John Ortberg: For parents, when you look at your kids, when they come out of the womb, God is speaking through their life. How much or little do they move? How much or little do they talk? What do they love doing? Let their life speak.
Jim Daly: Yeah.
John: And teach them to allow God to speak to them through their life.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: For a teenager, making big decisions can be frightening and confusing. They think about all the possibilities, like a career path, college, buying a car, even marriage. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. And as parents, we need to know how to help. And, good news – we’ve got that help for you today on “Focus on the Family.” John Ortberg has some great advice, to help your teen try to decide their next steps. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.
Jim: John, sometimes we do broadcasts that are really meant just for us. (Laughter) This is…
John F.: This is one of those programs.
Jim: …Seemed like one of those, with teenagers in both of our households. You’ve got some adult children now that have launched.
John F.: And a couple of teens still in the home.
Jim: Right. So we’re still living the dream. And I know many of you listening are in that same spot where you have teens or maybe 20-somethings who are trying to figure out, where does God want me? Or even, is there a God? I mean, that is a question as well for many of our young people. We’re going to touch on that idea of God’s will for your life today and for your kids particularly with John Ortberg, who is a pastor there at Menlo Pres in the San Francisco Bay area. It’s so hard to describe California cities, because they’re just – they’re massive. And John, it is great to have you back.
John O.: Thank you. It’s really, really good to be back.
Jim: Now, you’ve written this wonderful book, All The Places To Go. And that is kind of the metaphor as I read through the material of the book. You know, these 19, 20-year-olds stand at this street sign, and all these signs are saying, go this way, go that way – the metaphor of that.
John O.: Yep.
Jim: What – what do you think is the issue? Is there are too many choices today?
John O.: Well, you know, when I was a kid and I was that age, I had a – a teacher in college that was a huge influence on me. But I was overwhelmed by, like, what am I going to do with my life? And on the one hand, it’s a really exciting moment, because there’s so many possibilities. But, there’s so much pressure around it. And I found – I would have people tell me, you know, you have a lot of potential. I grew to hate that word potential because it just felt like such a weight around me. But this teacher, Dr. Hawthorne, had such an impact on my life. And he loved this passage in the Book of Revelation, where God is saying, see, I’ve set before you an open door that no one can close. And that idea of an open door, that you were meant to make your life count for something beyond yourself, to have an impact on eternity – and every young person, the parent of every young person, that’s what we long for, is, like, how do I identify and go through those doors that God opens up for me? And it’s wonderful, but it can be paralyzing. And we live in a day where there are so many choices. You ever eat at the Cheesecake Factory?
Jim: (Laughter) Yeah. Wow, what a menu.
John O.: Just that menu exhausts me. And I feel like I’m obligated to look at every stupid item on it because I might miss out.
Jim: (Laughter) Right.
John O.: And even…
Jim: Chicken Madeira. The – just go there, right there.
Jim: I’ll just – I’ll order for you next time.
John O.: Yeah. Scary that you have memorized the menu of the Cheesecake Factory.
Jim: I only memorized one thing. (Laughter)
John O.: Really, Jim, really. But – but you can get – apparently, you know that fear of missing out has become a thing now. There’s actually a little acronym around that, because there’s so many choices. And we look at other people whose lives seem to be so great, and feel like I got to be experiencing all of that.
Jim: Well, and John, one of the things, too, is that the open-door experience can be that way. I mean, I feel like the Lord really helped me in that way. Doors would close. Doors would open. It was palpable for me in my life. But others don’t have that experience. And I’m – you know, there’s no distinction between us. Just maybe I’m dense. (Laughter) And the Lord said, OK, this guy, we really got to open the door.
John O.: I’ve always felt like that was probably the case. Um…
John F.: That Jim is dense?
John O.: Yeah.
Jim: We’re in agreement on my density. But – but – but talk about that difference because some people, good people, they’re going, OK, Lord, open a door. And then they have three options – they’re going, no, Lord, just open one.
John O.: It gets frustrating.
Jim: It can become overwhelming, even in a spiritual context.
