Sound counsel can be packed into only a few words. When I was in my teens, I heard a small-town police officer say something that has stayed with me. Several of my friends and I were in possession of some beer in a car when the officer pulled us over. He didn't arrest or ticket us. He made us pour the beer on the ground. "What you are today," he told us, "is what you will be 20 years from now."
That officer's saying stuck with me because I didn't want at age 36 to be as reckless and irresponsible as I was at age 16. The 13 words uttered by that policeman made an impact on me. Their effect wasn't immediate, but they tempered my actions from then on.
I began to think seriously about what I wanted to do and realized I wanted to achieve more than my parents had. I loved my father and mother, and they were fine people, but they were limited by their background and education. I wanted a career that I enjoyed, not one that just earned me a living. My father had a job, but my mother had to work to help pay their way. That wasn't how I wanted to live.
Some kids act responsibly
Do young people want only to have fun and bear no responsibility? Actually, what may be surprising to some is that many of them show a surprising capacity for responsible decision-making.
But they need guidance and training in making right decisions. Parents should start when their children are young to teach and direct them to see all sides of a question, then let them know that as they mature some decisions will fall to them, although others will still require input from adults.
How many parents live in the house they want in the city they want or even in the country they want? How many
have the job they want? How many take the vacation they want when they want?
If you are a young person, go to your parents and seriously ask them those questions. You may be surprised at the answers.
For many, the necessities of life dictate location and career. Often it is too late in life to make discretionary changes in job or residence. Less-than-ideal decisions early in life will affect their lives forever.
But, with the passing of time, people tend to grow wiser. A parent who says no to his child may be attempting, perhaps unwisely, to spare the child from making mistakes that would adversely affect his life. It is easier just to say no than to say no and then explain the reasons for denying permission.
If you are a parent, perhaps you should ask questions of your children and keep an open mind about the answers. The teenage years are a difficult time, when life is exciting and so much looks so desirable. Your children can't help wanting to be a part of it. Their friends appear to be having so much fun.
Wait a minute. Is that true? What other young people are they looking to as examples of kids having fun? Let's take a look, not just at a young person's acquaintances, but at young people as a whole.
What have been the fruits of the culture of the 20th century on a worldwide scale? Generally speaking, are most young people having fun? In fact, are any of them having any fun at all?
Struggling just to live
Look at Afghanistan, the Middle East, Central America, Ethiopia, Iran, China, the inner cities of nations around the world. People in these places strive for their version of happiness. But you can hardly call their striving fun.
Street urchins struggle just to live. They don't want to die, but they do. They die by the thousands for what they want in life, or they die for no good reason at all.
Children in some countries are slaughtered because they were born into the wrong ethnic background. Others simply get in somebody else's way. Some are abused just because they were unlucky enough to exist. Others struggle to find food to survive on. These youngsters are not having much fun.
If we reflect honestly, most of us reading this have much more than the basic necessities of life. We expect a better life than most of the world can ever live.
What we want, young and old alike, are the good times we see portrayed on television or in the movies or that we read about in magazines-parties, music, dancing, the kicks in life. Unfortunately, and we don't like to think about this, the kicks in life too often turn around and kick us in the teeth. They exact a penalty that may cripple us in some way for the rest of our lives. Parents sense that this can happen; that's another reason they frequently say no.
Each year hundreds of thousands of unmarried women and girls give birth to unwanted babies. They shed millions of tears just because they and the babies' fathers wanted to have a little fun. The fun was short-lived, but the pain endures. More than one fourth of American families are now headed by a single female parent. Most of those families live in poverty.
Living in poverty while raising an illegitimate child is not much fun. If you had planned your life, that wouldn't be what you wanted for your children.
Not much fun
Statisticians say that every day 5,000 people try cocaine for the first time. In most of the world's large cities, 50 to 90 percent of crime is drug-related. In the United States, 60 percent of crime is committed by people under 22 years old. Many criminals come from fatherless families and economically distressed areas.
Not much lasting happiness, not much fun, is to be found among these people. Their unhappiness is the tragic result of wrong decisions.
The teen years-such a vital time of life-pass so quickly. During those seven years of adolescence, you make decisions, or you choose not to make decisions. Either way, your decisions or the lack of them will bring results that will last a lifetime.
Chances are that you as a young person do not want to make many of life's important decisions during your adolescent years. You may even realize that you are not ready to make such decisions. But, like it or not, the teen years are the scary time of small decisions that burgeon into big consequences as you grow into adulthood. You must learn to control your future life by the decisions you make, not the ones you don't make.
All this is not as complicated as it sounds. Thousands of years ago the Eternal God gave instructions on how to live. Those teachings are listed in Exodus 20 and referred to in Deuteronomy 30:11: "For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off."
You can direct your life. Wise decisions-sound judgment-start with small matters. As you mature and prove your ability to make good decisions, you can make bigger and more important decisions. Each one provides a basis for the next one. Learn to look at the big picture, to think long range-not just what will make you happy for the next hour. Ask yourself what will make you happy 20 years from now.
