Rob Parsons: My mother could read and write, but not much more than that. But she was an incredibly wise woman. When I was a little boy she used to tell me a story of a land far away where as people got older, they would write a life lesson on a scroll, and they’d keep those scrolls in the center of the village in a little hut. And every so often, the elders would gather people together and they’d read those letters to them. They call that place the wisdom house.
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John Fuller: We are going to unlock some of the secrets of the wisdom house today and, uh, next time as well. Uh, this is Focus on the Family with your host, Focus president Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: Uh, today’s guest is Rob Parsons. And he’s been one of my very good friends for over 25 years. He heads up Care for the Family in the United Kingdom, an effort that we helped co-found many years ago. Uh, they minister to families in much the same way as we do here in the US, uh, but they do it across the UK and around the world.
Jim: Rob is a great storyteller and the author of several bestselling books. He’s a lawyer by training, and he really has a tremendous insight into the faults and foibles of human beings, including his own.
Jim: That’s why I like it so much.
Jim: Uh, today we’re featuring a unique presentation that Rob calls The Wisdom House. Uh, after the birth of his fourth grandchild, uh, Rob had an overwhelming desire to write a letter to each of his grandchildren sharing with them some lessons that he has learned about life and love. The kind of advice that they’ll need as young adults. And that’s what we’ll be listening to today.
John: All right. Here’s Rob Parsons. Uh, he’s under a spotlight sitting on a stage in a darkened auditorium in Edinburgh, Scotland on today’s episode of Focus on the Family.
Rob: In my study I’ve got two big old armchairs. I sit in this one to the right of the fireplace. And- and over there there’s the other one. And- and suddenly, in my mind’s eye I imagine my grandchildren. Not as the little ones as they are now, but as grown men and women in their 20s or 30s. And they sit in that old armchair and somebody had broken their heart or trod all over one of their dreams. Perhaps they were tired of trying to be somebody they couldn’t be just to please somebody else, and we will talk long into the night. And you get the chance to listen in.
Well, here’s Harry. Look at you, Harry. My word, 23 years old. Harry, I understand you’ve got a difficult person in your office. Oh, I’m sorry, Harry. You know, difficult people are everywhere. They are in our colleges, our university, sometimes even our churches. Well- well, almost everybody, they seem to have a difficult person in their life. Well, Harry, let me tell you some things about, uh, difficult people. Number one, difficult people are always going to be with us. You dream of the day they’ll go. You imagine them leaving your business, your cottage, your university, sometimes even your church. And Harry, you know what happens the second they go? Others rise up to take their place. (laughing)
So, you know what, Harry? You may as well as live with the difficult people you’ve got. If you possibly can’t, perhaps you’re difficult to them. But you know, Harry, sometimes you have to limit your exposure to your difficult people. Don’t go on holiday with difficult people. Don’t be a martyr. And you know what, Harry? Sometimes you have to find a level with your difficult person. It’s not ideal. One woman walked to me and said, “My sister is my difficult person. Since that big row at the wedding 10 years ago, we hardly speak. Couple of Christmas cards, birthday cards. I long to have a conversation with her.” And I said, “Don’t cut it off. Perhaps keep it at that level for now. Perhaps some family trauma will bring you together.”
Sometimes you just have to find a level with your difficult person. But Harry, sometimes your difficult person is so difficult they will drain you of life, of- of energy. And you know, I- I know jobs are hard to get, Harry, but- but sometimes if possible you- you even need to move on. A- a supervisor, a manager, a partner will sometimes drain you of life and- and energy.
But Harry, I- I- I want to recommend a different strategy to you. You normally can’t change somebody else, but you can change yourself. And because change is dynamic, often when we change, other people change as well.
I think of a young woman, now 29 years old, a young lawyer in London. Boy, she was a gracious, young woman, but she had a rod of steel down her back. Unfortunately, she had somebody supervising her in the law practice who was a very insecure man. And he saw to that by bringing other people down. She said, “He criticizes the way I dress, my telephone manner. If I draft a document, he makes sure to find something wrong with it.”
She said, “Every morning I wake up, I didn’t want to go to work. He’s like it with everybody. They gossip about him in the office and- and I gossip too. And one day I thought, no. No, I’m not going to do this anymore. And I stopped joining the gossip about him. And every job he gave me to do, I did it to the best of my ability. And when he did well, and I could do it sincerely, I praised him. Jack, you were great in court today. He had not heard that from his own father for goodness sake.” And week by week and month by month over a couple of years, his attitude to her began to change. In fact, she became just about the only friend he ever had in life. And Harry, I commend that to you.
