Clay took the youth group to a conference in Louisville this weekend and the theme was “Do Hard Things.” I was only able to go to one session, but the message that I heard was excellent. The main speakers were two brothers who are travelling the country trying to inspire teenagers to rise above the meager expectations that society has placed upon them and “do hard things”, i.e. live a holy life filled with excellence and achievement, far beyond simply existing and not getting into too much trouble.
In our experience working with youth, we’ve seen a few kids who seemed excited about living for Christ, or who seemed to really work hard to excel in one area or another. Some were passionate about one thing, some about another. But most seemed content to simply go to school, maybe play a sport or an instrument and then lie around watching tv or playing on the computer the rest of the time. We’ve had some kids who we know have parents who seemed to be godly men and women, but did not require their kids to even come to church if the student didn’t want to. Just this morning I was speaking with a dad who excused his daughter’s absence today by saying she wanted to be with her friends. He then went on to say, “She’s at that age, you know, where we’re just not cool to be around anymore,” then chuckled and shrugged as if to say, “What can you expect?”
Well, therein lies the problem. Nothing more is expected. I realize that my oldest child just turned six, and therefore my experience parenting teenagers is nonexistent, so I really have no box to stand on here, but I think it’s a safe assumption that when Abigail is a teenager, she will be at church with us whether she thinks we’re cool or not. It will be expected, therefore it will happen. Parents are going right along with society today and expecting little to nothing of their teenagers. And unfortunately, that’s usually what they get. Why do we stop and marvel everytime we hear of a teenager doing something extraordinary, liking writing a book or working hard to help those in need? It’s because it’s so incredibly rare. But why is it rare? Why are more teenagers not stepping up and becoming passionate about something more than who their date for homecoming will be? It’s because it’s not expected. (Did I mention, by the way, that the conference speakers were 19? This morning was not the first time I’ve heard a parent excuse their lack of parenting by saying their child was “at that age.” However, this weekend was the first time I’ve heard a public challenge for teenagers to step and and do hard things.
Hard things, as pointed out yesterday, do not have to be big extraordinary things. Brett Harris, yesterday’s speaker and one of the brothers, gave several examples of what “hard things” might look like. It’s easy, but wrong, to be disrespectful and disobedient; it’s hard, but right, to honor your parents. It’s easy, but wrong, to be prideful; it’s hard, but right, to put on humility. To keep the same theme going: it’s easy, but wrong, to zone out during the sermon or Bible study with a “This is so boring” attitude; it’s hard, but right, to train your mind to focus and discover what the Holy Spirit wants to teach you. It’s easy, but wrong, to be easily angered, or easily offended, or easily irritated; it’s hard, but right, to practice self-control and forgiveness and peace-making. You could go on and on and on, coming up with examples for every stage of life. For parents, it’s easy, but wrong, to give into your kids–whatever their age–and let them have/do what they want; it’s hard, but right, to step up and be the parent and teach them self-control and self-restraint and self-discipline. It’s easy, but wrong, to excuse their behavior by saying, “Well, they’re just at that age”; it’s hard, but right, to place great expectations on our children and then invest in them so that they live up to those expectations. If it becomes expected, it will start happening, as far-fetched as you may think it sounds.
As a parent, I was sitting there listening and just feeling excited about helping my kids achieve greatness, even if it’s in everyday life as opposed to something that gains a lot of recognition. Clay and I are trying to place expectations on our kids to be respectful and mannerly; to perform their endeavors, whether gymnastics or schoolwork, with excellence and not just mediocrity. I am excited to watch them follow our homeschooling curriculum, which becomes fairly rigorous as it advances. I am excited to find ways to push them beyond society’s expectations of teenagers as they get older. But you know what? I was feeling challenged personally as well as I sat and listened to this message. How am I at doing the hard things? Am I content with mediocrity in my life, or do I push myself to live out my day in excellence? Do I shy away from certain tasks or responsibilities simply because I’m afraid they’ll be hard? I’m afraid all too often the answer is yes. So I’m exploring in my own life what “hard things” I need to step up and accomplish. It might just be responding with patience instead of irritation the 47th time my child hollers, “She took away!” It might be simply spending more time on tasks around the house even when I’m tired, and less time checking email and Facebook on my iPod (ouch, that one kind of hurt!). It might be training my mind to dig deeper into the Scriptures in the mornings, memorizing larger chunks and spending more time in meditation. Or it might mean going after something bigger, stepping outside my current comfort zones and acheiving some task that I haven’t yet achieved.
What are the “hard things” you need to start doing? Are you just “at that age”, whether that age is a teenager, or in your comfortable retirement, and therefore think that nothing is expected out of you? Or are you willing to forget society’s expectations of whatever stage of life you find yourself in and step up to do the hard things, to live an excellent, extraordinary life?