I don't know about you, but I'm tired of hearing all the bad things going on with boys these days. Falling grades and school engagement, increased drug use, failure to launch, the rise of ADHD.... The list goes on and on.
Enough. Let's do something about it, one young man at a time. Want to know a great way to start?
Help him to consistently serve someone younger or in need.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is tested and questioned by Satan, Pharisee's, Sadducees and the scribes. Over and over the come at him asking twisted questions hoping to catch Him in something that will lead to his arrest and removal from the scene.
One of my favorite comes in Mark 12:28-33:
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these.”
This is what I mean by 1B: Love your neighbor as yourself. It was the second thing Jesus said. And, it is very nearly as important as the first part. The questioner so appreciated the answer that he responded:
“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
This last piece is a stunning statement when you think about the context. The man questioning Jesus was a teacher of the Jewish law. Jewish law, from the time of Moses involved offering burnt sacrifices to cleanse sins.
All of the sudden, this Teacher of the Law agrees with Jesus saying 'to love you neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices?
Stunning. True. And, when acted upon, it changes you for the good.
Teen boys are inherently narcissistic to some degree. There brains are dumping hormones into their system at an unnerving rate. Their bodies are changing either too quickly or not quickly enough. They are beginning the full-on 'comparison mode' of high school.
If you aren't careful, it can get out of control. I know - I've been through it myself. And, very recently, I've watch the process in our oldest son. The inwardness, the 'me, me, me" was blossoming until something happened: he started teaching little kids how to read.
The change started slowly with him coming along to serve on our Thursday evening events from January to April. My bride has helped with a small store that hands out needed household items to our community friends and all the boys have been by her side since the start.
By watching his mom and the rest of the volunteers develop relationships with our neighbors, he started to get a baseline of understanding that everyone around you has value, meaning, and is loved by God.
But it wasn't until he started tutoring at a local charter school that he really got it.
Coming home from his first afternoon of helping 1st and 2nd graders with reading and I've never seen someone so positively affected so quickly. He got home and said, 'Dad, I don't really know how to explain it but I feel full.'
Almost overnight he was calmer than he'd ever been. More joyful and patient with his younger brothers. (Ok, just a little but it was noticeable!) And, he was happier and more mature.
We were, of course, pleased by his service but blown away by the transformation. And, I'm happy to report the trend is continuing. The more he works with the younger kids, the better he has felt about himself and closer he has grown to God.
Lots of Ways to Serve
In the wonderful documentary, Raising Cain, Dr. Joe Tobin demonstrates the importance of young people caring for those even younger as it helps them develop empathy. (Check out from 13:32 to 15:22 for this clip. The whole thing is worth a watch, though!)
Though important, there is something more powerful going on than just building empathy. By helping younger kids, our boys learn that they are USEFUL. And that is a very powerful feeling on which to build.
One thing to note: Service comes in a lot of different forms. We suggested our oldest try several different avenues before he found the one that really revs his engine. Your son may be more interested in painting someone's house, filling up food bags for Stop Hunger Now, helping at the homeless shelter, or something else.
There are so many options. Here's the thing: start small and help him be consistent in the efforts. Little by little, he'll learn to love his neighbor as himself by his actions of service. He'll also mature, expand his world-view, and, I hope, grow closer to God.
(Just remember to remind him of the last line from Micah 6:8: "walk humbly with your God." Sometimes we can all go a bit overboard - even with the good stuff!)
Have a great week!