Scenes like this used to drive me crazy. My husband and I raised two boys, and although this picture is quite mild in comparison, I have to admit, there were times I would walk in their bedrooms and wonder if they were buried alive among the piles of dirty clothes on the floor, or worse, maybe they had actually died in there. More often than not, I asked, “What is that smell?”
Now that our home is an empty nest, the countless number of times I wanted to hire a bulldozer operator in order to make my way through to a bedroom dresser seems such a distance memory. Just as distant are the memories of the many nights my husband and I would go to sleep in the evening only to wake up the next morning to a “pile” of boys camped out in every empty bed, couch, and living room floor space. For a few short years, huge breakfasts with lots of teenage feet under our table was a normal occurrence.
We loved and embraced those years as well as each one of those boys. They helped to challenge, nurture, and deepen lasting relationships with our two blood-born, and those relationships amaze and fill us with joy still today. If we ever need a smile we think of Matthew’s spontaneous and contagious laughter. If we need a reminder of God’s faithfulness, we simply think of Jon and how he became our first-born’s loyal-like-a-brother friend very early in his teen years. Keelan’s spontaneity coupled with Matt’s unpredictability always kept our youngest fun-loving and light hearted. Daniel’s quick-wit, faithfulness, and even-keeled personality was something we all needed in a friend. And Lucas, well… that child was way too complex to describe in a few short words, but he captured our hearts nonetheless. Those boys became so dear to our family that ten and fifteen years down the road, my husband and I still consider them “our own.” Each one of them know, they do not have to call before they drop in, they are always welcome to put their feet under our table and/or spend the night in our spare bedroom. None of them (nor we) would think twice if they walked in today and started raiding the refrigerator – in fact, we would expect it. That’s just how close and special we consider these friends — friends we purposefully embraced along with the two of our own.
I can become sentimental and soft-hearted very easily (down-right “sappy” in fact) when it comes to “our boys.” I reminisce as I read one of my favorite Psalms and think of the many times I have prayed this scripture for them:
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers (Ps. 1:1-3 NASB).
Years down the road, every one of these boys, now men, have grown and matured into amazing young adults. Some of them are still single, while others have families of their own. Each one is serving the Lord and living their life in honor of Him. That blesses my heart beyond words. “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth” (III John 1:4). These boys’ parents are very proud of their children and love them dearly. We do too. We are so glad we made a conscious decision early in our children’s lives not to be fearful about getting involved with other families because those relationships remain very dear to us today. In light of this, here are just a few thoughts of encouragement for young parents who find themselves knee-deep in raising a family.
Don’t be Afraid to Get Involved
Strive to not get so hung up on the little things that won’t matter in 2 years (i.e. an occasional unmade bed); rather, get involved in the lives of your children’s friends now. Step outside the comfort zone of your own family and purposefully develop outside friendships. Invite kids over for a weekend, spend time in the backyard, watch a movie with popcorn and soft drinks in the den, play card games, feed them well, and get to know them more than on a surface level. Invest in a child as a person and spend purposeful, quality time.
One never knows what a kid is dealing with at home, or dealing with in a personal struggle. Investing in the life of child builds confidence in his/her heart that will carry through for many, many years. Our investment was not only for the benefit of other children, it gave us peace of mind knowing where our children were and that they were involved in a safe environment. Especially when we moved to a place where we did not know the lifestyle of many of those who lived around us, we always encouraged parties, sleepovers, and game nights at our house. Our involvement was never anything extravagant or expensive, it was just wholesome and fun. We embraced our time together.
Embrace the Teenage Years
Stop listening to the nay-saying “just wait until they are a teenager” stories and don’t be fearful of the teenage years. We can stand to testify that the teenage years do not have to be dreaded or feared. In fact, we absolutely loved our boys’ teenage years and all the excitement and frenzied activity that accompanied those times. Teenagers teach you to be real with yourself — and laugh at yourself. Instead of dread and fear, look forward in anticipation to all the fun things that lie ahead and embrace the excitement and vigor that youth bring to the home.
