As I mentioned in last week’s post, we all go through life transitions. Some of us go through numerous transitions. Birth, moving into the teenage years, turning eighteen and being considered an “adult,” being old enough to drive, graduating from high school, turning 21 and, once again, and being considered an “adult” with new privileges, like drinking.
Then there might be that first “real” job, college graduation, marriage, kids, etc.
What my husband and I found is that in Western Civilization, there are few real, significant “rights of passages” that remain. They’ve all been carved out of our “enlightened” society or done away with for some unknown reason, or considered to belong to a different class of society.
What sociologists and communication specialists have discovered though is that these rights of passages are critical to a person’s growth and individual development. They’re also critical to society’s development and identity and inclusiveness.
It was no less so in the Bible. And my husband Chris and I thought it was important to reinstate some of them in our family. Even if the world around us thought we’d gone somewhat batty.
About fourteen years ago, the Lord started laying on my heart the idea of having a right of passage ceremony for our oldest son, Parker, when he turned thirteen, much like a Bar Mitzvah that Jewish boys go through at that age. After speaking to Chris, we became convinced (and determined) that we should do something like that for our boys. Only I didn’t know how to begin the process and thought we’d be creating something new, from scratch. That’s when the Lord led me to a man named Craig Hill, who, with his wife Jan were in leadership to Family Foundations International. He focused on studying and returning to God’s ancient paths noted in the Bible, and one such path was having a right of passage ceremony. He’d even published a book called: Bar Barakah: A Parent’s Guide to a Christian Bar Mitzvah. In Christian circles, the ceremony would be translated as “Son of the Blessing” rather than “Son of the Law.” We bought the book and delved in.
To make a very long story (one that could make up a blog on its own) short, Parker went through two years of spiritual preparation in a variety of areas, like a Jewish boy preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. It was a formal way—complete with a formal church ceremony and large reception—for him to feel, and be invited and accepted into full membership into the male religious community. It didn’t necessarily mean that he would be considered a “man” in the true sense of the word, but that he had entered that world and exited the more feminine, protected world of his mother. It was to help him establish his male identity. Cory prepared for and enjoyed a Bar Barakah of his own for his thirteenth birthday.
The events had profound affects on both boys. It was a milestone for Parker who proclaimed that he knew without a doubt that he was important, and loved, and knew that his life had meaning and purpose. I think the significance and memory of it buoyed him up through the toughest parts of adolescence. The memory of uttered vows still guides his actions today.
But a study of Scripture also led us to the belief that God had a different age of true adulthood and “accountability” in mind. While our society considers 18 to be the magical age of adulthood, whereby a male can be inducted into the army and learn how to engage in formal warfare, and vote for a nation’s leaders, and 21 to be the real age when adulthood suddenly “happens” and you can drink legally to your heart’s content, 20 seems to be the age when God looks upon a person and says, “Your brain has developed enough where you can be considered accountable for all of your best and worst decisions, without being able to hide behind your parent’s apron strings.” (Something to that effect, anyway.)
Twenty was the age in Israel (in the Old Testament) when Israel’s young men could, and would serve in Israel’s army. It was also generally considered a number of completion, as well as the age where a man of the Tribe of Levi (a Levite) would be considered old enough to enter into temple service. (Although the age of 30 is usually the more important age for service there.)
Significantly, it was the cutoff age the Lord uses when Israel refused to enter the Promised Land out of fear, even though the Lord had told them to enter and conquer it, with His guidance and help. Because of their subsequent distrust and rebellion, the Lord said that those 20 years old and above would not be allowed to enter the Land; that they and their children would have to wander around the wilderness for 40 years, and die out there, instead of entering in. Their children would have to suffer with the wandering around, too, but the children would eventually be able to enter the Land and receive the blessings their parents were denied. They just had to wait 40 years to receive the blessing. The oldest ones who entered would have been 59. Not the greatest or ripest age at which to be to receive that kind of blessing. But all of the complainers and naysayers would be gone. (Just goes to show you how your parent’s bad behavior can negatively affect you. And how your ill-spoken words can get you, and your family, into a mess of long-lasting trouble and heartache.)