Now, Harry, I love you dearly. You’re my grandson for goodness sake, but I’m telling you this. There’s one kind of difficult person that’s particularly difficult, and that’s your- your critic. We’ve all got critics in our lives, but they are split into two categories. And Harry, it is desperately important that you spot the difference. The first kind are on your side. They are for you. They’ll pull you back when you are going too fast, they’ll keep you from foolish pride. What they say may hurt, but you need them. The Bible says faithful are the wounds of a friend.
But Harry, I’m telling you, the second kind are not on your side. They do not criticize to build you up, but to bring you down. They will criticize every aspect of your life, and Harry, you will try to please them. But you will never please them. Write that down, Harry. You will never, ever please them. In fact, they don’t want to be pleased. Whereas the first kind of critic were like a bricklayer trying to build something beautiful. The second are like demolition experts. They come along with a big, steel ball to knock down what somebody else has built. Harry, in a quiet moment, put the coffee on. Think about what they’ve said. There’s a grain of truth in it. Perhaps you can learn something, but don’t spend your life looking over your shoulder wondering what they’re making of you. They will drive you crazy.
I remember the letter from a woman, 75 years old. She said, “I’ve spent 50 years, half a century, in the prison of other people’s opinions of my life.” Harry, your great grandmother was poor. We didn’t have an inside toilet. We didn’t have a bathroom. We didn’t have running hot water. We didn’t have toilet paper. But she was wise. And when I was about 13, she took me aside one day and she said, “Well, I know you have to mix with kids that have more money than us. But I want you to know this: you are as good as anybody. You’re not better than anybody. Treat all with respect. But you are as good as anybody. And I believe in you. There is nothing to prove. And while later in life you may discover that you are special to God. And if that ever happens, whoa, it changes everything.” Harry, what a thing to send a kid into a world with. I am expected. I am loved. There is nothing to prove. You know, Harry, when we believe that, we can more easily discover our own individual gifts. I think God’s given each of us special gifts and talents. And when we know who we are, we discover them more easily.
Wayne Gretzky’s maybe one of the greatest ice hockey players who ever lived. One day, somebody said to Gretzky, “Hey, Gretzky, how come you are so good?” He said, “I skate where the puck is going to be.” I skate where the puck is going to be. Somebody said to a sports psychologist, “Could we train that into young athletes?” She couldn’t stop laughing for a month. This is Gretzky’s innate gift.
Harry, your great grandmother didn’t go to church, but one day somebody knocked the door of our little house. Some little chapel on the corner of our street. It was Ms. Williams, the Sunday school teacher. And she said, “Would any boys or girls in this house like to come to Sunday school?” And my mother said, “He’d like to go.” And she took me by the hand and led me down the road and into the world of Sunday school. What a woman she was. She never did get married. She never had kids of her own. Ms. Williams had thousands of children.
Not very long ago, they asked me to speak at the 100th anniversary of that little chapel. And as I left, somebody pulled my coat and a voice said, “Do you remember me?” It was Ms. Williams. I thought she was a 110 when she came to get me when I was four. Only just stop myself saying, “You’re still alive.” (laughing)
Oh, the story she told us. The boy who brought his lunch to Jesus. The man who could walk on water. But we loved best of all David and Goliath because we all had a bully in school we’d like to see decapitated (laughing). But Harry, it wasn’t till I was about 50 years old that I discovered something about that story that changed my life. Basically, what happens is this. The young shepherd boy goes to the king and says, “Oh king, your soldiers are afraid of the giant, but- but I’ll have a crack at him.” And King Saul says, “Well, you can, but you have to wear my armor.” Now, David didn’t want to offend him. He’s the king of Israel for goodness sake. So, he climbs into this stuff. The minute he does, he knows he’s made a dreadful mistake. He can hardly move in this stuff.
Now, Harry, I don’t know what happened all over the next couple of minutes, but it must have been something like this. “Oh, King, I don’t want to offend you. You’re the king of Israel for goodness sake. But I can’t wear your armor because I’m not you. If you will set me free with this sling and a couple of stones, you will see things you can only dream of.” Harry, the world is full of people that want to make you wear their armor. Sometimes teachers will do it, uh, friends will do it. Sometimes husbands or wives will do it, employers will do it. They want you to be just like them. And you must respect them. You can look up to them. You can learn from them. But you can’t wear their armor. You have to be you. And sometimes you have to stop playing your karaoke machine in trying to be somebody else and say, “For good or ill, this is me.” And then, with every fiber in your body, give it all you’ve got.
