Dealing with parents who fail us…

HonorLately, I’ve been preaching through the Ten Commandments.  This sacred list of God’s rules has been cherished by religious folks throughout history.  Numbers 1-3 lay the foundation for functioning in a God-centered society.  Number 4 appears to be specific to the Jewish culture (though some would challenge me on this).  Numbers 6-10 are pretty straightforward, common sense rules for living with others.  

But what do we do with number five?

“Honor your father and your mother.”  It seems so loving.  So simple.  And it is for many.

I grew up in a loving, nurturing home.  My parents loved and provided for me.  My father was a carpenter and he worked long, hard hours to provide a roof over my head and food on the table.  He played catch with me when I was young and seldom missed my games or performances.  My mom was my den mother, secretary of the PTA, and the maker of hot chocolate when I was sick.

My parents were active in our church family and raised me to believe in God, treat others kindly, and be generous with my money and belongings.  We trusted the Bible as God’s word and lived by the Golden Rule.

I was never mistreated, abused, neglected, or overpowered by my parents.  But I have known many who did not live such healthy and idyllic lives as children.  Many.

I married one of those.

Wanda grew up in a home much different from mine.  She is a survivor of abuse…psychological, emotional, physical, and sexual.  She is an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACA).  She lived with unfairness, unpredictability, and fear.  There were certainly stretches of love and provision and nurture, but the abuse dominated and produced a foundation of insecurity, empty self-esteem, and fear of failure and rejection, that has taken a lifetime to overcome.

When we started dating at 15, I stepped into this chaos.  It was there I learned to be a “rescuer” and the repercussions of those early years of our relationship have lasted decades.  And not always in healthy ways!  It affected how we interacted with my parents.  It certainly shaped what our relationship was like with her parents and extended family.  It provided the backdrop of how we have related to each other for a lifetime, as well as how we raised our own kids.

Her family dynamic has clearly been felt for multiple generations.

Let’s just say that “honoring your father and your mother” has been a complicated command.

More to come…

Marriage Tuesday

Marriage TuesdayWanda and I started dating when we were fifteen.  We got married when we were barely 21.  I was wasn’t even halfway through my college education.  Wanda worked full-time to support us.  We lived in a tiny apartment.  We had no savings account.  My career path was anything but solid.  There was no money for new clothes, new furniture, or new cars.  Everything we owned was used.

If our life together would have unfolded in 2015, and not 1975, our marriage would probably never had happened.  Our parents would have laid in front of the bus.  Our minister would have counseled us to wait at least a few more years.  Our friends would have thought we were on drugs.  My college counselors would have begged me to, at least, finish my undergraduate program… if not graduate school, also.  Our financial counselors would have said what a potential financial disaster we were going to make of our lives.

Too young.  Too immature.  Too stoopid.  Too nearsighted.  Too selfish.  Too pollyanna.

I know how the standard logic has changed over the years.  Wait longer to get married.  Finish your education.  Get established in your career.  Pay off your school debt. (Yeah.  Right.)  Get some experience under your belt.  Get older, wiser, deeper.  And for the most part, that logic has created a culture shift over the past 60 years.

In 1960, the average age for first-time marriages was 20 for women and 22 for men.  By 1990, it was 23 and 26.  And by 2013, it was 27 and 29.  I doubt the marrying age is getting any younger in 2015.

While I certainly wouldn’t lobby for younger marriages across the board (each relationship should be treated as unique), I can look back and see value in marrying as young as we did.

