Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Two Stories, and a Moral

I have a couple of stories to share with you.


Years ago (around 1992), before my twins were born, my sister called me at her wits' end. Her son was failing high school. He'd been kept back a grade, and she couldn't get him back on track. Not only was his classwork and homework lacking, he suffered from headaches which caused him to exceed his allowed sick days. He was also just generally truant.

"Send him to me," I said. So he came to live with me in the little city of Union, where there is one high school that serves the entire county. The school is located outside of town, miles from the nearest convenience store. I enrolled him there.

Shortly after the school year started, he called me from the school office. "Uncle Dave," he said, "I have a really bad headache. Can you come sign me out?"

"Go to the nurse and get some aspirin," I said.

"They won't hand out any medications," he replied (and that was true... I spoke with the nurse). He pleaded, "Can you please come sign me out?"

He had already been with me for some time, and I'm not an unobservant fellow. I noted with some interest that he didn't seem to suffer from these chronic headaches I'd been told about... not until he started school. "Meet me at the front of the school," I replied.

So I drove to the school, and there on the curb outside of the office stood my nephew, expectantly awaiting his ride home. He was still standing there after I rolled down the car window as I drove past slowly and wordlessly tossed a bottle of aspirin in his general direction.

He never asked for another ride home, and he completed that year and was promoted to the next grade.


I have three sons. I have never ridden herd over any of them regarding homework. It was their assignment, their responsibility, their job; just as at their age my homework was my job. I have always been available to help when asked, but otherwise I'm completely hands-off.

That doesn't mean I don't pay attention. One of my children failed... more than once. For several years he attended summer school so that he wasn't held back a grade. It's not that he couldn't do the work... he made straight As in summer school. It's that he didn't want to do the assignments, and it cost him.

One day he came to me and said, "Dad, I don't want to be stupid anymore."

"Well then you're in luck. You were never stupid to begin with," I replied.

He said, "You know what I mean. I want to get out of the slower classes. I might have messed this up. I need help."

"OK," I said, "Here's what you need to do. If you need help understanding something, ask me. But don't wait until it's a problem. Just ask me as soon as you realize you don't understand it. But start by making sure you do your homework and turn your assignments in on time."

He did his homework and turned his assignments in on time. He never asked me for help in high school. He never needed it. Today he's in his second year at the University of South Carolina, and is a model student. Occasionally he asks me to proofread a paper.


I didn't respond to either of these young men the way they wanted or expected. My nephew wanted to go home and be pampered. I made him stay and slog out the remainder of that day and every other day he claimed a headache. He eventually stopped claiming them and just passed his grade. He could have done that at any time. If I had been overly attentive to his discomfort, he would have failed again. Discomfort is a part of life. We all deal with it. That doesn't change our obligations. My nephew needed to know that he had no option but attendance. So I gave him no option. My son needed to know that failure to perform equals failure to achieve. So I let him fail. They both needed to rely on themselves.

And yes, when it comes to parenting I can be an ass. I love my kids more than anything else in the world, but I'm not here to give them what they want. I'm here to teach them what they need so that they can get what they want for themselves. I was still there, watching. ready to make sure that the consequences weren't too dire. But if my nephew had needed a sick day or two, or my son wound up attending community college, it wouldn't have been the end of the world for either of them.


God is a bit like that. I imagine I learned the technique from Him. When you pray to God give you something, you rarely get exactly what you ask for. If you pray to God for a hole in the ground, chances are He'll point you to a shovel. And he expects you to start digging. And you'd better dig, because next time He might answer with a spoon. When God provides, it may not be everything you ask for; it may not be your ideal; but it will get you by. You'll have to pitch in.

Sometimes when you pray He just lets you fail. When that happens, as near as I can tell, you pretty much needed to fail. And, as near as I can tell, that happens when you make the mistake of thinking that God is some kind of genie who's there to grant your wishes.


God is not a genie.

I've said this before, directing the message to Christians who inappropriately send the message that He is some kind of magical go-fer who will attend to their every whim. In that piece I said,
"If you tell someone that God will surely rescue them from whatever their affliction is if they only pray hard enough or sincerely enough, or long enough, you're lying to them. And you are cruelly making it their fault if their problems don't disappear. Prayer is for praise and supplication, but sometimes the answer is 'no'." 
If you're a Christian, don't make outrageous claims so that people will will not overlook their gifts and end up disillusioned. And more than that, stop others when they do it. And if you are relying on such claims, understand that God's prayers are most often answered by giving you the means to provide for yourself. If you are depending on more than that, then you're treating God as a genie. Stop, look at what you have to work with, and then work with it.

There are two other things. First, prayers of thanks are better than prayers of supplication. They encourage you to look at your gifts rather than overlook them. Second, almost always, the best way to help yourself is to help someone else. It sounds crazy, but it's true.

Here's how a pastor approaches the same subject. [link] He uses my graphic. ;)

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