Well, Harry, you are going to go now, I know. But and I- I’ve got to see your cousin, Lily in a moment. She’s got a big day tomorrow as you know. So- so, I’ll see you later.
John: Well, we’re listening to Rob Parsons today on Focus on the Family as he imparts wisdom to his grandchildren one after the other. And you can get a CD of this presentation for a donation of any amount to the ministry when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Or donate and request that CD at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Let’s go ahead and return now to Rob Parsons. He is on a stage that, uh, is set to look like the study in his home as he welcomes his next grandchild.
Rob: Oh, Lily, look at you. 25 years old. Come and give pops a kiss. Ah, darling, take a seat. Big day tomorrow. Your mother showed me the dress. You’re going to look lovely. And by the way, can I suggest you take a good look at your groom tomorrow in that church ’cause frankly, Lily, he’s going to look about as good tomorrow as he’s ever going to look in life (laughing). Oh, darling, I- you love him very much, don’t you? I- I know you do.
And darling, that’s why it’s hard for pops to talk to you about what I want to talk to you about, but- but you know, we got lots of talks in this old room, haven’t we? You sat in that chair when you were 16 and you failed your first big exam and you cried. And I made you cocoa. And- and you sat there a year later, when your first real boyfriend finished with you. And I told you there were plenty more fish in the sea. And you told me that when people get very old, they say the silliest things (laughing).
Darling, I don’t expect you to believe or understand what I’m about to say to you, but I want you to put it in the back pocket for tomorrow. I want to talk to you about the nature of love. You know, you know, for many years, pops worked with a big family charity, and I- I was often interviewed on radio and television. And people would say to me, “Mr. Parsons, what is the greatest threat to family life today?” I always gave the same answer. It is the very modern belief that love is just a feeling. And when the feeling goes, then we can walk away. Now, listen darling. I worked with that charity for almost 40 years. I saw enough pain in a week to last me a lifetime. I know it’s not always possible, even desirable, to keep every relationship together. I know that. But darling, I’m telling you this. Unless sometimes you can love when the feeling’s gone, at least for a while … Love not just with your heart, but with your will … You will never know love for a lifetime with anybody.
[inaudible] darling, you feel it quite impossible now. I’m telling you the time may come for you or perhaps for both of you when one day you will wake up and you won’t feel as in love as you do today. And everything will scream out like, “Go, it’s over.” Then, my darling, you will have to make a big decision. Whether because at the moment the feeling is gone, you can just walk away. Or whether you can somehow fight to try to keep that love again. I understand tomorrow in church, darling, that the preacher is going to read that lovely poem of love from 1 Corinthians 13. As he does, listen to him. You will hear nothing about feelings. This is a love that does things. Love keeps no record of wrongs. It is not proud. It is not arrogant. It is not self-seeking.
I go to write my books in a little cottage overlooking Carmarthen Bay in Swansea. And a couple of years ago, it’s an August day, and I’m walking on the beach. The sun is shining. It looks as though somebody has taken a million diamonds and scattered them across the surface of the sea. It’s just beautiful. And as I walked back up to my cottage, there’s an old fisherman there. And I say, “It’s idyllic, isn’t it?” I don’t know if he was always in a bad temper or just tired of tourist that day, but he barked back at me. “You should see it in winter.” And you know what, Lily? When I walked on that beach the next day, it was equally lovely. But I felt the sand and the sea and the hills whisper to me, “Would you love us in January?” Darling, January love comes to every relationship. This is not the summer of our love. This is winter. This is frost to see whether it is possible for that love to grow through the hard soil a-again.
You know, sometime ago a young couple came into my office. She’s cradling a little girl of- of six months old. I said, “Why are you leaving your wife and your- your little girl?” He said, “Cause I don’t feel in love anymore. When we got married, I was so in love, but I don’t feel like that now.” I said, “Did nobody tell you this, feelings of love go up and down? Did nobody tell you sometimes you have to love not just with the heart, but with the will? Did nobody ever tell you about January love?” And he looked at me and he said, “No. Nobody told me that.” And I look at this little girl. She’s six months old. And the first man in her life is about to walk out on her forever. And nobody told her that.