The passage in Numbers 14:26-35 reads:
“And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who complain against Me? I have heard the complaints which the children of Israel make against Me. Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the LORD, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will do to you: the carcasses of you who have complained against Me shall fall in this wilderness, all of you who were numbered, according to your entire number, from twenty years old and above. Except for Caleb the son Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, you shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in. but your little ones, whom you said would be victims, I will bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised. But as for you, your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness. And your sons shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years, and bear the brunt of your infidelity, until your carcasses are consumed in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years, and you shall know My rejection. I the LORD have spoken this. I will surely do so to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die.’”
Pretty rough to read, isn’t it? To be punished for unbelief, complaining, distrust and rebellion. Only Caleb and Joshua—who would go on to succeed Moses as leader over Israel—were spared, because they were the only two of the twelve spies who trust God and begged the children of Israel to trust Him and enter in and gain the victory He had promised them. They were older than 20 and received the blessing. Each one became accountable for his actions.
And so it was that Chris and I recognized Parker on his 20th, and then Cory on his 20th at the end of last month. Chris and I (Parker is studying at a college out of state and could not be there) treated Cory to an elaborate dinner at a five star restaurant overlooking the city and gave him a special commemorative gift (the kind he’d hang on to forever and pass down to his children) as well as a couple of items focused on his interests and life goals at this stage of his life. Letters and special notes were written to him, signifying his maturity and growth and responsibility before the Lord; his increase before Him and our decrease.
Our boys know that they now stand vulnerable and responsible before the Lord; and they take that responsibility very seriously. They know we’ll have their backs if they need us, but we are to continue our decrease, while they increase; and we are to reduce our freewheeling wisdom and advice giving in order to let them stand more securely in wisdom and discernment. And what’s funny is that they tend to come to us more often for advice now, I think because they feel more like peers and less like children before us, more respected and honored. We Lord our distinguished adulthood over them less often and become more vulnerable before them ourselves. We are an intensely close family on all levels. And even though Parker is thousands of miles away, he still meets with Chris and Cory weekly, via modern technology for “breakfast” and Bible study and good old fashion guy time. It’s a tradition that’s been going on since 2008, and the three of them wouldn’t give it up for the world. It binds them together as family, and as men.
And that’s what all of that ritual and right of passage stuff was about and meant to instill. We no longer hand our kids a spear and send them off into the jungle alone to kill their dinner and survive the return, but we need to do something besides hand them a high school diploma, “tell” them they’re now “adults” and boot them out the door.
It won’t be the last right of passage for our family. Parker’s engaged and will soon enter into another right of passage when he becomes one with his chosen beloved. And then we’ll probably recognize him at thirty, when a man’s really supposed to hit his peak. And we’ll do the same for Cory.
If you’ve been with me for my entire story, you can imagine the joy, pride and deep feelings of gratefulness I experienced on Cory’s 20th birthday, when my memory snapped back 20+ years to my tenuous pregnancy with him and his miraculous birth and survival. To see what God has done with him through these years and how He has worked in him to produce the man he has become. It was a sweet moment I tried to absorb like a sponge. I just sat at the table and stared at him, absorbed in his strength, his humility, his energy, his enthusiasm for life, and his joy. I pondered it all in my heart. And I was well-pleased.
Amazing things occur when you’re obedient to God’s call, even when it goes against the world’s wisdom, they’re laughing at you, and you feel like a salmon swimming upstream.
My cup of blessing was overflowing.
And it was, and is, good.
NEXT WEEK: I’ll be on hiatus for the next two weeks—to ponder life and enjoy some needed respite time with my family. Then I’ll start that new series on grief on April 6.
So, until then,
Thanks for joining me!