A little girl noticed that her mother had a few grey hairs appearing on her head. “Why is that?” she asked. “Because,” explained the mother, “every time you do something naughty and make me unhappy, one of my hairs turns white.” The child thought for a moment and said: “Is that why all of Grandma’s hair is white? You must have been really hard work!”
So often today the discussion of parental leadership revolves around respect. Children must respect their parents we hear. Respect seems to be a huge issue. Parents today somehow are facing something new or alien with these strange human children they call their own but clearly aren’t acting like they’re supposed to be acting. But truthfully, parenting has been hard in any era. And the somewhat trite saying is true: respect is earned.
Parents have always been and will always be leaders to a certain degree. This is the issue behind all the worrying about not getting enough respect from a child. How do you lead a child so that you gain respect? How do you love your children so that respect comes easily and is given freely, even if at times, some words and attitude are shared that don’t speak of great respect? But hey, nobody is perfect, and we shouldn’t expect different from kids who still have a long way to rise (or lower) to our level of imperfection.
You know what’s amazing is the difference in parenting between this day with my children and back when I was a child. Things were different. My kids fight with me and try to beat me up. I think my dad was too strong. He would have hurt me without knowing it. I’m not throwing any criticism in any direction, not at all. But it’s simply different, perhaps better.
If you want to have a more open relationship, children today are very willing. It’s a lot more relaxed and give and take. It’s more real in a way and honest. Parents today have the freedom to be more vulnerable and yet to respected by their children.
When I grew up, we didn’t share between parents and kids as much as today’s children growing up in today’s world want to do and feel comfortable doing. I’m got to tell you that I’ve said “I was wrong” or “I’m sorry” more to my kids than I ever thought I would or should. Because parents just didn’t do things wrong when I was growing up. I mean of course parents back then did but too bad, you know what I mean. It certainly didn’t mean you were going to tell your kid you were the one who made the mistake, or shouldn’t have said that or was in the wrong. Yeah, right! “You’ll get over it!”
Today’s children want a real person as their parent. They expect more warmth, more conversation, more interaction, more leadership, more listening, more equality in some respects, and yet they still need a parent to be parent. It’s a beautiful demand, or hope, I should say. It’s a lot but it’s good.
It really is a great time to be a dad or a mom, so put down the barriers. Let go of titles and roles. Be real—not overly so, of course. Let your love take a more personal form than perhaps you knew growing up in a different generation. Be a parent, a leader who’s real and respect comes naturally. Things do change, and sometimes for the better!
Jesus does something in our scripture reading that really stands out. I mean every leader tells others they have to go and do whatever they’re supposed to, but Jesus tells his disciples they’ve got to do it almost naked. Now of course they have the clothes on their back, so that they’re not physically naked, but without an outer tunic, they certainly felt underdressed. They’re vulnerable. And then Jesus takes it further. They’re to go without possessions, without shoes, without bag or money. That’s a lot of nothing. They do get a staff, a walking stick. But it might not have been quite as emotionally comforting as Tom Hank’s character in the movie “Castaway” found his volleyball best friend he named Wilson to be but at least it was something.
The real Jesus taught his followers to get vulnerable, to let go of what they thought made them special or different or important or valuable, or even comfortable. There would be no gap between the disciples and the people they met. In fact, the disciples would be much less assured of themselves, confident even, than those they met. The people who thought this was strange or troubling or a cause for ridicule would never hear Christ’s word spoken through the disciples. They were to be shaken off and left behind. Others however who could see in this vulnerability God’s grace would be the ones Jesus and his disciples were trying to reach. Titles, education, prior importance, possessions, perceived perfections, all, get in Christ’s way in trying to lead us and making us his disciples.
And that’s just it. Parenting, leading others, growing as a Christian and with Christ as your leader, any and all of these, depend on vulnerability, the letting go of positions and perfections and meeting the world, others, your children, those in need, without a bunch of stuff in your hands or walls around your heart. When we let go of things we were clinging to, when we find that our possessions or fixations aren’t the way forward, then we’re like
those first disciples. We’re powerless, but now real power can flow through us. We’re humbled, but ready to stand tall.
