Teaching Me: Life-changing Lessons We Learned as Kids

When we are young or immature, right theology makes us feel superior, but when we are older and more mature, a study of theology makes us feel inferior and unworthy, undeserved, and grateful. Don Miller

Do you ever think about the life-changing lessons you learned as a kid?

I’m not talking about words and facts from parents and teachers because they mostly fade away. Words don’t really convey the important lessons.

I always felt sort of sorry for my dad. I didn’t understand it until later, but even as a kid I had this nagging sense that there was something sad about him.

Dad was smart—not educated, but really smart. He was a high school football star and state champion sprinter. He returned from Germany after WWII and worked his way into a successful career with a lot of responsibility. I think everyone liked him; if he spent much time in a small town he knew enough people to run for mayor and win.

He apparently had a full, successful life. So why did I find my dad’s life so sad?

He was afraid. I don’t think he ever took a step backward from anyone in his life, but Dad lived in fear.

Somewhere in my past there’s a teenage kid who learned to be afraid and to react to fear with anger.

Dad never thought he was good enough. In his eyes, other people were smarter, more educated, more capable, and more worthy. He believed strongly in his own inferiority, and he believed that’s what others perceived.

He feared showing any weakness or vulnerability and hid behind a “good guy” façade that kept everyone at arm’s length. His many friends mostly didn’t know him. Those who managed to see behind the mask never dared to get closer.

I learned to fear the temper that erupted without warning when his fragile pretense of confidence was threatened. I learned that acceptance could only be earned through accomplishment, that appearance mattered more than substance, and that self-concept was totally dependent on others’ perceptions.

That kid learned well. Everything he learned might be summarized in a single word: he learned an attitude of scarcity.

There was never enough. Achievement, acceptance, self-worth—you name it, there was never enough. Life was about working and striving for a goal I couldn’t reach and pretending everything was great. Above all it was about deception, making sure nobody saw the real me. Anyone who really knew me would surely reject me.

That kid worked very hard to appear superior because he knew he was inferior.

I wish I could talk to that teenager.

I’d tell him that scarcity was a lie, that everything he fought so hard to attain was already his in unlimited abundance.

I’d tell that kid about the outrageous things Jesus said. I want you to have a full, abundant life. Take courage. Don’t be afraid. Come to me and I will give you rest. You don’t have to earn self-worth—you are worth my life.

I don’t think he’d believe me, at least not right away. Those early lessons were pretty deeply ingrained. You don’t just shrug when everything you learned from your dad suddenly turns inside-out and upside-down. You do everything possible to pound a new round peg into an old square hole.

I suspect he’d resist and intellectualize and rationalize. He’d turn Christianity into another place to achieve, so he’d learn a lot about the Bible and theology. Even after he took in the head knowledge, he’d guard his heart because that’s what he’d learned. He’d run away. The facts wouldn’t change his behavior much.

I wish I could tell him to relax a little, let it go, and quit running. I’d tell him that all the stuff he’s so worried about doesn’t matter very much, that things usually work out, and that he can’t control most important things anyway.

I’d also tell him that running is useless, that he can’t get to a place where God can’t find him, and that God won’t give up on him. I’d tell him to stop trying to prove he isn’t worthy because he can’t mess up badly enough to drive God away.

I’d tell him to stop pretending to be thankful for what he earned and instead to be grateful for the abundance he doesn’t deserve.

He didn’t know about abundant love and forgiveness. He didn’t know about Relentless Grace. I wish I could help him understand—it would save both of us a lot of grief.

What would you like to tell a teenage “you”?

P.S.—I’d also tell that kid to be more careful installing Christmas lights. But since he thought he was invincible, I don’t imagine he’d pay much attention. Spinal cord injuries and paralysis happen to other people. **Sigh**

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