  1.  If you still see honor and God’s wisdom in reserving sexual intimacy for the marriage covenant, marrying younger certainly helps.  I’m pretty sure Wanda and I wouldn’t have held out six more years for the completion of Graduate School.  Just sayin’.
  2. We definitely grew up and matured quicker.  Responsibility has a way of making that happen for those who are willing.
  3. Our spiritual learning curves have always been parallel.  When our relationship was young and impressionable, we read the same books, listened to the same teachers, followed the same advice.  Our journey to spiritual maturity has always mirrored each other’s.
  4. We were not old enough, as adults, to already be set in our ways.  There is no doubt we each had habits and personal quirks we had to adjust to, but they were few.  Certainly fewer than people who live on their own for years, before they get married.
  5. Living with little, forced us to be content with little.  Because of those early “lean” years together, this has been a value we have possessed our entire married life.  It is a value we worked hard to pass on to our sons.
  6. We learned, at a pretty early age, that independence is not the most treasured of personal attributes.  Dependence is higher.  Dependence on each other.  Dependence on God.  We were too young and inexperienced to have developed trust in our education, in our talent, in our experience, in our competence.  We hadn’t lived long enough.  So we learned, quickly, to trust each other and to trust God.  I would not trade that process for anything.
  7. Honestly, the expectations we had for each other were pretty low.  Measured, at best.  We didn’t really know any better.  We were innocent.  Naive.  Happy.  Crazy.  Carefree.  Open to possibilities.  Free from burdens that tied us down and free to follow where we perceived God was leading us.

Were we more mature than most 21 year olds?  Maybe.  A little.  Was there still risk involved in getting married as young as we did?  You bet.  But there’s always a risk.

Do I want couples to get married younger?  Not necessarily.  But some couples should never get married in the first place, either.

I love the life Wanda and I have had together.  I love how it started.  I love how it has progressed.  I’m just saying if it happened for us this way, it could certainly happen for others, also.

If you’re a parent of kids, what are you telling them about the right time to get married?

Theology for Grasshoppers…the reason.

GrasshoppersTo the Youngest Farras, 

First of all, Tatum, welcome to the club!  This is our little online community…one that you share with your cousins, Holden and Nolan, and me.  Now, this is sort of a private club…just the four of us…but there are a lot of other people who get to look in on us.  I’ve already written a bunch of stuff to your cousins over the past few years.  Someday, maybe your mom and dad will read all of it to you.  

From now on, though, I’m going to write to all three of you.  Here’s why:

When I was a little boy your ages, my daddy…your great-grandfather…took great care of me.  He loved me and provided for me and made sure I was always safe and healthy.  He taught me many things and helped me grow up to be a good man, just like him.  I’m really grateful for him.

But as he and I both grew older, I began to sense something was missing between us.  My dad wasn’t much of a talker.  And because he didn’t talk much, there are a lot of things I never got to know about him.  His actions always “spoke” very loud, but his silence kept me from understanding the deeper things about him.

By the time I became a young man, there were things I really, really wanted to know.  I wanted to know “why” he did the things he did.  I wanted to know what was deep in his heart.  I wanted to know what he believed and what he felt.  I wanted to know his doubts and fears.  I wanted to know how he became the man he was.

But we never did talk about those things before it was too late, and I’ve always felt like I’ve missed out on something really special.

So I made a big decision when my sons, (your daddies!!) were little like you.  I wanted to make sure they knew me.  Really knew me.  I wanted them to know more than just the things I did.  I wanted them to know why I did those things. I didn’t ever want them to feel like they were missing something.  So I learned to talk to them.  Talking with each other about meaningful stuff became one of the most important things we did together.   It still is.

A number of years ago, I began writing to them.  I want them to know things I had never told them.  I want them to know the stories of my childhood.  I want them to know all about how me and Mimi came to love each other and why we have spent our whole lives together.  I want them to know about the good and bad things that happened to me, that shaped me and changed me.  I want them to know about my faith and how I’ve come to believe the story of Jesus.  I want them to know my doubts and fears and weaknesses, along with all the things my heart has come to love.

So I write.

And that’s kind of why I’ll be writing to you guys in the weeks and, hopefully, years to come.   Not so much to tell you the stories of my life, but to tell you about what I believe and why I believe it.  I want to tell you of the deeper things in life, the things I hold closest to my heart.  The things that make me who I am.

