No Guts, No Glory: Raising Godly Boys in this Upside-Down World
Primary colors and sweat socks. Tools and trucks and testosterone. I have been blessed with boys. Three sons, a husband, a brother, father, brother in law and nephews, two male cats and a dog named Moses. I am surrounded and wouldn’t have it any other way. Hopefully my observations, experiences and mistakes can encourage you as you wade into the fray of directing, discipling and discovering the joy of boys.
As my boys become men, there have been three distinct positions I have placed myself in relation to them. When they were very young I stood in front, shielding, protecting, guiding. As they matured I moved from in front to beside them. Today with my first and second sons I have moved again, and now I stand behind them. My role in my older sons’ lives is to advise when asked, to cheer, and to pray. That is actually the key to everything else with boys- pray. Let’s take PRAY as an acrostic for each of the three seasons of raising boys (before, next to and behind).
Standing in Front
When they are very young- and you are standing in front-the ‘P’ in “PRAY” stands for PLAY. Little boys love to play, and they especially love to play with you. Teasing, touching, tag: boys are highly instinctual. They are primitive in their need for input an interaction with their world. Poking, grabbing, picking things up and throwing – they are captive to their senses. They love noises: making them and hearing them. Stillness is not in their repertoire. Kicking, squirming, wrestling are favorite pastimes. Play with them on the floor, inside, outside and upside-down. Time and space and a safe place to play are vital for you and your sanity.
The ‘R’ in “PRAY” when standing in front is RULES. The word discipline has its root in the word disciple. My goal with my sons is to have them become disciples of Jesus Christ. Guiding them with loving discipline points them to Christ. Boys are not born loving or caring. That is taught in word and deed. As our boys act out and misbehave they are clearly crying out for direction and guidelines or RULES. Life is a collection of habits. Good reasons and good reinforcement and good repetition will result in good habits, even godly habits.
The ‘A’ in “PRAY” when standing in front is ATTENTION. Love is communicated by giving undivided attention. Boy’s attention span is controlled by curiosity and at the mercy of distractions. The most scheduled mom can connect with attention at least four times a day. First thing in the morning, wake them with a song or encouragement. After school provide a snack and a review of their day. A consistent dinnertime is a third great place to connect. The fourth time is bedtime. Begin a ritual of bedtime prayers and praise - it could last their entire lives. Unplug yourself and him from devices that distract - you will both be refreshed.
The ‘Y’ in the word “PRAY” for this stage of parenting boys is YOU. You have authority to instruct in godly habits and attitudes. Proverbs 13:24 reminds us, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” The rod doesn’t only apply to physical punishment- but careful direction.
King Solomon reminds in Proverbs 3:11&12, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as the father the son he delights in.” YOU are not called to be his friend, buddy or his pal. Be steadfast and unchanging in swirling waters of school, friendships and cultural pressure. You know him better than he knows himself and can guide him with clear and unambiguous standards. Extoll and model virtues: honesty, loyalty, courage, faith, self-discipline, compassion, empathy and generosity. You are his best coach- inspire, demand, cajole, encourage, push and lead. You have authority in his life, coach him toward Jesus.
As our boys grow and mature, we find ourselves not shielding and protecting defenseless babies as much as training and drilling young warriors. This stage in parenting brings us to an entirely different ways to PRAY.
PATIENCE is the ‘P’ in “Pray” for this stage. Boys are by nature inattentive and ungrateful. We as the civilized nurturing moms can be present in every situation good and bad and exercise PATIENCE. I remember chanting to myself, “someday, someday, someday”, as I watched them chew with jaws askew, handing their napkins off to the dog, shooting peas across the table and arm wrestling over dessert. Someday their attitudes would be positive. Someday Nate will volunteer to help around the house. Someday Karch will put the device down and look me in the eye. Be a fruity mom, a fruit of the spirit mom. I remember yelling (it wasn’t once or long ago actually) and apologizing to the guys, explained that I had, “lost my temper.” “Hope you find it soon, mom,” chipped in a helpful voice. Patience on your part is a process, give yourself grace and try for small steps toward consistent Zen moods, especially with a gaggle of kids. Give grace to your kids too, but don’t expect it back right now. It is never too late to say you are sorry, and again you are modeling confession and repentance for your boys.