John O.: No, it does. And it was for me. And I’m so glad we’re into this topic. So, when I went to grad school, I was getting a degree in psychology and theology, both. I thought I was going to become a therapist. And then I started doing therapy, and I was terrible at it. People would come and see me, and they would get worse, as they saw me longer. And I hated doing it. But, I really didn’t know what I was supposed to do with my life. And I can remember praying, literally for hours and literally in tears of frustration, God, just tell me what to do with my life. I don’t care what it is. I will do it. Just tell me. And God never did. And I felt this, like, either I’m praying wrong, or God isn’t keeping up His end of the bargain, because He’s supposed to let me know. And what I didn’t understand then, and it did – took me so many years to realize, is God is much more concerned with the person I become than the circumstances I inhabit.
John O.: God’s primary goal for me, and for your kids, is character formation, and decision-making is an indispensable part of character formation.
John O.: And part of what that means is, often God’s will for your life will be, I want you to choose. Like, for parents listening, would it be a good thing – I’ll sometimes ask parents this – if all of your kid’s life, they just did whatever you told them? Move here, major in this, go to this college, take this job, date this person.
Jim: Play football. (Laughter)
John O.: Yeah. And often parents will say, yeah, that sounds like a great idea. But no, that’d be a terrible idea. That’s like the Stepford Wife thing. What you want to do is you want to raise a kid, who is able to make great decisions. But, what that means is, your will for them will often be, I want you to decide, rather than I’ll tell you what to do. And I didn’t know that. I thought God was supposed to always tell me what to do.
John O.: And the truth is – the truth is, when I was asking God, tell me what to do with my life, what job should I take, I wasn’t so much wanting God’s will for my life, as I was wanting to be spared the anxiety of making a difficult decision.
Jim: Or making the wrong one.
John O.: Exactly.
Jim: Well, you and Nancy have three grown kids now.
John O.: We do.
Jim: So you can look back as an experienced parent. You’ve launched, and now you’re empty-nesters. And I – I’m interested where your kids may have wanted…
John O.: Yep.
Jim: …to go a different direction, and you and Nancy were struggling with that.
John O.: Yep – yep.
Jim: You know, that’s going to speak to my heart, as a parent right now.
John O.: So – so – so one of the big myths, when I became a parent was when my kids were born, I thought, I will just mold them. They will be like blank slates. They will be wet clay, and I will shape them. And they came out of the womb so much more wired and shaped than I ever thought they would, and I had so much less control over them. And learning to let go of control was so hard. And one of the things I found was, because all three of our kids are real different from each other, and they’re all real different from us – and uh, they would go down paths vocationally, spiritually, emotionally, in every way, that were their own paths that were very different than us – and I would find myself realizing, part of what I have to die to is, I want to look good as a parent.
Jim: Boy, that is so true.
John O.: And so, trying to discern, when am I concerned that my child flourish and do well, but when is my concern really selfishly, I want to look good as a dad, because I’m a pastor, and I want people to look at my kids and think, well, there’s a really good father, he’s got stuff. And so for any parent who’s listening to this right now, to say, the starting point isn’t inside the kid, it’s inside me.
Jim: So true.
John O.: And where do I need to die to my need to look good as a parent? And I must – you know, that death to self, for parents, that’s, like, really foundational.
Jim: It is. And that’s an important first step, and it’s probably the most difficult step you’ll ever take as a parent is, I’m not going to be wrapped up. My sense of self-worth will not be defined by my child’s behavior.
John O.: And then, I would say a second step for parents that are wrestling with this stuff is you have to accept that your child is the way that God wired your child, not the child you wanted them to be.
Jim: Yeah. Now, that’s profound. And – and the – the question becomes – I can hear it coming back through the microphones right now…
John O.: Yep. (Laughter)
Jim: But John, and Jim, you know, I need to shape my child. I mean, God doesn’t say kick back. We need discipline. We need formation. So speak to that balance, what you’re talking about here.
