BY SAMMY VAZQUEZ
The foundation for the American home is crumbling, and parents of teenagers are begging for help. As a youth pastor and district youth ministries director, I counsel with scores of young people and their parents. More than ninety percent of my counseling is with families who lack the building blocks that make up a strong family unit.
Each November basketball coaches across America bring together a group of boys they hope to mold into a winning team. They condition them and drill them repeatedly on the fundamentals of the game, two hours every day for weeks. Finally, the opening game of the season arrives. The gymnasium is packed; cheerleaders are yelling; and the place is charged with excitement. Having played basketball, I know what’s going on behind the scenes: the coach has gathered his team for one last lecture. He’s done all he can do to physically prepare them. Now he must mentally charge them to go out and win. He says, “Fellows, we’ve worked hard over the past few weeks. We’ve spent hours on the fundamentals of this game, and I’ve drilled you on all the plays. I know you can win, but it won’t happen by chance. You have to go out there and execute what you’ve learned.”
As parents striving to build a strong family unit, we’re not unlike the basketball coach. We nourish and train our kids day in and day out, year after year, investing our lives in them. In time, like the basketball coach who watches his boys run onto the court, we will watch our children enter the arena of adult life, knowing we’ve done all we can to prepare them physically, mentally, and spiritually.
I’ll never forget the day I left home to take my first youth pastoral in Las Vegas, Nevada. Fighting back their tears, my parents said, “Sammy, remember the things we’ve taught you. You’ll be a great youth pastor. We love you.” I couldn’t say a word. I just nodded, hugged them, and left. During the drive from Morgan Hill to the San Jose Airport, I reflected on the many “practice sessions” where the fundamentals of life were drilled into me by parents who loved me. Since then, I’ve reached back into my memory many times to draw help in raising our four children and building a strong family. Many fundamentals go into building a strong family unit, but I’d like to focus on four: love, affirmation, dealing with failure, and family activities.
In his book, The Man in the Mirror, Patrick M. Morley tells a heart-wrenching story about an ill-fated Alaskan fishing trip. Four fisherman landed their small seaplane in a secluded bay where they spent a great day pulling in the salmon. They returned to their plane late in the afternoon only to find it high and dry because of the fluctuating tides. They had no choice but to wait until morning when the incoming tide would make takeoff possible again. The next morning, with the plane afloat, they started the engine and took to the air. Within minutes, however, the plane fell back into the sea. A leak had caused one of the pontoons to fill with water, and the extra weight caused the plane to crash. All four survived the crash and, after praying, decided to abandon the sinking plane and swim for shore, fighting icy waters and a vicious riptide as they went. Two of the fishermen were strong swimmers and, though
exhausted, managed to reach the shore. The other two, a father and his twelve-year-old son, didn’t fare so well. Cradling the boy in his arms, the father and his son were swept out to sea. This man, who could have reached the shore alone, chose to die with his son rather than leave him behind.!
Though we wouldn’t hesitate if put to the test, most of us won’t be called to make the ultimate sacrifice for our children. We can demonstrate how much we love them in other ways. One is by listening. If we don’t make time to really listen to our kids, and especially our teens, we contribute to their problems. Parents who desire to build a strong family unit must pay attention and show interest in what their kids have to say; that includes hearing what they don’t say as well. By not listening, we say we’re not interested, and we lack genuine love.
We also express our love by the way we communicate with our children. About a year ago an angry young man came to me for counseling. After we chatted for a while I asked him, “What kind of relationship do you have with your parents?” Immediately he answered, “I can’t stand my dad!” He told me of one incident after another where his father had embarrassed him, belittled him, and broken promises to him. He used the phrase, “the way he talks to me . . .” repeatedly. Finally he said, “I wish my father were dead. I can’t wait to leave home.”
The way we communicate with our children is vastly important to their self-image. If they are torn down, they’ll have little regard for themselves-and less for us; but if they are built up, they’ll have a positive self-image and will relate well with those around them. They’ll have self-respect and will know how to respect others.
Discipline is another way in which we express our love. Scripture gives clear meaning and support for discipline:
Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him-Proverbs 22:15,
He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him-Proverbs 13:24.
The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to itself disgraces his mother…. Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul-Proverbs 29:15,17.
One hot summer day, my mother, sisters, and I were picking prunes. Being a typical boy, I thought it would be more fun to throw the prunes at my sisters than put them in my basket. My mother didn’t agree. She broke a twig from a tree, took me behind a bush, and spanked me. After my tears subsided, she pointed to a newly-planted prune tree and said, “Do you see that long straight stick next to the tree? That’s there to help the tree grow straight. The winds will blow and even gust at times, but that stick will keep the tree in line until it’s big enough to support itself; without it, the tree would grow crooked. This twig,” she said, indicating the one she’d whipped me with, “is like that stick: it will help you grow straight.” I’ve never forgotten those words.
Living near Bethany College, I attend many of their basketball games. Coach John Block is a no-nonsense type of guy who has no problem expressing himself to his team. I’ve seen him pull players out of a game, strongly suggest they execute what they learned in drills the week before, then bench them for a while. When they go back into the game, they’re ready to follow instructions. Sometimes our children, teens included, need a “time-out” when they violate their training. It’s never fun to administer, but discipline is necessary if we truly love our kids.
