Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)
I remember frequently hearing this verse during my years with Bill Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute (ATI). It was often quoted to the young people at various conference sessions and during staff meetings. I believe that the intent was to encourage us to continue following the “higher standard” and to continue to share what we were learning even when older people expressed skepticism or contempt. At the time, I took it to heart and figured that those who dismissed my advice and zealous promotion of Mr. Gothard’s teachings were, as he had taught us, blinded by sin and committed to their foolishness. Looking back, I wish someone had sat down with me and set me straight.
I was in my mid-20s. I was unmarried, childless, and had only held down two jobs since graduating from college. I was barely out of childhood. I knew nothing of life, nothing of relationships. Nothing. But I sure thought I knew a lot!
I gave all kinds of advice. Parenting advice, financial advice, family planning advice, discipline advice, career advice, worship advice, household management advice — there was scarcely a topic that I didn’t have advice for.
Mostly, my advice followed the party line: debt is bad (even mortgages), using birth control is rebellion against God, disobedient children should be spanked (time-out is a cop-out)….
But who was I to be dishing out advice to these people?
Parenting advice to mothers with eight kids under the age of 12, and husbands who worked two jobs to support them all. What did I know of this kind of semi-single-parenthood and the stresses it inflicts?
Financial advice to large families trying to make it on just one income so that the mother could be home with her children. What did I know of the difficulties of saving to pay cash for a house while trying to provide for a family?
Family planning advice to desperate women whose health was breaking under the strain of back-to-back pregnancies. What did I know of the medical and psychological impact of having a baby every year?
Discipline advice to mothers with rebellious children. What did I know of the agony a parent feels when trying to guide a little soul to walk in the ways of the Lord? What experience did I have in disciplining children — who are so very individual and who need such varying approaches to discipline?
Business advice to families trying to run their own businesses to promote family unity and togetherness. What did I know of business?
I shudder, now, to think of the appallingly inadequate, one-size-fits-all, legalistic advice I dished out in those days when my head was being inflated by those who told me that what I was learning in books and seminars was more than sufficient to qualify me to counsel these desperate people. By those who told me not to let people “despise my youth.”
Someone should have “despised” my youth. Someone should have sat me down and set me straight. Someone should have told me that I didn’t know what I was talking about, and that it was foolish for me to address situations that I had no experience in and no insight into.
Because here are some of the lessons I’ve learned since then:
- Trying to buy a house without getting a mortgage is great if you are independently wealthy or if you are a childless couple and can put one spouse’s entire income into savings. For normal people, buying a house with cash is impractical. Better advice would have been for these people to buy a house on which they could easily afford the monthly payments, keeping their housing expenditures to less than a third of their monthly take-home pay.
- Failure to plan your family can be disastrous to both the physical and mental health of everyone in the family, including parents and kids — but especially mom. Far better to use some form of birth control and try to make some reasonable spacing between children. That way mom’s body gets a chance to fully recover from the rigors of pregnancy, and she’s not running herself to death trying to keep up with six pre-schoolers at once. And dad might actually get some sleep.
- Spanking is not the only, or even the best, way to discipline children. All children respond differently to various kinds of discipline, and parents need to know their child. What is a mild reproof to one child may be crushing rejection to another. What makes one child fold into immediate submission may merely infuriate another.
Yes, somebody should have despised my youth enough to remind me that it was the older women who were to teach the younger how to be wives and mothers, and how to live a godly life. The Apostle Paul wrote to Titus that the older members of the congregation should be exhorting the younger members to a holy life — not the younger teaching the older.
Somebody should have reminded me of Proverbs 18:13: “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame unto him.” Because I spoke a lot of folly to a lot of people, and I bear a lot of shame, having answered so many matters before I ever heard them fully.