John O.: You cannot shape your child. You can love your child. To love your child is to will they’re good as God intends them to be good. And you can always do that. And that will mean encouraging, that will mean confronting, that will mean setting boundaries. But you cannot shape them. If you’re a feeler, and you want to have a real deep, emotional, intimate relationship with your child, and that kid’s a thinker and, um…you know. When – when one of our kids was little, and I would tuck her in at night, I’d say, do you know how much I love you? And she’d get big tears in her eyes. And I remember going then to the next kid’s room and saying, do you have any idea how much Daddy loves you? And she’s just looking up at me, and I’m thinking, oh, man, I’m really connecting now. And then what she says to me is, “Daddy, you got something hanging from your nose.”
John O.: And it’s like, it’s not going to be the same. I can – I get to love this child, but it’s not going to look the same way that it does with this other child. And so, to recognize your child’s interests, their IQs, whether or not they want to go to college, whether or not they want to climb a ladder, whether you’re a – you have to die to all that stuff. And you have to recognize how it is that God has wired your child, and accepting that this child is the way that God has wired them and not the way you want them to be. That’s going to involve death to self.
Jim: And that is so true, and another good thing for parents to hold on to.
John O.: Yep.
Jim: You know, John, when I speak to youth groups or something like that, church youth groups, or a graduation ceremony – I get the privilege of doing that from time to time – one of the things I’ll talk about, and it was true in my own life, is that I realize, for me, that God’s will for me is to live within, kind of the orb of God. I think He delights in what we delight in vocationally. I don’t think He says, Jim, you need to be a watchmaker. I mean, He just says, when you wake up, be ready to do my bidding. And so, one of the things I did from my early 20s was to try to wake up every day and just say a little prayer, saying, Lord, whatever I do today, help me to represent you well in what I do, in my attitude and everything like that. That way, it took the pressure off being on a point in some continuum that’s concocted in my own mind, that if I’m not doing this very thing vocationally, then I’m not in God’s will. I – do you agree? I mean, I don’t think he’s aiming to…
John O.: I – I heard a fabulous sermon by Martin Luther King, not long ago. And he said, you know, what if you’re street-sweeping, if your job is to be a street sweeper, sweep that street the way that Michelangelo painted, the way that Shakespeare wrote poetry, the way that Beethoven composed music.
Jim: With all your heart.
John O.: Sweep it, so that God and all the angels in Heaven stop what they’re doing to look and say, there’s a great street sweeper. And I think, you know, somebody at our church – we live in the Bay Area, you know – everybody wants to be an entrepreneur, venture capitalist, save the world. And one of the parents in our church said, God forgive me. I – it’s more important that my kid go to Harvard, than go to Heaven.
Jim: Yeah. Wow.
John O.: And – and so to say, to ask as a parent, where am I trying to live my dreams, aspirations, and validations through my child? And where do I die to that and teach them it’s more important, if you’re sweeping streets, to do that to the glory of God, than to be the CEO, or some real glamorous – you know. And again – and that gets back to me. And then it also gets to, be a student of your child.
Jim: I love that.
John O.: I remember, as a parent, talking to Neil Warren, the e-Harmony guy – he’s been with Focus lots of times – about, how do I be a good parent? He said, like in real estate, the number one law is location, location, location. The number one law in parenting is observation, observation, observation. And if you study that child – because we believe that everybody’s made in the image of God…
Jim: Exactly right.
John O.: …You will love that kid, but you will learn to see what it is that God put in them and not what it is that you have a need to be in them.
Jim: Yeah. That is so good. Uh, John, we have a question from a young lady named Katherine, just to bring this home. We’ve got a couple of other audio clips in a moment. But here’s one question that we really liked and that she asked.
Katherine: So, a lot of times people say you’re never going to feel ready for the next phase of life, but you should just keep going anyway. But at the same time in high school, there’s a lot of emphasis on doing things that will make you ready for the next phase. You’re supposed to study for entrance exams. In youth group, you go through dating curriculums to get ready for marriage. So, how can parents balance encouraging their kids to take those steps to prepare for the next phase, but also assuring them that we probably won’t ever feel ready to take that next step?