When standing beside the ‘R’ in “PRAY” stands for RESPONSIBILITY. You are training future husbands and fathers. Give them jobs, chores and expectations and reward them. Daily patterns of feeding the pets, making their beds and emptying the dishwasher build self-respect and help in understanding their role helping the family function. Make them responsible for their toys and teach them the care of things and family pets. Help them make choices about their time, their money, their grades and the quality of the work they do. Guide them to be responsible for their clothes, shoes and grooming products. At the tender age of 11 Noah took responsibility for the neighbors’ puppies. He rode his bike about 2 miles to their home, let himself in and walked the dogs several times a week. He got paid. He was delighted with himself and we were proud of him. He took responsibility outside our home and had great success. When each of our sons turned 13 they received a gift. They got to wear a cross necklace that I had been wearing since they were born. At one point I was wearing 4 crosses, my own and one for each son. They recognized that each was different and knew that when they achieved 13 years they would get to wear it themselves. My husband and I explained that we were responsible for their faith until that age, and then they were each responsible for their relationship with God. We would always be there to guide and encourage and answer questions, but that was the beginning of their own journey with God. This has been a very special family tradition at our house.
When standing beside the ‘A’ in “PRAY” stands for ADVENTURE. Boys need adventures. God designs each boy differently. My three boys have very different temperaments, dreams and adventures. Nathan is a writer, dreamer, and poet. He began writing a book his freshman year of high school. The wall of his bedroom was wallpapered with notes about the world he was building for his novel. His adventure may culminate in being published. My second son, Karcher is a math and language guy. His adventure is solving problems, designing and building racecars. He chose to use his gifts to contend in Academic Decathlon competitions in high school and is pursuing a mechanical engineering degree at University. Noah, son number three, is on a spiritual adventure. He is drawn to God and wants to know Him better in every area of life. This year we are using a Classical Christian curriculum to home school him. He requested a different school pattern because, “I want to talk about God in school too.”
Your son needs an adventure or a mission. Help them discern what that might be by asking questions. “What do you love to do?” “Who do you admire?” “What needs to change?” “What do you need to reach your goal?”
Feed their curiosity. When our boys were small we listened to hours of “Adventures in Odyssey” radio programs. We lived in Siberia and had friends send us tapes. The boys listened and used their imaginations. Entice their imagination- play brain twister games, study maps together and make up rhymes. Author John Javna wrote the book “Cool Tricks” which introduces many other great ways to engage with your boys need for Adventure. Take stuff apart, give them recycle items and see what they create, and cheer the entire time.
When standing beside the ‘Y’ in “PRAY” is still YOU. YOU are gifted by God to be your son’s mom. In Romans we are reminded that as daughters of Christ we are leaders, have the gift of mercy, service, teaching and counseling. If you still don’t feel sufficient let me exhort you from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church. You are gifted with discernment, healing, faith, hospitality, helps, wisdom and knowledge. YOU are gifted by God to be a loving blessing to your son. When I went to Siberia, Russia as a young mom the best word to describe me would have been overwhelmed. Small boys, a foreign language and culture, leader, wife, student and Jesus follower. I did not have enough heads for all the hats I was expected to wear. As I doubted my capabilities and decisions the Holy Spirit gently reminded me, “Heather, you only have to wear one hat at a time- and I can direct you to which one is best at any time.” Like me, you have the power of the Holy Spirit. Together with Christ YOU are exactly gifted to parent your son.
As our sons approach adulthood, our call is to move from standing beside to standing behind them. When standing behind the ‘P’ in “PRAY” is for PURPOSE.
