One of my favorite preachers was Fred Craddock (1928-2015), a long time professor of preaching and the pastor of a church in Cherry Log, Georgia.
Fred and his wife were invited to the home of Charles and Emily for dinner. When everyone got ready to gather around the table, Charles said to Emily, “Where’s Robbie?” Robbie was their seven-year-old son.
She said, “I think he’s outside.” So Emily went to the back door and called him. There was no response, so she went into the backyard. Then she came running back, and said frantically, “Charles, do something! Robbie has a snake!”
Charles replied calmly, “Leave him alone. You shouldn’t interfere with a boy growing up.”
She said, “But it’s a snake.”
He said, “Emily, our guests are ready for the meal. Let’s be seated.”
“But it’s a snake, Charles,” Emily said again, adding, “and we have poisonous snakes around here, you know.”
“Yes, I know,” Charles said, “so either he’ll be all right, or he’ll learn a lesson about what snakes to avoid.”
Robbie came in after a little bit, and his dad said, “Go wash up, Robbie. Always wash your hands after you’ve been playing with snakes.”
Fred Craddock goes on to say: “Charles was right, you know. You shouldn’t interfere with a child’s growing up, always protecting them from the bruises and pain and disappointments and the tears that are going to come. Just let them get up, brush themselves off, and get back up in the saddle or back on the bicycle. You can’t move every wall, so don’t stop them if they’re headed for one. They’ll hit that wall and that’s how they learn. Charles was right. But Emily was right, too, because it was a snake! What kind of snake? Charles didn’t know, but it was a snake. And Emily was right that sometimes the danger is too great, sometimes the price is too high. This is a question, of course, every parent deals with every day. Should I or should I not interfere?”
My wife and I faced that question with our kids all the time, and I know my parents faced it with me. I remember one time in particular.
My Dad owned milk trucks, picking up milk up at the farms and taking it to the creamery. Dairy cows don’t take weekends off, and neither do dairy farmers, nor do milk haulers. There was one time Dad went two years straight without missing a single day of getting in that truck and picking up the milk. So when I, the oldest son, got my driver’s license, Dad was ready for a day off. I still didn’t have a license to drive a truck that size, but Dad said the license I had was close enough. He had been teaching me to drive, and how to back around on farmers’ yards and into the creamery. So the very first day after I turned 16 and got my license, Dad sent me out with the truck on my own. And that was okay with me, because I liked hauling milk, and at that age you like to drive anything, anytime.
But when I asked Dad for the car that weekend, he said “No, of course not; you’re just a kid and you haven’t even had your license a week yet.” And all I could say was, “What?” What was the difference? But that was that, Dad said no more, and I did not get the car.
Well, the difference was this: Dad knew I was capable of driving a truck and a car. But in the truck, it was just me and the truck and a job to do. With the car there would be friends, and the temptation to drive fast, show off, and act like an idiot, which is what teenage boys do. Not only that, but Dad was probably thinking about Donny.
Donny was the son of a family friend. He was a little bit older than I was, and he also drove his dad’s truck. Even as a kid, Donny was a great truck driver. He drove with the confidence and skill of a veteran driver, not slow and uncertain like I did when I started driving. Donny’s dad always let him have the car, and Donny, like most boys, liked to drive fast. One night, he took a corner too fast, went off the road, and hit a tree; and Donny was killed. Donny was a great truck driver, but not yet a mature car driver; and that is maybe what my dad had in mind when he would not let me have the car.
Charles said, “You can’t interfere with a boy growing up.” But Fred Craddock said, “Sometimes the price is too high.” Robbie got along allright, and he was learning to be independent, tough, and how to make good choices about snakes. But in that learning process, immature kids can make mistakes. Donny made a mistake, and he lost his life.
The safest thing to do would be to never let those immature, reckless, mischievous kids outside alone, never let them climb trees, never let them play with snakes, never let them wrestle around in the back yard, never let them play with friends without adult supervision to prevent bullying, and certainly not ever let them drive the car alone. That would eliminate a lot of the bumps, bruises, heartache, and dangers of growing up.
But we all know that won’t work. While that approach might eliminate some of the pain of growing up, it would at the same time, make growing up impossible.
There is much in life that is like this. Oftentimes we have to allow something we don’t like to go on, in order to reach a goal that is good. Parents face this all the time, and it is difficult to know what to do– when to step back and not interfere with a child’s growing up, and when to step in and protect them. (continued…)
Proverbs 22:15a — Folly is bound up in the heart of a child.
Hebrews 12:11 — For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Ephesians 6:4 — Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
You are the giver of all we possess,
the source of all of our blessings.
We thank and praise you.
Thank you for the gift of our children.
Help us to set boundaries for them,
and yet encourage them to explore.
Give us the strength and courage to treat
each day as a fresh start.
May our children come to know you, the one true God,
and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
May your Holy Spirit help them to grow in faith, hope, and love,
so they may know peace, truth, and goodness.
May their ears hear your voice.
May their eyes see your presence in all things.
May their lips proclaim your word.
May their hearts be your dwelling place.
May their hands do works of charity.
May their feet walk in the way of Jesus Christ,
your Son and our Lord. Amen.