Nobody sums up this for me like Richard Selzer. Selzer was a surgeon and he wrote a book called Mortal Lessons in the Art of Surgery. I know what he wrote word for word in one of the chapters. He said, “I stand by a bed where a young woman lies. Her face post-operative. Her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. To remove a tumor in her cheek, I have cut a little nerve. I promise you with religious fervor, I have followed the curve of her flesh. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor I have cut her nerve. Her mouth is twisted. It will be thus from now on. I watch her and her husband dwell in the evening lamp light of the ward. I ask myself, who are this couple who touch each other so generously, so greedily? The young woman looks up and speaks, “Will my mouth always be like this?” I say, yes, it will. It is because the nerve was cut. She nods and is silent, but the young man smiles. He says, “I like it. It is kind of cute.” And he bends to kiss her crooked mouth and I saw close. I can see his altering the shape of his lips to prove that the kiss will still work. I remember that in ancient times the gods appeared as man. And I hold my breath and let the wonder end.”
Darling, that young man wasn’t a god, but he was saying something like this to himself. “You know, darling, when- when we got married, you looked like this. And I know you would love to look like that now, but- but I will love you.” And there will come a time in all our relationships, especially with a husband, with a wife, where there are times our partner becomes unattractive, physically, intellectually, emotionally. And we are called at least for a time to alter the shape of our lips to see if the kiss can still work.
You know, darling, one of the most famous books in the English language is Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Cephalonia, the Greek island, second World War. And- and a young- the young Pelagia is- is in love with a dashing army captain, a young Italian, uh, uh, Captain Corelli. But her old father, Pelagio, the doctor, wants to give her some advice about love. And I want to give it to you the day before your wedding. Now, look, darling. It’s a bit saucy near the end, but you’re, uh, a grown woman and I’m an old man, so we’ll get to it.
“When you fall in love, it is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake, and then, it subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots are become so entwined together it is inconceivable that you should ever part because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness. It is not excitement. It is not lying awake at night imagining he is kissing every part of your body. That is just being in love, which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over, when being in love has burned away.”
Darling, it will be a lovely day tomorrow. You know, I used to make lots of speeches. If you let me make a speech, I’ll do okay. I’ll lose my place and my glasses, but I’ll do okay for you. But I will cry. And now, give pops another kiss and- and I’ll see you tomorrow.
Here comes Freddy. Look at you, little scrum half. Freddy, I want to talk to you briefly about friendship. You know what? When I was in school, there was a boy my class called Roger Lewis. He was handsome. He was clever. He kept topping all the tests. And he was fast. He won all the races. It was as if heaven had found a big box of gifts and used them all up on- on- on Roger. All the talents on Roger. And one day, I said to my mother, “I’m going to ask Roger Lewis a question on Monday.” And she said, “What’s the question?” And I told her. And she said, “Well, practice it in front of the mirror.” And I did. 10 times. And as I’m going to school on Monday morning, I practice under my breath, and I go into the school, and then, I- I nearly lose my courage ’cause there is Roger Lewis with all his courtiers around him.
But I push my way through until I am face to face with him. And I ask the question I practiced all weekend. “Roger, Roger, would- would you like to be my best friend?” Roger Lewis started to laugh. You know, I- I had a little nickname in school, Freddy. And pretty soon that nickname was echoing all around the playground. “Parsnips, parsnips, parsnips. Who’d want Parsnips to be their best friend?” Later on in life, thankfully Freddy a couple of people did.
But you know, the funny thing about friendship, Freddy? When we’re young, we have lots of friends. But as we get older, we lose touch with friends. But friendship’s important. A study in Duke Medical Center said having two or three close friends. You don’t need a Christmas card list of a thousand. Two or three close friends will affect your emotional, your physical health, even your longevity.
But it’s hard to make close friends these days because there’s a key to friendship that’s very hard, and it’s vulnerability. We don’t like being vulnerable. You know, if you ever get married, you’ll have kids, people will start sending you their Christmas family newsletters. Don’t open those envelopes (laughing). They’re dangerous things. They’ll tell you they have to knock the garage down to make way for the trophy room. They’ll tell you all the kids’ exams. You- you just want someone to write you his kids failed something. Don’t open those letters. We’re all busy telling each other how great we’re doing. On social media, what have you.