A poem entitled “A Life in Your Hands” offers great insight into the role of parenting:
If a child lives with certain criticism, He learns to condemn;
If a child lives with hostility, He learns to fight;
If a child lives with ridicule, He learns to be shy;
If a child lives with shame, He learns to feel guilty;
If a child lives with tolerance, He learns to be patient;
If a child lives with encouragement, He learns confidence;
If a child lives with praise, He learns to appreciate;
If a child lives with fairness, He learns justice;
If a child lives with security, He learns to have faith;
If a child lives with approval, He learns to like himself;
If a child lives with acceptance and friendship, He learns how to find love in the world.
Dorothy Law Halte
We affirm our children by recognizing that each one is an individual with his or her own talents and abilities. Parents should help them to see the difference they can make in their world, especially when submitting themselves to God. Study men and women of the Bible together, such as Joseph, Gideon, Esther, and Ruth, and discuss the ways in which they impacted their world. We can help our young people identify things they do well. Perhaps they’re athletic or musically inclined. Maybe they have leadership or business skills. Whatever their ability, help them to develop it through the classes they take in school or through outside training.
By the same token, help them recognize their inadequacies. Don’t allow them to cover them up or to make excuses for them. Instead, help them deal with shortcomings in a positive manner so they don’t become a hindrance later in life.
DEALING WITH FAILURE
We’ve all heard it said: “It’s not important whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.” That ethic may have been accepted in the past, but our teens live in a world where winning is everything. Such a philosophy carries a tremendous burden. And the truth is we don’t always win.
When I was in college I loved to watch Monday night football. My favorite commentators were Howard Cosell and Don Meredith. During a game Cosell said, “If only Stabler had seen Branch on the other side of the field, the Oakland Raiders would have scored a touchdown.” Don Meredith replied, “If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas.” Someone once said, “Don’t complain about the way the ball bounces if you’re the one who dropped the ball.” When we teach our children to live without if s and buts, it helps them deal with failure so they can get on with life, and it keeps them from asking the wrong questions. Instead of asking, “Why did I drop the ball?” it’s easier to ask, “Why were my friends disloyal?” “Why was the teacher unfair?” “Why do they always blame me?” “Why don’t they understand?” “Why did the coach cut me?” The blame is always on someone else. As parents, we must encourage our kids to admit when they “drop the ball” instead of complaining about how it bounces. If handled properly, failure can be a tremendous tool for Christian growth. We don’t win in life by never making mistakes; we win in life by learning from them.
We’ve all heard it said: Today is the first day of the rest of your life. We’ll never have a better opportunity to spend time with our families. There are no insignificant moments or experiences; each day counts. I heard the story of a researcher who, in studying the history of the Adams family, came across the diary of Charles Francis Adams. On a certain day, the only words recorded were: “Went fishing with son. Day wasted.” The entry in the son’s diary was a little different. He wrote that the fish were not biting, so they passed the afternoon in conversation. Brooks, who was twelve at the time, asked his father many questions and his dad explained the many aspects of life. Later, Brooks recalled, “It was the most significant day of my life.” There are no insignificant events, no wasted hours when we spend time with our families.
The “family vacation” has almost become a thing of the past. Time is a precious commodity and there never seems to be enough of it. Families can still spend fun and relaxing time together, building a strong and lasting relationship.
Here are some ideas:
Go for a bike ride. Plan a fifteen or twenty mile ride, pack a lunch, and go for it! Your local bike shop should have information on bike paths and offer ideas for a family outing.
Head for the beach. There are plenty of things to do once you get there. You can swim, build sand castles, play frisbee or touch football, and barbecue burgers. After dark, it’s great fun to build a bonfire, roast marshmallows, and share memories of the past and dreams of the future. If you don’t live near an ocean, a lake will serve just as well.
Go to a major league baseball game. If you’re not near a city that hosts a team, most cities have a single, double, or triple A farm club. You don’t have to buy expensive seats, and you can take your own lunch or dinner along.
Go camping. This great American activity can be very inexpensive and very relaxing.
Take your kids to lunch. Pull them out of school periodically (preferably one at a time) and take them to lunch. There’s nothing like one-on-one interaction to get to know your kids.
Pull out Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit, or any of your favorite board games.
Head for the mall. Mothers and daughters are especially fond of this. And if all you buy is caramel corn, that’s okay.
Plan a night at the movies . . . right in your own home. Make it a double feature with Jerry Lewis and John Wayne. Throw some popcorn in the microwave oven and enjoy!
Crafts. Try your hand at models, needlepoint, puzzles, whatever strikes your fancy. My wife Terri still enjoys times when she and her mother can work on crafts together.
Devotions. Spending time in family devotions is a pleasant, rewarding activity, even for teenagers. Invariably, what was meant to be a ten-minute devotion ends up an hour or more in our house. One question leads to another and, before you know it, the evening is gone. Family devotions are not only enjoyable, they’re eternally rewarding.
The Bible says our children are a tremendous blessing from God. When we work in unity with Him to build a strong family unit, there is no greater calling in all the world.
The Reverend Sammy Vazquez is Youth Ministries Director for the Assemblies of God Northern California/Nevada District. He graduated from Bethany College with a B. A. in Biblical Studies, and is working toward a Master’s from Southern California College.
He and his wife Terri have four children: Kristi, Kandice, Sammy 111, and Nathaniel.