Because our children grew up knowing we had an open door policy to their friends in our home, they knew when they asked if so-and-so could sleep over, unless we had other plans, the answer would always be the same. When they got old enough to be driving, they actually stopped asking our permission — simply because they already knew the answer. That’s why we would wake up some weekend mornings and find boys sleeping all over the house. In fact, when our oldest was in college, his roommate from out-of-state became ill one weekend. He loaded him up and brought him home, knowing what we would say – “Yes! He is welcome – bring him home!”
Establish Reasonable Guidelines and Stick With Them
Free grace without boundaries leads to utter chaos. We established guidelines in our home that were respected by our children and their friends. Through those times, we never encountered a problem, nor did we have a sleepover or party get out of hand. I believe the reason is because we had purposefully invested in these kids’ lives early on and they knew our principles and our expectations of them. In addition, they knew we loved them, and they never did anything disrespectful or out of line while in our home. The scripture teaches us that we will be known by our love, so I would encourage young families to love others well. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 NASB). The teenage years can prove to be the greatest of not only a child’s life, but parents’ as well. These years also open doors to influence spiritual activity and well-being.
Get Involved in Spiritual Health
Never discount the power of God’s Word and the sincerity of prayer. Find out where your children’s friends are in their relationship with the Lord. Find out if they go to church. If they don’t – take them with you (that should be a no-brainer if they are invited over on Saturday night). Share the principles of God’s Word with them just as you would your own children and never doubt the Holy Spirit’s ability to speak. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 NASB). Pray with them before you eat a meal. When they are struggling, let them know you are praying – really praying – not just saying it as a cliché. If they do not own a Bible or devotional book, get them one for their birthday or Christmas. Write a personal note in the front cover. Challenge them to read scripture as part of a daily practice.
Never take for granted that just because a kid is a “good kid” that he/she personally knows the Lord. Be discerning, yet purposeful in establishing and building a relationship that is not just fun and games, but is spiritually focused. Remember, a life investment should revolve around a soul, and that soul was created for eternal purposes. We need to invest in people for the rest of our lives.
Never Stop Investing
Yes, I look at pictures like this of my son’s unmade bed and wonder – if I had to do it all over again, would I ever walk in my child’s room and exclaim, “What in the world happened in here? You need to clean up this place and make your bed!” The answer would probably be “Yes,” in the frenzy of the moment I honestly might say this again. However, fifteen years down the road and living in an empty nest, I’m not certain I would get so worked up and worried about an unmade bed, or many of the other things I used to make such a big deal. One thing I would not change is the time we invested in our children’s lives and the lives of their friends. We plan on investing for the rest of our lives; currently, in the lives of the youth in our church and most definitely have our focus on grandchildren as a long-term investment.
Here’s one last thought — this picture is not an old one – I took it today. Our youngest son came home last night to attend a ten year class reunion. My husband and I were pleasantly surprised to wake up in our empty nest this morning and find all the beds were full. Full with some of those “boys” who are now men – men of integrity, men with godly values, men we love. Men who are as close to our hearts as our own family. They didn’t have to be invited because they already knew they were welcome in our home. That invitation was established years ago.
Oh, and by the way – the sound that woke us up made us smile when we realized it — ________ was raiding the refrigerator (I’ll let your own imagination fill in the blank).
Carolyn May is a senior pastor’s wife, mother of two grown children, and grandmother of two. She and her husband have been in pastoral ministry for over 20 years and currently serve in the East Texas area. They have been married for 37 years. Carolyn has a diploma of Christian Ministry/Education from Midwestern Theological Seminary and a MS English degree from Texas A&M. She is involved in Women’s Ministry through her church, teaches English for various colleges in the online environment, and enjoys leading Bible study in her church and local women’s shelter.