A friend of mine is about to take his son on a road trip, to talk about the birds and the bees. His son, just a bit older than my boys, is within the horizon of hitting puberty. The father is going to get away with him on a retreat and talk about what’s going to be happening to him in a year or two, and how to handle these changes as a Christian. As I talked with my friend about his plans for the retreat, I wondered why this paradigm doesn’t continue in our churches throughout the Christian life.
Puberty is an awkward time. Most people, both men and women, will point to this stormy time in their lives with a mixture of embarrassment and cringing. Voices change. Hormones surge. The body seems to take on a mind of its own as it whirls out into some strange, anarchic wildness. We mostly block it out of our minds after we’re through it, but puberty is scary.
With puberty, most people these days are at least in some way prepared to know what to expect. A Christian mom will talk to her daughter about what a period is, and what to do when “it” happens. A Christian dad will talk to his son about sexual desire, even when that son is young enough that the very idea seems as repulsive to him as a scene from one of the “Alien” movies.
Parents do this because they know puberty is, literally, a crisis. It’s a turning point that brings unique temptations and tests. But it’s not the only such crisis. Every stage of life brings with it something comparable. Parents can demystify, to some degree, puberty because they’ve been through it themselves. They know the terrain, and they’re able to speak truthfully about what will happen. And so parents are able to say, “Trust me, a lot of strange things are about to start happening.”
Why don’t we do the same thing elsewhere in the life cycle, within the life of the church?
Why don’t our older women tell twenty-something young brides about the kind of isolation that can come with small children in the house? Why don’t our older men prepare our thirtysomethings for the testosterone drop that often prompts what we call a “midlife crisis”? Why can’t older women teach younger women how to handle the hormonal upheaval that can come with menopause, and how to go through it with Christlikeness? Why couldn’t the elderly in our congregations warn the younger generations about the pull toward bitterness or despondency or rage that can come with failing health or life in nursing homes?
In some congregations, of course, that kind of generational forewarning takes place, but I suspect it happens in far too few. I wonder what would happen if we started listening to one another about those temptations “common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13) at each stage of the life cycle. Perhaps then we would look more like the Book of Proverbs, a father warning his son of what’s to come (Prov. 5-7). And perhaps then we would look more like our Lord Jesus who spoke ahead of time to his disciples of the trouble that was to come (Jn. 14:29).
These kinds of conversations will be awkward, and they’ll entail some risk of embarrassment. But they’re no more awkward or embarrassing than the “puberty talk,” and we already know how to do that.