You probably won’t understand a lot of it right now, although you guys always come up with new ways of surprising me!  You’ll probably need to read it sometime later in your lives…maybe even after I’m gone.  So I’m going to choose my words well, and pray they will matter to you somewhere down the road.

I love you guys.  Be wise, Grasshoppers.  


Parenting 101

stick parentI know a bunch of young parents.  Lots of them.  And a lot more with babies on the way.

It’s been a long time since I was a new dad.  I remember it well.  At least I think I do, because all I remember is how awesome it was to have the job of raising our two boys.  I love the life I have now, but I would go back to 1982 in a heartbeat and start it all over again.

I was not a perfect parent.  There are things I would do differentlymistakes I made and decisions I would change.  I know there’s no guarantee the results wouldn’t turn out the same.  I just know I could have done some things better.

But there is one thing I wouldn’t change.

Nothing was ever more important to me than my boy’s spiritual life.

Not their education.  Not their personal happiness.  Not their success.  Not their health.  Not their future careers.  Not their self-esteem.

Nope.  More than anything else, I wanted them to know the world didn’t revolve around them.  Life was not about their wantstheir desirestheir plansor their dreams.  Loving God and loving others was not a church “catch phrase” in the Farra household.  It was the reality of our lives together.

The Bible was not a Sunday book or a lesson manuscript.  It was the playbook for how we lived our lives.  We took the words and lifestyle of Jesus seriously.  It was never perfect.  Our family definitely marched to a drumbeat that most of our friends couldn’t hear… and all four of us march with our own unique spiritual cadence.   We always have and always will.

But all of it has been shaped by the umbrella of God’s word and God’s priorities that we lived underespecially when our boys were young.

I used to offer quite a bit of advice to parents a while back.  I don’t do it much anymore, though, unless I’m asked.  I guess I’ve come to realize most parents don’t want advice.  Most of them don’t think they need any.  (Funny.  They are usually pretty quick to ask for help when their kid starts to go south, thoughgo figure.)

And frankly, what makes someone qualified to give advice, anyway?  Nevertheless, I’ll offer a nugget or two, to any of you parents that are listening…

If you are not giving your kid (especially your young adolescents) every opportunity possible to develop their spiritual life, you’re making a mistake.  You cannot make your kid submit to the rule of Jesus.  You cannot strong-arm your kid to take their spiritual life seriously.  You cannot make your faith,  their faith.  But you can do much to put them in a position to own their choice.  Failure to put them in that position is on you.

Spiritual development costs.  It will cost time.  It will cost money.  It will cost effort.  It will cost the loss of “good things”, in order to make room for the “best things”.  Are you willing to make that sacrifice for them?

Your kids will learn more about following Jesus from watching you, than anyone else.  Either good or bad.  Do you want your kids to grow up with shallow spiritual lives?  Live that way.  Do you want your kids to grow up pursuing pleasure and living for themselves?  Live with those priorities.  Do you want them to be a Sunday church attender?  Model part-time kingdom living for them.

Or you can get your spiritual act together and show them the wayin wordin actionin prioritiesin difficult decisionsin how you treat your enemiesin what you do with the Bible the other six days of the week.

Want some help as a parent?  All you gotta do is ask!

A take on childhood


There are not a whole lot of things cuter than watching and listening to a child pray.  Their honest and unfiltered rambling is filled with young faith and free of self-consciousness that plagues those that are older.

There’s nothing like children singing “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” or “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world”.  It’s almost medicinal.  It can melt a hard heart.

The Christmas season will find children of all ages telling and retelling the story of the baby Jesus in the manger and singing beautiful angelic choruses of Silent Night and O Come All Ye Faithful.

And people who have little or even no faith in God at all will enjoy those moments and see nothing wrong with letting them happen again and again as their children grow up.

You see, apparently this Jesus thing is okay for children.