Decisions made now affect the remainder of your life
Consider this question for a moment: Why are your parents the way they are? Why do your father and mother have the jobs they have? Perhaps your father grows a beautiful vegetable garden and loves to work in the yard. So why isn't he a farmer? Maybe he wishes he were.
Recognize that your father may have the job he has because he decided at one time that school wasn't fun. His peers-his friends and classmates, the crowd he hung out with-influenced him, just as do your friends. His peers may have left school to earn money for that all-important car so they could have fun. Now he doesn't have the skills he needs to hold the job of his dreams. Now maybe it is too late for your father to make a change.
Maybe your mother decided to drop out of school or not attend college because she wanted to get married. Homemaking is certainly a worthy career, but if she planned to stay at home she may have neglected skills that would help her if she ever had to work outside the home. Now millions of mothers are in the tragic situation of trying to support young children-and teenagers-without a husband and with few marketable job skills.
As any of them will tell you, that's no fun. That's life, and it isn't easy. Life is a lot of work. However, life can include fun if you make the right decisions.
Recently the Education Reform Act became law in England and Wales because as many as 80 percent of students in Britain were failing in school.
The Dallas (Texas) Morning News recently ran an article that stated that eight out of 10 American high-school students could not pass an algebra test. A frightening number of young people are finishing their secondary education as near illiterates. What does the future hold for them and their future families?
The man who is said to have been the wisest person who ever lived, King Solomon, didn't want his son to make the mistakes he had made. Even wise people make mistakes. Solomon tried to pass on to his son-and any of us who read his writings-some important rules to live by.
Imagine for a minute a fatherly man with sadness in his eyes and a voice with just a touch of weariness. He regrets his foolish mistakes, which he is wise enough to recognize. He desperately wants to see his children spared unnecessary heartache. "My son," he says, "do not forget my law, but let your heart keep my commands; for length of days and long life and peace they will add to you" (Proverbs 3:1-2).
How does this work? Does something mystical occur when a son hears his father's advice? Does just keeping correct principles in mind somehow, almost magically, add days to your life?
No, obviously not. Natural benefits come from following sound principles. For example, some people do not smoke because they realize the health problems that can come from lighting up a cigarette. They quit smoking or never even started because that is the sensible, logical, practical thing to do to lessen the threat of heart and lung diseases later in life. Others have learned they cannot properly control the use of alcohol. Therefore, to avoid problems, they don't drink. Still others go through life carefully watching their diet to avoid the health and social problems that come with obesity.
Each of these-the nonsmoker, the teetotaler and the sensible eater-gives up momentary gratification for the hope of years of health and comfort. Such people should be admired and supported for taking control of and improving their lives.
"He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver; nor he who loves abundance, with increase. This also is vanity. When goods increase, they increase who eat them; so what profit have the owners except to see them with their eyes? The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eats little or much; but the abundance of the rich will not permit him to sleep" (Ecclesiastes 5:10-12).
Can you grasp the truth of that statement? Maybe you can't imagine amassing too much silver or gold. But the sad truth is that people with fabulous fortunes don't automatically feel successful or enjoy peace of mind.
Don't hate instruction
The wrong way of life is personified in Proverbs 5 as an immoral woman. Her way of living looks good. It looks like fun. It appears sweet and desirable. But it leads to agony. The description ends: "And you mourn at last, when your flesh and your body are consumed, and say: How I have hated instruction, and my heart despised correction! I have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined my ear to those who instructed me!"
Does that sound familiar? Many of those afflicted with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) as a result of sexual sins are living out the description in Proverbs 5. God hasn't personally afflicted each one of them, but a loose, immoral way of life is usually the cause. (Tragically, others who are innocent of such wrongdoing also suffer from the explosion of STDs.)
The person described in Proverbs 5 did what he wanted as part of a way of living that extracted a terrible price. He looked back and wished he had paid attention to instruction that could have saved him agony.
You can't change some things, and one thing you surely cannot change is the temporal nature of human life. It lasts only a short time. Recognize that it is short, but make it as truly sweet as possible, realizing that there is something far more important beyond it that will last forever.
The apostle John said, "For all that is in the world-the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life-is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:16-17).
John was emphasizing that the vigor, health, energy and zest for life of a young man or woman decrease with time. Human life, its activities and fun will cease. The way of mankind disappears and is no more. But a life patterned after God's way produces lasting happiness. It is liberally sprinkled with fun.
The key, then, is to take charge of your life now, whatever your age. Begin making decisions that will allow you to spend the rest of your life happy. You can't change much of what you are physically. But you can be in charge of what you become. Be sure that what you want isn't just for the moment. Enjoy yourself and be happy for all the right reasons.
If you do this, you will not just live happily until you die. You will be happy with the Eternal God forever. GN