Thursday, November 05, 2009

Father-Son Mentoring: A Letter to my Son

I wrote this for my son Samuel (11.04.09) who just turned 11 regarding whether or not he should continue into Boy Scouts, and the bigger issue of the journey to becoming a man.

John Eldredge (Way of the Wild Heart) tells the story of visiting an island on a cayak trip where there was a meadow/bog where Grizzlies would come regularly to feed. Their guide led them to the centuries old path the great bears had taken through the meadow. There were large lumbering footprints well-worn in the path. He said that the cubs literally step in the pawprints of the older bears to make sure they stay on the path. Eldredge saw this as a profound illustration of the path needed for boys to find their way to becoming men.

When we went to visit the Boy Scout troop the other night I was praying that it would become clear to us whether or not this was the right path for you to go, for the decision would impact your path to manhood.

Boy Scouts is indeed one way to become a man. There would be much value in continuing in Scouts, but I believe, also much danger. Let me explain. Boy Scouts is structured in such a way to develop boys into men by developing their skills in life and self-confidence. These skills are definitely important, but only one part of the picture. The gospel message of Jesus is all about finding grace, forgiveness, strength and power in our weakness and our inability to find our way through life on our own. In the gospel God does what we could never do for ourselves – pay for our sins and reveal himself to us.

Do you see the tension? If you become the type of man who thinks he knows how to handle every situation in life, you will likely think you have no more need for God. This is one of the most dangerous places to be in, one that the Bible calls being “lost.” Plus, continuing in Scouts would mean me, in some sense, stepping back and letting you find your own way and that is something I cannot do. I had many scout-like experiences when I was your age (backpacking, fishing, camping, etc.) but I would trade it all in in a second to have had a daddy that stayed with me to show me how to be a man!

You are heading into the years where it is very important for you to prove yourself in the face of challenges. I believe that there is a way to develop skills in the face of challenges that is in the context of a relationship of faith in God. It means doing what we can but realizing that all that we learn and do can never substitute for God’s presence in our lives. We will never be good enough or strong enough to be loved and forgiven – we must have Jesus. No amount of achievements or activities will ever be enough to fill your heart – that space is reserved for God. Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) and Paul said that he can “do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). To become a real man begins and ends with knowing Jesus, not with developing skills. According to the Bible, real manhood and maturity have to do with knowing God and his will and living with Him at the center of your life (Proverbs 1:1-7).

God is calling me to mentor you toward becoming a man. I don’t think Scouts would allow me the opportunities to do this, so we will develop something together that is different and better. What is a mentor? It is someone who has experience, wisdom and skill that passes on what they know and who they are to someone less experienced. Many people can do this, but God has especially designed it for fathers and sons. Fathers used to “apprentice” their sons in their trade, or job: the sons would live and work with their fathers side-by-side and in doing so learn to be men. A mentor can say like Paul, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

There will be some structure to this mentoring, but the main point is you being by my side while we live life together in God’s presence. You will have greater responsibilities, but greater privileges too!

I see four elements of the structure, and every element will have a component of conversation where you have a voice in deciding how that element will look.

  1. Fun! Doing fun things like going to see a dollar movie together, riding go-karts, playing mini-golf, going out to dinner, taking short trips, etc.
  2. Teaching and instruction - about life, God, girls, money, relationships, Bible study, etc. This could also involve conversations with professionals you would want to learn from (filmmaker, inventor, policeman, etc.)
  3. Service – Learning the value of serving together. We could help Mommy around the house, clean up trash around the co-op, clean up someone’s yard, serve the homeless, etc.
  4. Outdoors – spending time together in God’s creation. Going on hikes, nature walks, exploring caves, going fishing, going to a gun range, having bonfires, etc.

I love you, Sam, and I want God’s best for your life. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, confused, and afraid by all this then it might help you to know that I am too! I’ve never done anything like this before, or even heard of it being done. God is calling me to grow in new ways too through this journey. I look forward to traveling it together.


  1. Physical maturity – eating healthy, exercising; devoting our bodies to God
  2. Spiritual maturity – Bible study, prayer; knowing God
  3. Emotional maturity – developing skill in handling emotions; bringing our emotions to God
  4. Relational maturity – learning to communicate (speak and listen) your heart to others and to care for others’ hearts; learning to relate our heart to God’s.

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