I learned responsibility the hard way. It was a bright summer day in the early 1990s. I was a young teenager learning the ropes of working outside the home. A gentleman in our church had hired me to help him build a fence and do some yard work. I liked the idea of earning some income ($3/hr, I think), but I wasn’t as keen on getting up somewhat early on a Saturday morning to accomplish my tasks.
So, instead of respectfully answering my father’s directive to get up and get ready for work, I turned like a door on its hinges and complained aloud that I didn’t want to work for Mr. B that day.
What happened next exemplified my father’s God-enabled wisdom. He calmly responded that he would call Mr. B and let him know that I didn’t want to work that day and wouldn’t be coming.
I froze on my bed. Disbelief and shame and regret blanketed me. I recognized the folly of my sluggardly choice, though I briefly protested and didn’t appreciate or even understand all that God was teaching me through my father in that moment.
The most glaring lesson I needed to learn was the virtue of hard work. If what seem like insignificant, harmless times of relaxation become a pattern of life, they will be self-destructive (Prov. 6:6–11). In retrospect, several other important lessons have emerged, ones that I am endeavoring to teach my own children.
1. Trustworthiness is developed not granted
My father taught me to fulfill my obligations faithfully and honestly, as much by his deeds as by his words. He could have assumed or allowed me to assume that his trustworthiness would automatically transfer to me. His genes and his instruction would position me to follow his steps.
Yet I needed to develop trustworthiness myself. I needed to be confronted with my sinful tendency to shirk responsibilities I didn’t enjoy. Studying to earn good grades or practicing jump shots were activities at which I was fairly faithful because I enjoyed them and could see how I reaped the benefits. Driving nails into fence boards wasn’t so obviously advantageous and appealing.
But following through on our commitments is critical. I didn’t realize the joy of denying my fleshly inclinations and using this opportunity to subdue the earth. Instead, I looked for a way out. No one, not even my godly father, could hand me faithfulness. If I was to reflect this characteristic of God, I needed to be tested, humbled and pointed to Christ.
2. Words are meaningful not empty
We have all heard of, and perhaps assumed we had verbalized, empty words—patterns of sounds that carry no meaning, like a tractor trailer carrying no cargo. Perhaps your son or daughter has explained that the clear connotation of a statement is not what he or she meant, as I suggested to my father that Saturday morning.
In actuality, what we say is meaningful, whether or not we realize it. Sure, there are times when we don’t clearly communicate what we mean or when our audience has difficulty understanding us on its end. But as we seek to raise our children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4), we must emphasize the importance of words.
First, our words are windows into our souls, for “the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matt. 12:34). I wanted to believe and lead my father to believe that in a moment of sleepy weakness I had uttered a verbal accident. The truth, which had become apparent to him in part because he observed my life’s patterns, was that what I said that morning was exposing the needs of my sinful heart.
Second, our words are an extension of us and our trustworthiness. God speaks only the truth and demonstrates His faithfulness by invariably performing what He promises. I had agreed to help Mr. B at his home. We had verbally agreed that I would work for him on Saturdays. When I complained about getting out of bed that morning, I was prioritizing expedience over integrity. My father knew that neither rang true in this particular instance nor boded well for my path ahead.
Our eternity hinges on God’s dependability. Therefore, imitating our Father requires fastening around us “the belt of truth” (Eph. 6:14).
3. Consequences are beneficial not obstructive
It is a natural tendency (at least of mine) to view consequences as barriers rather than potential blessings. Failure and its fallout seem to stand in the way of growth rather than being part of it.
However, as Proverbs 6:23 says, “Reproofs for discipline are the way of life.” One of the worst things we could teach our children is that the spiritual laws by which God personally orders His world can be ignored and avoided. My father could have pled with me to get out of bed. He could have bribed me. He could have threatened to take action but not followed through. Instead, he chose to let me have my way and have the opportunity to acknowledge my sinfulness and repent.
I don’t know for sure, but recognizing that my father is human, I’m sure there was at least a passing temptation for him to be embarrassed. It would have seemed quite natural to persuade me to fulfill my duty and save face with his friend. But he loved me more than he loved his image, and part of that love was following our heavenly Father’s pattern of chastening. Discipline is characteristically not joyous in the moment, but “to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11).
God has been very gracious to me. Mr. B kindly forgave me when I spoke with him the next morning after our church’s service. Even more profound is the reality that God my Father gave me an earthly father courageous and compassionate enough to teach me important lessons like the ones above. Oh, that you and I and the coming generations may know the blessing of listening to and imparting fatherly instruction that mimics our heavenly Father’s!