“Don’t be foolish!” I heard that spoken in my direction more than a few times when I was a kid. My dad was never one to hold back in those times when my adolescent self believed that I was on a good trajectory, and he believed my decisions were leading down the road to disaster. Yes, his warnings did serve to dissuade me from time-to-time. But truth be told, there were more times than I’d like to admit that when thinking my dad the ignorant fool, I would go ahead with what I thought was my wisely conceived fool-proof plan. It was in those times that somehow Dad’s ignored warnings always wound up proving true and necessary. Why did he always have to be right?!?
I’m sure that all of us, if we’re honest, can look back to our childhood and see how we’re each “Exhibit A” for what we read in Proverbs 22:15: “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.” Those ancient words hold true for every generation of kids. Because of this, we need to be diligent in parenting our own children and teens away from the foolishness we so easily embrace, while pointing them to living wisely.
Parenting to instill wisdom has been on my mind since I began reading Timothy Keller’s little one-year devotional on the Book of Proverbs – God’s Wisdom For Navigating Life. Keller tells us that “A proverb is a poetic, terse, vivid, thought-provoking saying that conveys a world of truth in a few words.” The Proverbs we’ve been given in the Bible are the corrective flip side to my Dad’s “Don’t be foolish!” They tell us, “Do be wise!” Wisdom, as Keller tells us, “is making the right choice even when there are no clear moral laws telling you explicitly what to do.” And right out of the gate, the writer of Proverbs implores his son to “hear your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.”
In an effort to teach our kids how to embrace living wisely, we need to also teach our kids about the lifestyle of foolishness they are to avoid. We need to help our kids learn what it means to “Don’t be foolish!” by helping them understand what it means to be a fool. We can do this by helping them understand the four types of “unwise” people we meet in Proverbs.
First, there is the fool. This is the person who is obstinate, highly opinionated, and always right/wise in their own eyes. Lacking a teachable spirit, they don’t want to learn or be corrected. They choose not to reflect on situations and options. Rather, they forge ahead enslaved to themselves. In many ways, this sounds like what we’ve come to call “normal adolescent development.’
Second, there is the simple. This is the person who is gullible and easily led as they believe anything and everything. They are mentally and spiritually naïve. Consequently, they tend to irresponsibly go with the flow. This sounds like those teenagers who desperately want to fit in and consequently are prone to being misled.
Third, there is the scoffer. Full of a kind of pride that hates submitting to anyone but themselves, they are also known as “mockers.” In the adolescent population, the scoffer can take on a leadership role by appearing as worldly-wise and sophisticate. These are the alpha-dogs and pied pipers who take the lead on the path to foolishness.
Finally, there is the sluggard. Lazy to the core, the sluggard rarely begins things. When he does, he never finishes. He comes to believe his own excuses and rationalizes his laziness. Eventually, he feels helpless to move forward as a result of his procrastination and resulting disorder of his life. Social theorists, educators, and researchers are constantly reminding us that entitlement and narcissism are on the rise, which feed the roots of laziness.
What then does this mean for us as we parent our kids in today’s youth culture?
First, recognize that in many ways, the foolishness that we’ve just described is actually encouraged and celebrated in today’s world. Yes, it’s part of the cultural narrative. Mantras like “you do you” and “follow your heart” are just another way of leading our kids to believe that the wisest people are those who choose to be fools. That’s a narrative we need to expose and point out.
Second, we need to deliberately model and teach Godly wisdom. In his opening introduction to the Book of Proverbs, Solomon tell us that the wise embrace wisdom and instruction. What we need to realize is that wisdom and instruction cannot be embraced unless we are making and taking every opportunity to expose foolishness and to teach wisdom.
Finally, learning and prayer are crucial elements of Christian parenting in today’s world. We can only know what to teach about wisdom when we are actively seeking to study, know, and apply the wisdom of God’s Word in our own lives. And, we must pray that our kids would have hearts bent on seeking and following God’s wise ways.
Timothy Keller tells us that “the ultimate foolishness is to make anything the center of our lives besides God.” That’s a priceless nugget of truth and wisdom!