John O.: You know parents live with so much guilt around perfectionism when it comes to parents.
Jim: Yes, we do.
John O.: And the reality is sometimes some issues are problems to be solved. And then other issues are tensions to be managed where the tension will never ever go away. And this is a tension to be managed. Yes. Before my kid goes to school, I want them to start learning how to relate to other people. How do you be polite? How do you get along with kids? How do you play? But the reality is if you use a sense of full readiness as the decision criteria, you’d never do anything.
Jim: Never get there.
John O.: You’d never get married. You’d never have a kid. Think about it in the Bible. When does God ever come to somebody in the Bible and say see I have set before you an open door. Moses, I want you to go face Pharaoh.
Jim: But I can’t speak (laughter).
John O.: Yeah, yeah. Oh, I feel ready for that.
Jim: (Laughter) Yeah, right.
John O.: Nobody feels ready for that. God’s promise isn’t you’ll feel ready. What his promise is, I will be with you.
John O.: And that’s what I want to try to teach my kids, is that whatever is going on – yes, do your best to be diligent and prepare. But then when you plunge in there and you feel unprepared – and you will. You feel inadequate – and you will. No, your acceptance before God does not depend on how well you’re performing in this. And at least where I live, we live in such a performance culture. And I think one of the great gifts that parents can give their kids is to say, you do not live in a performance culture. We are not a performance family. And God is not a performance God.
Jim: That’s a big request. But it’s the right one…
John F.: …And the kind of perspective you can have if you benefit from having John’s book, All the Places to Go: How Will You Know? We have that book and a CD or download of our conversation today at focusonthefamily.com/radio or call 1-800, the letter A and the word family
And John, I hear what you’re saying. God’s not a performance God.
Jim: I always love this set up.
John F.: There are some parents who…
John O.: I sense a “but” coming somewhere.
John F.: Well, no, there are just some parents that we know, and that we hear from who say, and so far my 28-year-old kid doesn’t show any signs of performing anything, except hanging around the house. So there’s a balance here. How do we find that balance with our kids?
John O.: Yeah. You have to ask yourself if my child goes off track, in what direction are they likely to go off track. And if that kid is, you know, just constantly driven, performance-obsessed, they’re going to need more space and grace. But absolutely, it’s just as possible, that there’s going to be a kid that’s just not motivated.
John F.: Yeah, they’re it really apathetic.
John O.: Yeah, exactly. And so, then you’re going to have to provide a lot more motivation, a lot more structure, a lot more boundaries, teaching them they’re going to have to live with the consequence of choosing not to do stuff…
Jim: That is so true, John (Ortberg). And, you know, we’re kinda talking about the direction our – our young people go, and helping them launch well and know the will of God for their lives. But it encompasses everything that we’re discussing right now. And I’m thinking of the parents, and it – it doesn’t have to be mom. It could be dad, but either mom or dad, – where behavior is most critical, not character. And of course, we’re going to say, no, no, no, no, it’s character too. I mean, behavior is born out of character, right? But, we are emphasizing behavior, behavior, behavior, and we’re not developing the character they will need to make the right decisions, when no one’s looking. And we’ve told them what to do till they’re 18, and then they launch, and they’re failing. Help the parent, who has been on the behavior train, better understand the character train.
John O.: Yeah, but one of the ironies of parenting is, you’re working yourself out of a job from the day that they’re born. And when they’re little, I can control everything, and so, I have this illusion that I’ll always be able to control everything. And what I want to do is continue to move, over time, from higher control to less control, and from focus on behavior to focus on the heart. And so, one of the best things that a parent can do to help a child develop and to make that shift is, just ask them questions. And I think for parents, when you look at your kids, when they come out of the womb, God is speaking through their life. How much or little do they move? How much or little do they talk? What do they love doing? Let their life speak.
John O.: And teach them to allow God to speak to them through their life.
Jim: I love that imagery where, you know, the Lord is saying, don’t keep the kids from me. I – I think the Lord loved to talk to kids, because their hearts are – there’s no pretentious nature with children. They’re just out there. And I think the Lord – He loved that. He had loved engaging teenagers. That’s the image I have of that. Like, hey, don’t keep ‘em away from Me. Let Me talk to ‘em.