Can you imagine asking grown men to go two by two, practically to hold hands, carry nothing, but go and heal people who are sick and bring recovery to those who have demons or what we might call addictions? How could Jesus do that? Because he didn’t make them do anything he wasn’t willing to do. His commitment was so high, he could ask anyone to do anything and he’d still be real. He couldn’t be a hypocrite or fake when he knew he would lose his life over this ministry. When we’re that dedicated to something, when a vision and a faith are that important, you can lead like nobody else.
In 1985, Sam Walton was named Forbes richest man in the world, a position he held until his death in 1992. “But he never understood the importance others placed on money. He was a competitor and knew money was a good measure of success, but that’s now what gave Walton or those who worked at Wal-Mart back then the feeling of success. It was people Walton valued above all else. People.
Look after people and people will look after you was his belief. In the early days, Walton insisted on showing up for work on Saturdays out of fairness to his store employees who had to work weekends. He remembered birthdays and anniversaries. He chastised his executives for driving expensive cars and resisted using a corporate jet for years. ‘Why do I drive a pickup truck? What am I supposed to haul my dogs around in, a Rolls-Royce?’ he once said. He was the embodiment of those he aimed to serve—the average-Joe American.” (Start with Why, Simon Sinek)
He could lead his company to astounding success because he was dedicated to it, because he was vulnerable, because he cared, because he believed, because he had a mission. Not because he wanted money or titles or other people’s admiration. Walton followed and never departed from his belief that he could make people’s lives better. Even if it were with something as mundane as consumer items, he was so dedicated to it that he could make the whole world change. Now that’s commitment. Incredible.
As Christ followers, we bring more God in our lives when we become more devoted, more committed, to doing God things. It’s really as simple as that. Do for others. Let go of bad priorities. Get to scripture and stay there for awhile. Be more in need of serving and helping. Find your ministry. Change the world, or at least yourself. We can always let God help us with the rest.
The truth is when we lower the hills of our egos, Christ will fill our valleys of emptiness.
The thing is most of us have an aversion to letting someone else tell us what we’re supposed to do or not do. We don’t do well with having someone call our shots. Having a boss doesn’t feel great, unless the boss is great. We’re not comfortable with being a follower unless the leader makes us comfortable or challenges us to break down the uncomfortable feeling. We’re too accepting of feeling like lone-wolfers. Nobody quite gets us, nobody else is quite right.
But Christ gets us. The Lord understands.
We need to fight against that defeating and defeated attitude that we have to be on our own. The struggle isn’t ours alone. This is one of the biggest lies we believe. It does us real hurt. I know at times we have had to work things through by ourselves. You’ve suffered through some betrayals that seemed to teach you that nobody else can be trusted and you’re better off not looking to anyone else.
But Christ isn’t like everyone else. And we aren’t doing ourselves any favors by ignoring our isolation. Let Christ be the one who talks you into a deeper trust. Make Jesus your leader and guide, your rock and comfort. Learn to have more faith in having more faith. Yeah, sometimes we have it so wrong that we have to take one more step back and get to having trust in having trust. Don’t settle for what you’ve been feeling and believing. There’s more good stuff in life than what you’re believing.
Your life is easier when you don’t try to do it all yourself. Scripture tells us, “It is not good for man to be alone” but it’s not just about Adam or even about marriage. It’s about each of us. We need partners, like the disciples whom Jesus sent out by twos. Be willing to lean on someone else, to believe in another, who at times may not be everything we think he or she should be, but is our partner or good friend, nonetheless. Don’t discount the gifts God gives you.
Be willing to listen to Christ, the one who is the way, the truth, and the life. Lean into the Lord. Be willing to have someone ahead of you, looking out for you, leading you. The real Jesus was a leader then, and the risen Christ is our leader today. Can the church say Amen?