Contrary to popular cultural belief, self-esteem is not a biblical principle. Nowhere in scripture will we find God promising that we would or should “feel good about ourselves”. This is counter cultural but vital. Help your son find his identity and purpose in God. Regularly remind him who he is in Christ: Chosen, forgiven, beloved, blessed, free, sanctified, holy, the light of the world, worthy of Christ’s sacrifice. It is better for our boys to do good than to feel good. Believe in him and communicate consistently, “You can learn to do that!” Model persistence and resourcefulness. I often ask for help from them, especially with computer and technical issues. Show him how you chase after your own purpose and unveil your prayer life to your son. Show him how God answers prayer.
When standing behind the ‘R’ in “PRAY” is for RELEASE. When Nate and Karch celebrated their 18th birthdays we turned in our parent cards. We explained that we would always be there to love and encourage them, to guide and support them, but in place of parental discipline our boys now needed to discipline themselves. We actively foster their independence and more responsibility. My husband Steve had to travel for two weeks and told Nate, “you are in charge”. Reflecting back later about that challenge to his Dad he said, “It felt great that you trusted me, and some of the chores that I used to hate to do were not that bad, I knew I was serving the family and taking care of things while you were gone.” As a mom it can be very hard to say “tough” and walk away, but we impart grit and character muscle that way.
When standing behind the ‘A’ in PRAY is for ADVISE. Here again we are swimming upstream from the culture. Our culture is sadly anti-male. We see attacks on men in media, advertising, sitcoms and even hallmark cards. The culture is anti-Christian as well. Our society pits the sexes against each other instead of recognizing our unique design created to compliment each other. It is our job to be aware of what our boys are facing and advise them wisely. I remember giving some advice to Karch as he was going out with his first girlfriend. “Karch,” I said, “dating is like going on a nature walk. You must stay on the marked path - don’t wander off the path. Look at the beauty in nature and admire it, but don’t pick the flowers. Leave everything the same way you found it or better. If you see garbage, pick it up - leave it beautiful. Don’t start any fires. Wear appropriate clothing. Plan your hike, know where you are going, how long it will take and how to get home. Your safety is the most important thing.” He huffed impatiently, “Mom, you know me, don’t you trust me?” “I do trust you, and I love you. But it is also my responsibility as your mom to make sure I communicate our family values and make sure we are in agreement about what is appropriate. I’m doing the ‘mom’ due diligence.” We laughed and agreed that it was a funny talk. But we also agreed not to make any assumptions about important issues with each other.
Romans 8:31 says “if God is for me who can be against me?” We know God is for us. We also know that the public education system, the culture and the media are against us. With God’s help we can give wise, moral advice and always, always have our sons’ backs.
When standing behind the ‘Y’ stands for “YOU are enough in CHRIST”. Paul says in Philippians, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” That “all things” includes being a loving, godly mom to boys.
The “all things” Paul is referring to includes being patient, finding resources, employing creativity, speaking softly, washing endless socks and boxer shorts, improvising dinner again tonight, and figuring out math homework. YOU are enough in Christ. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned, struck down, but not destroyed-We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the Life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-12.
You have a PhD in your son. God created him and loves him more than you can, but He chose to gift him to YOU. God entrusted him to YOU, and covered you in grace. YOU are enough in Christ. You are trusted, empowered, free and forgiven. YOU are more than enough to love and raise a godly man.
Not accidentally, I used the word PRAY more than 18 times in this article. It is not a word or phrase I use casually, but with reverence, and wonder, because it is the key to the whole endeavor. Please pray. For yourself as a mom, for your boy for your family and the world he will inherit. Pray because God listens, He loves you and He wants to answer. Pray because it makes a difference both within and without. Much like great love, prayer eases the way and gives us maps to the maze of life. Pray for wisdom and courage, patience and consistency - then overflow with joy at being the mom of a boy.