Me and the Professor

people sitting on plane chairs
Photo by Pedro Sandrini on

A few years ago I had was heading down south for an Awana conference. When I got on the plane, I found myself in the middle of a mix-up with my seating and a flight attendant had to figure out what was happening.

Finally I was led to a window seat,

The middle seat was empty, but the aisle seat was occupied by a distinguished older man in an expensively-cut gray suit and a bow tie. He looked like someone of great importance.

Immediately he turned to me and told me not to worry about the seat mix-up (which I wasn’t really worried about anyhow). He then asked if I lived in Arkansas (where we were headed). I said “no,” I was on my way to speak at a conference and then asked if he lived in Arkansas. He said he was from Arkansas but was now a department head at a well-known university.  I was not surprised. He looked like the department head at a well-known  university.

“Where are you speaking?” he asked. “What kind of conference?”

“An Awana conference,” I told him and immediately I saw a reaction … a small reaction, but definitely a reaction. “Have you heard of Awana?” I asked.

He gave me an awkward look. “I have heard of something called Awana, but I’m sure it’s not what you mean.”

“What have you heard?” I asked.

“I was recently visiting my son in Tennessee and he invited me to his church. He’s in charge of a kids’ group called Awana and he wanted me to see it. I took a lot of pictures. I like taking pictures. The kids played games and learned about the Bible.”

“That’s it.” I smiled. “That’s the Awana I’m talking about.”

The professor was quiet. I thought our conversation might be over, and what he said next was not what I was expecting.

So quietly I almost couldn’t hear him, he said, “I don’t know where we went wrong.”

“Where you went wrong?” I was a little confused.

“Yes,” he continued, obviously distressed. “We raised our kids in __________________.” At this point he mentioned a belief system that many (including me) would describe as a destructive cult. “All four of my kids have become Christians.” He continued. “All four of them are successful, but none of them hold to the creed in which we raised them.”

I continued talking to the professor for the rest of the flight. In the end, he took my card to show to his son whom he was sure would be glad to know that he met me. But I couldn’t help but think of the irony of this conversation. Usually when I talked to parents who wondered where they went wrong, it was because their kids walked away from the Bible. Here was a family where the parents were disturbed because the kids walked toward the Bible.

Truth is that our grown-up kids can make their own decisions. We grasp onto Proverbs 22:5 — Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. But that’s a principal, not a promise. And although many kids who are trained in the way they should go don’t depart from it. Others do. Some come back to the Bible as adults, but many others don’t. They make a choice and it’s a choice many parents don’t want them to make. (We’ve all heard of families where three out of four kids have stayed strong in their faith and the other one has totally abandoned anything he learned.)

The point is — that doesn’t absolve us from the training then up. I’ve heard parents say, “Their faith  is a choice they have to make, so we’re not going to pressure them. We won’t make them go to church. We won’t overwhelm them with Bible knowledge. We won’t make them be involved in children’s ministry or youth group. None of us have guarantees.”

That’s true. We don’t have guarantees. But we train our children in a lot of ways … in areas where they will eventually have a choice — yet that doesn’t stop us from doing the best job we can  in our training.

For instance …

We train our kids to regularly go to the doctor and dentist for check-ups … that doesn’t mean they’ll continue to do so as adults. They might choose to not go.

We send our kids to school to learn math and science and history. That doesn’t mean they’ll care about those subjects as adults.

We show our kids how to dress appropriately, that doesn’t mean they won’t choose to dress inappropriately as an adult.

We can encourage our child to be polite, gracious and kind. That doesn’t mean they won’t grow up to be rude and unforgiving.

We pay for our child to take driver’s lessons. That doesn’t mean he won’t be a reckless driver as an adult.

Yes, our kids have a choice, but they have a multitude of choices. Our responsibility is to train then in the way they should go — then the choice is theirs. The training doesn’t guarantee good choices in the future, but like any area where we train our kids, the training does encourage good choices.

Let’s be intentional in training our kids  in the way they should go.

Yes, the final choice is theirs, but let’s make it easy for them to make the right choice.

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