But then children grow up and things like belief and church and the Bible and heaven and a continued life of faith become increasingly irrelevant.  Little hearts full of wonder and trusting confidence in a God that is bigger than any problem they will ever face…begin to be replaced with culturally acceptable self-reliance and the pursuit of academic, relationship and financial success.

In short, the Jesus-God-Bible-Church experience is fine for children (as well as the emotionally and intellectually weak)…but it is definitely not okay for reasonable, intelligent, and culturally relevant adults.

One of the greatest joys and most profound disappointments in all of my years of youth ministry was living my life with teenagers whose faith was deeper, more mature and clearly more profound than their own parents’ faith.

I have interacted with parents whose lack of faith and knowledge of the Bible stood in the way of their own kids’ spiritual growth.  I have dealt with parents who “punished” their kids by not letting them come to a weekly Bible study.  I’ve confronted parents who would willingly pay hundreds of dollars for their kids to receive private music or athletic instruction, but whined like babies when they were asked to spend $75 for their kids to go on a youth retreat.

I’ve wrestled with parents who were totally offended at my suggestion that they consider rearranging a family vacation by a few days, so their child could attend a summer youth group trip.

And I’ve actually had parents get mad and shun me when they became aware that I had encouraged their gifted and talented teenager consider a life of mission work with the poor…instead of pursuing a life in the corporate world.  No joke.

So what happens on the road to adulthood?  When, exactly, does the wonder of childlike faith get replaced with a life that places God and the pursuit of his kingdom into the closet of irrelevance?

Parents, there are many things to teach our children…like responsibility and a work ethic and personal hygiene and money management and academic determination and manners and dealing with strangers and how to cross the street safely and a host of other important life skills.

Parents, you need to teach your kids about sex and marriage and healthy relationship behavior.  And about winning and losing and dealing with pain and death and unexplained tragedy.  Parents, you’ve got a tough job.

But your greatest and most important job is to point your children to a life of faith in Jesus.  You can’t make them believe.  That will be their responsibility when they grow older.

But don’t hinder them.  Please.

The flip side…

FlipSidehere’s the other half of the self-talk issue…

we are all products of input.  from the moment we are born (actually, even while we were still in the womb), we are hearing and seeing and feeling things that are shaping how we will talk to ourselves for the rest of our lives.

children don’t just wake up one morning telling themselves “nobody loves me.”   they learn that lesson from careless…or malicious…parents.  children don’t just decide to call themselves “losers or posers or fakers.”  they learn those words from thoughtless and cruel little kids on the playground.  and the self-talk begins.

we don’t look in the mirror one day and decide to tell ourselves “i’m ugly”.  pop culture screams at us what is beautiful and what is not.  and we listen.  and we tell ourselves those lies again and again.

we don’t tell ourselves we are failures because it’s true or it feels good.  no.  we call ourselves failures because our daddies did and our coaches did and our teachers did.

we don’t just decide to tell ourselves that others are better than we are.  we have learned from the beginning to compare ourselves to others…others that are more popular or more influential or better athletes or more successful.

  • nothing will ever change
  • my situation is hopeless
  • i can’t do it
  • i can’t forgive myself
  • i’m all alone
  • i’ve screwed this up too much
  • nobody really wants to be around me
  • i’m a lost cause
  • i’m worthless
  • my mistakes are worse than others
  • i hate myself for what i’ve done
  • why try?  i’ll just mess it up
  • god could never really love me

we don’t dream up these conversations on our own.  we hear them from others and decide to believe them.  and then we practice those kinds of statements over and over again in our self-talk.  and we do it so long and so many times… we internalize those private conversations so deeply…we believe them.

so if these are the kinds of messages you have heard and these are the kinds of conversations you have with yourself in your inner sanctuary, when are you going to start listening to someone else?

why don’t you try filling yourself with the message of hope and loving truth that comes the heart of god?  stop waiting for some pastor to spoon feed you.  get your nose…and your heart…in god’s word every day.  it will change you.

and your private conversations will start to sound different.