream counter (pardon the expression) and started crying. But those are life lessons. Teachable moments. And more to the point, they are highly unlikely. What was going to happen 95 percent of the time — indeed, what did happen every time we walked to Braum’s — was that they got to be responsible stewards of a small amount of money. Plus they brought a smile to everyone in the store, which in itself is a good thing.
Sometimes we think that the inevitability of growth means growth need not be managed. But we don’t think that way with regard to our lawn, or our budget, or our appetite for food. Such things “take care of themselves” to an extent; however, they go much smoother with a bit of tending.
Parents need to be seeking out opportunities to help channel the growth of their children in profitable directions. Do they lead prayers at home? Do they discuss their Bible class lessons? Do they take notes during the sermon? Even the simplest gestures on their part can be significant steps, providing opportunities for bigger steps in due course of time. A 6-year-old who sleeps or plays on his phone during church services is expected to “do better” when he or she gets older. But if parents pass on opportunities to help them take “baby steps” when the child is 6, they are forced to take “baby steps” when the child is 14. By then, the bad habits may be too entrenched to allow the good ones to take root. It is never too early to start — but in some instances, it may be too late.
Elders and the church at large have similar opportunities with those who are “young in the faith,” regardless of their physical age. We must not interfere with the most important process, which obviously is the training in God’s word. But in most situations, we can place small burdens of responsibility on them even in their spiritual youth; this will increase their zeal, prove their importance to the body at large, and teach them rudimentary skills that will likely help them develop more important skills down the line. And as an added bonus, the “old fogeys” get an example of enthusiastic service that might motivate them to become more participatory as well.
But it all starts with Proverbs 22:6 and the first step. Woe be to us all if the older generation is so overly cautious as to shelter the younger generation from the very experience that is needed.