I’m learning how to be a good son.
Family is for me — like many of my generation — a difficult idea. All my parents have had rough marriages, and walked through circumstances that have been extremely challenging. The wrong way to respond to all of this was the way I responded for many years.
For many years, I disdained my family on multiple levels. I looked down upon their poor choices, confident that I, were I in their position at the time, would have done the right thing. I thought myself smarter, better, a cut above, and was therefore eager to leave my hometown. And so I did. As I expected, I accomplished a lot of good things. But on the way I learned something, too. I learned that, while I’d been very good at school, work, and achieving my goals, I’d not been a very good son.
On a recent trip back to my hometown, it all came very much together for me. Here are three things I learned:
A Good Son Celebrates The Good
I love my parents and grandparents. And, I’m learning that part of honoring them means honoring the good I received from them. For instance:
- Mom taught me diligence. I get my fiery personality from her. She never quit, raised me well, even though it meant working late and missing moments with me. She taught me to be an adult, and never liked the kind of parenting that tried to pal around with progeny. “My job is to teach you not to need me,” she would say. Powerful stuff, I think. I appreciate that.
- Dad is the reason I build. My father is an actual builder, and he’s really good at it. I don’t think he knows how to do anything but his best work. He taught me that quality and details matter. He was a great provider. He taught me how to work with my hands. Yesterday, in fact, I built a table from scrap wood around my house. Couldn’t help but think of him and to be thankful.
- My grandparents are all amazing. From them I learned entrepreneurship, art, music, manners, and more. My grandfather (we call him “Papa Bill”) is a greatest-generation man’s man. He has started more business and released more people into more prosperity than anyone I know. As a church entrepreneur, I love that. He’s also one of the most generous people I know. My grandmother (we call her “Jay Bird”) taught me how to love music, art, and the stage. She was always taking me to plays and musicals, and I fell in love with music in many ways through her. She also taught me manners and how to set a table. My other grandmother (“Granny”) is everything great about the South, made flesh. She is the sweetest, most vibrant grandmother ever. No one makes better fried chicken, or breakfast. No one is more kind, either.
I can go on and talk about how great my step-parents are, my siblings (natural and step), my in-laws, and even my spiritual fathers. But, this is a blog, not a book. All that was probably more fun for me to write than for you to read. The point is this, a Son celebrates the good he got from his family.
A Good Son Rejects Cynicism
Man, this one is hard. All of us go through that moody, teenage phase. Some of us never emerge from it.
Every family has junk. When faced with family junk, we have some choices. First, we can embrace the junk and carry it forward. This is not wise, but it is normal. Cynically, this choice says, “this is who we’ve always been and who we’ll always be.” This is part of how destructive behaviors like alcoholism, violence, passive-aggression, and all kinds of brokenness get passed onto the next generation. A good son doesn’t do that.
Another choice might be to eschew the whole family for the sake of the junk. This was more my style. But very little good has ever come from throwing babies out with bathwater. The image of God resides in every person, along with their brokenness. It’s no good to reject the image on account of the sin, except in the most extreme cases. Good sons avoid this move, too.
A Good Son Embraces The Best Son
So what is this, just good advice I’m spinning? May it never be.
The gospel means that I’ve been adopted into the only perfect family. Just as I was born into my natural family, I needed to be born again into this one. And, just as I did nothing to merit being born into the Mabry household, merit and good work didn’t get me born into the family of God. I’ve been adopted. I’ve been embraced, despite my sin. Jesus bled to rescue the image of His Father in me. If this is the cost that the best Son paid to reunite me with His family, then I can do likewise.
The best Son saw the good in me, and loved me, despite all my sin.
The best Son rejected cynicism about me, and loved me instead.
To be a good Son, I can look at the best Son, and do with my family what He did with me.
I’m learning how to be a good son. The best Son is teaching me.5