John O.: One – one of my favorite statements Dallas Willard used to make about tiny little kids is, what we love about them is, they haven’t learned to manage their face.
Jim: (Laughter) Right.
John O.: And you can just tell by their face what’s going on inside. And the older we get, often, we lose that capacity.
Jim: We really do. We hide. Let’s play another clip. Again, we’re talking about launching, and open doors and closed doors. We broached that at the beginning of the program, but let’s go to a question from a young man named John.
John: So, a lot of people, when they’re talking about opportunity, they use the illustration of there being open doors, and you just have to find the right open door to go through. But when you’re out of college, and you’re done – done with school, a lot of times, it can seem like there are no open doors. And finding a job, or just moving on with life can feel like a really daunting task. So, how can parents help their kids to either see the open doors, or help them to kind of address the concern of what to do when there are no open doors?
John O.: Love this question. The – the way that you begin is, you don’t start with the real big open doors. What job should I take? Who should I marry? You start with the little open doors that are going on every day. In this conversation, every moment comes with a door. God, how can I do your will in this moment? How could I encourage somebody? How could I lift somebody up? And then, when I leave from here, am I worried about catching my plane? God, how do I trust you with this open door? How do I trust you when money comes my way? How do I trust you when there’s a test coming up and I’m anxious about it? How do I trust you when I’m not one of the popular kids at the school?
When I’m – in my own life and when I’m working with my kids, the way that this begins is, I want to show them, there’s open doors all the time, every day, and it’s only when you start with the little doors – God, how do I see You in this moment? – that you develop the discernment and the ability, so that when the big doors come, you’re ready for them. And if you wait until the big doors are there, it’s way too late. So you start with the little doors, and then you take the pressure off the little doors. I think for so many young people, we have to teach them to reject the myth that says, if you choose the wrong door, you’re stuck with God’s plan B for the rest of your life.
Jim: Yeah, that – that if-then kind of thing.
John F.: That old center-of-the-will idea.
John O.: It’s exactly right. God is more interested – the main thing – this is Dallas Willard, also – the main thing God gets out of your life is the person you become.
Jim: That’s it. That’s what matters most.
John O.: That’s the main – and that’s the main thing you get out of your life.
John O.: And so, the idea that choosing this job, or even this person seals your fate is completely erroneous, because whatever it is that you choose, you can still become the right person. And that’s God’s core will for your life. So, take the pressure off of that. Now get to know yourself really well. You got to become the world’s leading expert at knowing, what are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What do you like doing? There’s a ton of stuff around that. And again, for me, when I was growing up, I was really bad at that, ‘cause I had this romanticized idea that when the right job comes along, I’ll just know.
John O.: Like, when the right person comes along, I’ll just know. No, no, no, no, no. You got to do all the hard work in getting to know yourself really well.
Jim: So true. I think, also, John – and you mentioned this in the book – this idea of closed doors being a blessing.
John O.: Yeah.
Jim: Because in Western culture, you know, our faith is born out of an Eastern culture. It’s not Western. It’s not Greek. It’s not logic flow. It’s – it’s different. And sometimes, we in the West struggle with that, where we’re zero sum, we’re the victors, we win, you lose. And when we think of a closed door, or opposition or a setback, we see that as totally negative, when it could be the Lord speaking through that. And I think that’s where the Scripture says, in all things, rejoice, right?
John O.: Well, you see all – you know, none of us knows our story. And so, we look at Joseph and his continual disappointment. He ends up being sold into slavery. He ends up in prison. And then those are the very things that God uses to make him a vehicle of grace and salvation for his people. Paul wants to go into one place, and the door is closed. And he’s disappointed. But then God opens up all of Europe, and so the church takes on a whole… You know, for crying out loud, we’re the people of the cross. You know, Jesus is on a track for what everybody thinks is going to be the Messiah, to bring about the liberation of Israel. And it’s in the closed door to that that the resurrection takes place. So if there’s any people that ought to accept open doors in our lives, it’s people that follow Jesus.