But I’m telling you this, write this down. If you want acquaintances, tell them your successes. But if you want friends, tell them your fears. You can’t wear your heart in your sleeve with everybody, but you got to be prepared to be vulnerable. You might be in the student union, and another student will say, “I’m not coping with- with- with this course.” And you’ll say, “Well- well, I studied last year. I have to repeat a year.” You might be in the office and someone said, “You know what? I’m troubled with one of our teenagers.” “You know, a couple of years ago we had a bit of trouble with one of ours.” Somebody might say to you, “I’m a bit depressed.” “Well- well, I went through a bit of depression couple of years ago. I found that …” Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. When we are vulnerable, we are drawn to people and they are drawn to us.
You know, Freddy, four years ago, I got off a plane in Johannesburg. I turned my phone back on, there’s a text message, “Ring home urgently.” And I ring home and my good friend, Bob, had died. I didn’t even know Bob was ill. Bob was a builder and he understood the joke of that as well. Bob the builder (laughing). I remember hunkering down in baggage reclaim crying like a baby. For- for days, I rang his mobile phone. I wanted to hear Bob’s voice. Bob was my friend. Once a month, we four of us, played snooker together. That’s like pool, but on a much bigger table and much more difficult. Now, the biggest score you can get in snooker is 147. All the reds and all the colors in exactly the right order. And on a chalkboard we used to keep a note of the highest score we’d ever achieved in 10 years. 35.
When I got back from South Africa, I noticed Bob had sneaked back into the room for the last time and written, “Bob 146.” Even when cheating, he wasn’t able to claim a perfect score (laughing). We have decided we’ll never ever be erased.
Bob was my friend. Did we ever fall out? Yes, we did. Did we argue? Yes. Did we offend each other? Yes, we did. But like a grumpy old couple, we made up. And once in a while, we told each other that we matter to each other. Don’t be sniffy about emotion, Freddy. Don’t be afraid to tell your friends they matter to you. Make that phone call. Give that forgiveness if you possibly can. Send that email. Friends matter. Don’t lose them if you possibly can.
John: Rob Parsons on today’s episode of Focus on the Family speaking right from his heart. Uh, we’ve been sort of eavesdropping on conversations that he’s planning to have with his grandchildren when they become young adults.
Jim: That’s right, John. Uh, these are important lessons that Rob wanted to impart. And we thought they deserved a wider audience. Uh, you know, during difficult seasons of life, we need to remember the principles that Rob shared, such as there will always be unpleasant or awkward people in your life. Uh, be kind to them. That’s such a beautiful thing. Make a commitment to love your spouse, even when you don’t feel in love. And be sure to tell your friends that they really are important to you. And we’ll have more insight from Rob Parsons next time. And as Rob illustrated today, it’s critical to have someone you can talk to and learn from. That wise, often older person who’s already experienced what you are going through. And if you feel like you don’t have that kind of person in your life, uh, please feel free to call us here at Focus on the Family. We have a really compassionate group of men and women available to answer your call, listen to your concerns and pray with you. And perhaps suggest further resources that can help you. Uh, and if your situation warrants it, they can have one of our caring Christian counselors give you a call back. Here’s a good example. A note we received from Claudia. She said, “A few years ago, I was in an abusive marriage and had no one else to turn to, so I called Focus on the Family. I spoke to a member of your staff and she gave me the courage to get myself and my children to a safer environment. I just can’t express how grateful I am to the lord and to the kind workers at Focus on the Family. Thank you for being there for people like me.” And John, that is exactly why we are here.
John: It really is. And it sounds like Claudia was in a pretty dire situation, so I’m glad we had the resources here to help when she called.
Jim: Yeah, John, so am I. I hate to think of what could have happened in that abusive marriage if she hadn’t called us. Of course, that’s an extreme example, but I think it helps illustrate the fact that we really do want to help. And we’re equipped to do so. Uh, thanks to donors like you. Uh, you know, the past year has been very tough for families and we’ve tried to address many of those pain points through this daily broadcast. Uh, we want to be there for you and provide advice from experts that can help. So, please consider donating to help us continue this important work. And when you make a donation of any amount, we’ll send you a CD of this complete presentation from Rob Parsons. Uh, get a copy for a friend who has a teen or a young adult if you’re not in that spot today.
John: Yeah. Just give us a call. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Or you can donate and request your CD at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Next time, more wisdom from Rob Parsons.
Rob: Friend of mine is professor of psychology at Oxford University. Said a fascinating thing to me not long ago. He said, “Rob, most people believe a future event will make them happy. If I can win the lottery, if we could move house, if I can get an exam, if we could do this, if we could do … if I can get that promotion, I’d be really happy.” He said, “Rob, most happy people grasp it now because now is all we’ve got.”
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