On Colleges and Keeping Up

Hustle is an idol if it leads you to cut ethical corners in order to stand out in a competitive world. Katelyn Beaty

I for one am completely fascinated by this past weeks crazy college recruiting scandal. The well-oiled machine that is our national media never misses a beat. I’ve been trying to understand why it has affected me so, and I think it’s largely because it simply hits me in a vulnerable spot: the kids.

I talked with my boys about the antics of these unhinged parents and what could be the driving force behind all this. The irony of it all was of course further compounded by the fact that one of them is a seemingly squeaky clean Hallmark darling whose entire career is based on portraying wholesome characters. You just never know.

I’m acutely aware of the dilemmas and difficulties of raising teens in a culture that wants to undo every value and belief we hold dear. We struggle on a regular basis with boundaries, ethics, identity and truth. The comparison game is strong. Everyone is living in a bona fide pressure cooker that could blow at any moment if we don’t properly let some of the steam out.

We came to a conclusion that much of it has to do with daily, gray-area choices we all make. One compromise leads to another. Pride, when fed and encouraged is almost impossible to tame.

Do I brag about this success or stay humble?

Do I cut corners here if nobody will ever know?

Should I turn a blind eye to something I’ve seen that I know is wrong?

One of our biggest struggles has been the old “well everyone else is doing it, we need to keep up” excuse. I call it the Lance Armstrong defense. You have to do certain things just to even the playing field, or else you’re going to be left in the dust.

Before you know it, you’re photoshopping their face on some other kid’s body and bribing the ACT test-giver.

It’s easy to poke fun at this crowd. I’ve read up on the other non-celebrity parents, and quite honestly, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for them. I do understand, as we all do, feeling overwhelmed and inadequate to be somebody in a world where there are already so many somebody’s.

It’s quite literally the oldest story in the book. Satan tempted Adam and Eve into believing they could have fulfillment outside of God. He convinced Eve that she could acquire something better and elevate herself to a new level of importance.

This whole thing is a losing game. The ends do not justify the unethical means it takes to get there. What is their end game anyway? To bounce from one material success to another, never slipping, never letting anyone see what you’ve sacrificed to get there? I’ll pass.

This is why we reject the hustle, the self-help nonsense and the even (I’m sorry to say) the Christian cool kids who are taking us further into the grey fog of compromise. I’ll be the first to admit, swimming upstream in a downstream world is not easy or even enjoyable at times. But sin always, always ends up costing us more than it can ever give us. The obsession with worldly image is taking perfectly kind and rational people down a path that will destroy them. I used to try and shield my kids from defeat, but now when it happens I don’t necessarily shun it. There’s big things to be learned through disappointment. It’s the same disappointment though that can drive us to make foolish decisions. I loosely joke with them and ask “Would you be the Tim Tebow or the Lance Armstrong?”

I’d like to think Jesus would come down and personally smack me upside my head if I ever stooped to something so low, but let’s be honest here… we are all just one selfish, insecure decision away from doing something really dumb. We are not above our teens any more than they are above us, and we all need the same thing:

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage… for you brethren, have been called to liberty… but God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Galatians 5:1, 13,/6:14

Friends, we don’t have to live on the hamster wheel. It’s hard to be in the minority, but it’s actually also a great honor. The world is destined to be deceived, they are bent on it. Let’s remember we don’t have to claw our way up the totem pole or prove our worth. We are worthy and loved already, our kids are too, whether they wind up at Harvard or living in our basement.




The Choice To Start

I wrote the other day about how disappointed I felt in myself for not following through with some things I wanted to do last year. The biggest one for me by far was not making the time to sit down and share with my boys things that I felt would be helpful to them in their walk with Christ. There were a few books that really impacted me, books that deal with this crazy upside down culture and our role as Jesus-followers in it. If you have kids, you know the feeling: I want them to get this! I want them to understand this! If they can just see through all this nonsense to the truth… maybe they won’t fall for the lies… maybe they will be different…

I spend a lot of time floundering around in the sad reality that we live in a world that is basically amusing itself to death, sacrificing everything meaningful for superficial ‘likes’ and virtual approval from total strangers. This isn’t the world I grew up in and it’s hard for me to relate to how deeply this affects them sometimes. The things I struggled with seem like small potatoes compared to what my kids have already seen first-hand. You Tube influencers confound me. Idol-worship of people so completely in love with themselves makes me cringe. The absence of the ability to think for themselves scares me. G.K. Chesterton said, “We shall soon be in a world in which a man may be howled down for saying that two and two make four, in which people will persecute the heresy of calling a triangle a three-sided figure, and hang a man for maddening a mob with news that the grass is green.” We are there, and sometimes I feel like an eighty year old grandmother who can’t adjust to the times. The reality though, is that I am a Jesus-follower and a parent who is charged with discipling two young men in a world turned inside-out. The reality is that God never changes, even when culture does. The truth is, in the past I have let it overwhelm me to the point of inaction. It’s so much easier to just cruise on through the days, dealing with things as they come, but never really being intentional about getting to the heart of it all. What’s that old saying? “The days are long but the years are short.” It’s true. Suddenly I have a high schooler. In a moment he will be out on his own. A minute after that, his brother will follow. What do I want them to hear from me before they go? We spend our time doing the best we can, telling them what not to do, lecturing them on the dangers that lurk behind every corner, but are we giving them something to actually live for?

Proverbs 29:18 says “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint.”  We have to have a vision from God, something positive and promising to go after, if we are going to really live. Without it, we just run wild without any direction or intent. This explains why “good” kids do really dumb things. Adults too, for that matter.

So this morning, I decided to just get going. I sat down and began a little folder for each of my boys. I don’t really have a well thought out plan, and that’s ok. The problem I encountered last year is that I had so much I wanted to share, I didn’t share anything. I couldn’t organize my thoughts, so I did nothing. Today, I started with this verse and a C.S. Lewis essay called “Men Without Chests” about how head knowledge is no match for the unbridled passions in our belly that override our reason. We need a chest to help the head rule the belly. Strong men know how to keep the fire in the belly from burning down the house. Seemed like something good for young men to hear. I crudely typed out some thoughts, printed them out and stuck it in a folder for each of them. I boldly asked for 20 minutes of their time, which in a world where online games rule the day, is a bigger deal than it may seem. We started. They were mildly interested, and that’s ok. I hope we can build on it.

We put too much pressure on getting things just right before we start anything and we wind up doing nothing. I liken our time today to the first time a person exercises in awhile… kind of a hot mess, but better than nothing. Little moments of faithfulness every day, like exercise or a good daily vitamin, is worth far more than sporadic moments here and there. I have a vision based on God’s promises and that gives me hope that we can grow together in His wisdom. It’s never too late. There will be eye rolls along the way to be sure, there will be dramatic whining and bad attitudes at times, and that’s ok. It won’t be perfect, but with time and faithfulness, I hope that they can have a prophetic vision all their own to keep chasing after.