Jim: Absolutely, and I – that’s one of the things, as a father, I want to make sure my boys embrace.
John O.: Yeah.
Jim: …Is that when there’s a dead end, smile (laughter).
John O.: And one of the best… so good. And one of the best things – two of the best things you can do as a parent is, No. 1, tell your kids about your failures.
John O.: You know, for me, my failure as a therapist, my failure as a preacher – first time I got up to preach at a church, when I thought I was going to love it, I fainted dead away.
Jim: You did? (Laughter).
John O.: Yeah, and then I got up a year later. The next time I got up to preach, I fainted dead away. And the worst part was, it was a Baptist church, not a charismatic church…
John O.: where you get credit for that kind of stuff.
John F.: You didn’t have any excuse.
John O.: Nah.
Jim: It’s not – wow.
John O.: And – and you know, I just kept praying, God, take this away because I think I’m called. I think this is an open door, but you can’t preach if you faint on a regular basis. It makes people nervous.
Jim: Were you – were you nervous?
John O.: Oh, yeah.
Jim: I mean you’re introverted.
John O.: Yes, yeah.
Jim: Is that why you were fainting?
John O.: No, absolutely.
Jim: You were overwhelmed.
John O.: I felt the pressure of it, and I thought, this sermon’s not going well. And boom, I hit the deck.
Jim: (Laughter) Oh, my goodness.
John O.: And God never took that away. I’ll – I’ll still have that sensation sometimes. But – but the verse that became wonderful for me was, “My grace is sufficient for you, and my strength is made perfect in weakness” – and so to embrace weakness. And, you know, I’m a three on this thing called the Enneagram, which means I’m an achiever, and I want to impress people. And to say I’m weak [is] really hard for me. And to embrace it just feels so counter. But that’s been one of the gift – best gifts that I can give my kids is to say, you know, I tried to plant a church, and that never really went much of anywhere. And I – I wanted to become a therapist, and that never worked out. And I wanted to go into preaching, and I fainted. And for them to know I’ve failed, and failed and failed, and then to celebrate it with them when they fail, so they feel like that’s OK…
Jim: Boy, that is so good.
John O.: …Rejection and failure – to make those opportunities, when we celebrate the love of God and not occasions of shame and hiding.
Jim: Man, that is so good, John (Ortberg). I mean, I’m – I’m just sitting there thinking, in my own parenting, how critical that is, how important that is to make sure that my kids feel loved, and accepted and not shamed. That is so, so important. This has been terrific. The time has flown by. Man. All the Places To Go – it really talks about how to launch your children well and how to help them in their 20s making decisions. And hopefully, you’re having those phone conversations with your 20, 21-year-old, and they’re calling from college and – or vocational experience, whatever they’re doing. So often, we emphasize college as if that’s the only doorway. We know it’s not. And, you know, some kids thrive in that environment. Other young people don’t, and that’s OK. It’s what you want to do for God and – and being content in that.
And John, this is a great resource for parents to have, to have a discussion. Get this program, by CD or download, and – and listen to it with your teen, with your 20-something, and talk about it. Uh, your book is a wonderful resource, and I want to make this available to you for a monthly pledge of any amount. This is important to have this discussion. And I – I know, with my boys, I’m gonna have ‘em read the book, too, and, it’ll be important for them to have confidence in what God is calling them toward. And, we so appreciate John (Ortberg). Thank you again for being with us.
John O.: Well, for everybody listening, for your goal for your kids to be not that they do the right thing, but they become great decision makers and to help them see God’s will for their life is that they become great decision-makers.
John F.: And again, John’s book is All the Places To Go. Uh, we’ve got that, a CD, and a download, as well, of our program, and our broadcast app so you can listen on the go. All of that and more to help you in your parenting journey at focusonthefamily.com/radio or call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
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On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to “Focus on the Family.” I’m John Fuller inviting you back next time, as we once more help you and your family, thrive in Christ.