/> a mother's heart » Blog Archive » So Who ARE You? Thoughts on a Christian “Bar Mitzvah”

Yesterday we had a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the life of a 13 year old and welcome him to adulthood. His parents have studied Hebrew traditions and decided that they would use the 13th birthday to welcome their son (and I’m sure their other children when they achieve this status) to manhood. It’s a cool idea, and one that Mark & I have intended to use for Brendan, although we have a good 10 years to plan it at this point. 😉

The concept comes from a time when there were no “teenage” years, “angst” wasn’t something that was expected, and “rebellion” wasn’t as common as it is now. The Nuer tribe uses the 13th birthday to welcome a boy to manhood by cutting grooves in the boy’s forehead. If the boy does well and doesn’t flinch at the pain, his scars will indicate that he entered manhood well and that he is now a full-adult member of the tribe. Young men were just that–young *men* and although they were young, they weren’t treated like children or those caught in-between childhood and adulthood. They were simply seen as men.

Which brings me to today’s culture and the teenaged angst, rebellion, and expectation of foolishness during the teenaged years. My thought is that if we simply conferred adulthood on young people at the ripe old age of 13 and began to teach them how to be adults and treated them as such, we might avoid some of the “stuff” that has come to symbolize the teen years in America. Of course, this idea isn’t popular with marketers or retailers–they’ve come to profit from the very things that parents would like to avoid.

So back to our friends’ son’s “bar mitzvah.” His parents asked significant men in his life to speak to him and talk to him about being a man. It was quite moving to hear these different guys in different stages of life speak about becoming a man. One guy in particular really stuck in my mind, and as Mark and I discussed it, there was a lot of meat in what this gentleman shared.

He began by asking the birthday boy, “Who ARE you?” And of course, the expected answer was his name. But that’s not what this gentleman was asking. And so asking it again and again, he began to expound on the idea that yes, this boy was entering manhood. But more than that, as he had expressed faith in Jesus, he was a child of the living God. This position (more than manhood) brings about certain rights, privileges, and expectations–a quiet (not cocky) confidence, a peace, an assurance, etc., that will help him be the man that God desires him to be. They will also shape who he becomes as he continues to grow and learn about being a man.

It was quite stirring and made me realize that while Brendan is young, we have the opportunity to raise him to understand some of this. It will become more apparent when we confer upon him the position of manhood at age 13, and we make it a rite of passage for him. I have some things that I’m saving already for that time–books, movies, other things that have made an impression on us.

Now I’m quite certain that conferring adulthood upon a 13 year old (male or female) will not eliminate all bad choices and all emotional upheaval that comes with raging hormones, etc. Some of that simply can’t be avoided. But what I am confident of is that our kids, understanding they *are* adults at that point and that we expect them to learn how to be adults and act like adults while they’re learning, will be assured of who they ARE and will walk in to full adulthood with a greater concept of being a man (or woman) of God..

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/5963182 SuperMom

    Hey! I’m famous! :)

    To us, making a big deal about becoming a young adult, is hopefully going to give all of us a better focus through these teen years. These are not years to be wasted in mindless pursuit of selfishness supported by parental expectation of such. These are years for us as parents to remember that these next 5-7 years are the final years we have to prepare our child for adulthood. Dave and I came into adulthood very underprepared and I think it really leaves a young person at great risk and difficulty. I want to give my kids a better start than I had.

    For our son, we hope he will be teachable, and that he will not forget that he has some valuable years between here and…there…. when he has a lot to offer God and God’s people, and hurting people, his community, as so forth. I love the verse in 1 Timothy that talks about not letting anyone despise you for being young, and to be an example to all believers because of your conduct. I want that for my kids. Not to look back on their teen years as a waste and with regrets for foolish behavior and lost opportunities. I know they will not be perfect and neither are we, and mistakes are inevitable. But there is SO MUCH young people have to offer, so much God can do with and through and for them. I want my kids to have a felt purpose in their youth. Especially for a son, before he takes on the responsibilities of work, wife, and family, I want him to throw himself into God’s work and to enjoy the freedom of singleness in God’s kingdom.

    We also wanted to take the opportunity of a 13th bday to open up our life to the other people in our life, to sow seeds of growing influential relationships in our child’s life with people we trust and admire.

    Lots of stuff…

    I don’t care two bits about being pseudo-Jewish, but I think that taking opportunities along the way in life to publicly solidify the values we are trying to instill is a powerful thing. I LOVED the party, LOVED what the men shared. I look forward to 5 more of those!

    The book Raising a Modern-Day Knight has a lot of good ideas in it along these lines. We had most of our plan in place before reading it, but it was a good resource for ideas and support.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/5963182 SuperMom

    can’t find your email addy!

    Will you send me your stir-fry crack recipe? :)
    ~Erica