As the mother of three young adults in their twenties, I find myself thrust into the memory of my own twenties often—and against my will, I might add. Lest you think my observations limit themselves to my own children, think again. My husband and I, having ministered among hundreds of college students over the years, primarily through a small Bible college, observed these tendencies long before our own children reached this tumultuous decade. Nothing can prepare a parent, however, for watching her own children maneuver the raging waters of life with a single paddle while she is stuck on the banks of the river, fully able to see the rocks but unable to jump in with that extra paddle to steady the canoe and change course. I shouted instructions, advice, and yes, sometimes obscenities, trying to get them on the right course, but they had to drive that little boat. Now in my fifties, I may be ready to reminisce on my own young “adult” years and make some observations that could be helpful to others in that phase or to the parents stuck on that river bank.
Much like the days when I watched my children stand and hold onto furniture to make their way around a room before they took off, I see these rising twenties, those in their late teens moving toward the milestone that ends juvenile teenage years, most often still hanging on to parents for help with insurance, transportation, schooling, etc. These reasonable support systems steady their legs and help them get a head start with some stability that could and should prevent bumps and bruises later on. However, to the parents of strong-willed children, even those years pass with little comfort, and even less sleep. Most young children bolt toward their adulthood without making sure they have the social, financial, emotional, and spiritual legs needed to support their weight.
Now I must chastise myself here because when my little ones learned to walk, I managed to keep my distance long enough to allow them to fall and get back up. In fact, I remember telling others not to rescue them too fast because they had to fall if they would ever learn to stand and eventually walk. They fell, and their little bodies got bumps and bruises here and there. They learned from each fall more about their own equilibrium, and as adults, they need the same freedom. I forget that.
When I went to college, my mistakes—and I made some big mistakes—remained largely secret. We had no cell phones, digital cameras, email, or social media. I feel sorry for adolescents today because their mistakes become public record. They can’t hide and then start over somewhere else when their problems get so big they need a do-over—no, I did not move away from my home town because of a lurid past. A fresh start eludes them wherever they are, unless they want to become hermits with no social interaction. They just have no time to grow without public scrutiny, and not surprisingly, some of their behaviors lack wisdom.
As toddler parents, we beam with pride when others see our little ones take a few steps, fall down, pick themselves back up, and keep on trying. Unfortunately, we cringe at the stumbles they endure as adults. Perhaps my own pride hangs in the balance as I feel judged by their contributions and behaviors. Let’s face it, most of our children aren’t Olympic athletes or Ivy League scholars, and even those who are still fall, but we find each mistake or shortcoming in our own children somehow beamed across the universe like a Bat Signal to alert the world of our failures as parents. Every misstep I made as a young adult cannot find its path to some bad parenting my mother meted out in my childhood. I had my own choices; my mother did not choose to behave the way I did; she did not choose to treat people the way I treated them; she did not make me sin. Yet had the public seen my sins the way today’s young adults’ issues play out for all to see, I’m pretty sure she would have felt all eyes on her skills as a parent.
Perhaps the scariest commentary on modern Christianity plays out in social media when well-meaning Christians decide to jump on every swear word and every “questionable” alliance with which these men and women dance. Their corrective posts, their rants on their own statuses expressing their shock at kids they thought were Christians all serve to drive young people further away from God and the church and does nothing to correct with a genuine heart towards mentoring and coaching and restoring.
Imagine a finger-wagging, screeching dame ranting over a toddler who made his way toward a hot stove; imagine her denouncing the child’s character for his desire to learn more of something he’s never experienced. We step in and guide him away from the stove because he may be injured, but he is an infant, and our goal is to protect in love, not to attack out of shock that he should entertain the idea of touching a hot stove. We expect the toddler to explore and encounter danger, and we should also expect adult children to explore the world and yes, encounter danger. Regardless of how difficult the task, to watch our children suffer, we must muster the courage to allow them to fall and get hurt—to grow into the people God intended them to be. Adults never decide for themselves if their faith is real if they never question it. They never decide on their own world view if they don’t expose themselves to others. If their faith, worldview, and convictions cannot withstand a few years of exploration and questioning, that faith is not worth holding to begin with.
Fortunately, some teens do transition into adulthood with relative ease. Their character, marked by steady confidence and clarity, does not require the chaotic journey so many others require, but they have struggles of their own: struggles not easily seen from the outside but battles they fight within. They may fall even harder because they suffer more quietly than those little ones who scraped their knees and made so much noise in their anguish. We do them no favors to diminish their needs and hold them up as standards to others. They don’t need the pressure of perfection any more than the fallen ones need our contempt.
Like toddlers, these young adults eventually get their legs under them and not only walk but run. They achieve great things because they had the chance to explore and make mistakes. We live in a different world, one where those mistakes hound them for years to come, but we can stop this. No, we can’t stop them from making mistakes any more than we can stop our toddlers from falling when they learn to walk, but we can change our attitudes about them. We can encourage them—genuinely encourage without the finger wagging—to keep trying. Finding out the adults in their lives haven’t come unglued at their every misstep, that they still find love and solace in their homes and churches, will give them confidence to do their exploring and come back home, stable, and ready to start their real adult lives.
Looking back at my own life, I now see how God used my stupidity to teach me and grow me into a woman of value with something to offer others in their struggles because my own path, pitted with poor choices and even a few good ones along the way, prepared me to serve others. He didn’t cause me to sin; He did not plan evil for me, but He lovingly waited for me to realize that He was in the back of my canoe with one giant, God-sized paddle, waiting for me to stop fighting the current and let Him lead. My incredible lack of faith blinds me to His presence in the lives of others whom I desperately want to rescue through my shouting of instructions, advice, and instead of obscenities, Scripture—as if it were a weapon. As we stand on the bank and watch in frustration, we also learn and grow into compassionate older Christians, ready to guide and assist but willing to keep our mouths shut when we need to, knowing the young adult we still consider a child will see in due time that God, indeed, calms the waters.
…and that’s the view from My Front Porch.