The Precious Years
Our family has entered what I call “the precious years.” Our son has just started middle school. The stinkiest, most awkward and angst-ridden years that I can remember in my own life, I am now reliving to walk my own son through. I think revisiting those years brings a whole new meaning to self-sacrifice. I thought I’d done a pretty bang-up job repressing those middle school memories. They were tucked away in my mental attic, packed in bubble wrap and three feet of duct tape, secured in a pad-locked box.
So, my son is not only entering “the precious years,” but we have decided to send him to a local charter school, where he has to significantly step up his educational game. The first few weeks of school have been a little overwhelming. Our son has gone from his cushy summer life of video games and football practice to full days of intense learning and some serious quality homework effort until late evening.
The hardest part is the look I get from him at 9:00pm when he realizes the homework sheet is two-sided and he still has three more assignments to complete before his head hits the pillow. It’s been a tough transition, and there are nights when I wonder if we’ve made the right decision for him. Many days he’s overwhelmed and I wonder if that’s too much on his eleven year old self. Is that too big of a burden? Are we asking too much? Are we expecting too much?
He doesn’t always talk about feeling overwhelmed; it’s all in his body language. I find he’s running his fingers through his hair as he spaces off. He doesn’t always answer my questions right away, distracted by his thoughts. And he sighs. Deep sighs that let me know he’s trying to figure out how to eat this elephant. It’s my job to help him take it on one bite at a time. And it’s making me once again evaluate how we disciple him.
The other night, as I sat across the dining room table from my son deciphering formulas for chemical compounds and he exhaled heavily, as though the pressure in his body might release with the effort, I had a thought. I imagined Peter, James and John as they first met Jesus. They’d come in from a long night of fishing (and catching nothing) and Jesus showed up and asked them to go back and let out the nets. The disciples were tired but obedient, and they went out again, responding, “because you say so.” They climbed back into their boats only to be immediately overwhelmed by the number of fish in their nets. In fact, the catch of fish they bring in is so large, they have to flag others to bring boats to help.
And that’s where I see my son. At 9:00pm, he is tired and done with his day, and trying not to be overwhelmed by the task at hand and he doesn’t want to ask for help, but his deep sighs and fingers caught in his hair tell me otherwise. He’s silently flagging me over to help him carry the load.
So often, when we talk about relational discipleship, it’s about the discussion. We talk about, well…we talk about talking. Discipleship is about meaningful, insightful chats that bring about growth. Those talks are crucial to building the relationship, yes, but I wonder too if we are striving to know each other well enough to recognize the signs, to know when we’re being flagged in for help. Do I know when the nets are too heavy? Am I ready to help? Or even further, am I too buried in my own tasks to even pick my head up and take a look around? Does my compassion match my mission?
While these last few weeks with our son have been challenging I’ve realized how much opportunity this year presents for discipleship. Because discipleship isn’t just about helping him follow Christ in social decisions, in growing up in the gospel, and showing respect and love to others. It’s about teaching him how to manage this life, how to maneuver in stormy seas, flag others down for help, and look around for others waving their arms frantically in their own sinking boat of fish.
These are indeed “the precious years.”