Your Boy’s Spiritual Formation
About the Guest
Mom and author Monica Swanson talks about the importance of spiritually discipling sons. Swanson encourages parents to be purposeful about incorporating God's Word into their children's daily lives. She and her husband have done this by teaching their boys to search for answers in the Bible and modeling an active faith for them at church and at home.
Monica Swanson talks about the importance of spiritually discipling sons. She encourages parents to be purposeful about incorporating God’s Word into their children’s daily lives.
Your Boy’s Spiritual Formation
Bob: As a parent, you undoubtedly recognize that the virtues and values being promoted in our culture are often at odds with the virtues and values being promoted in Scripture. As a mom raising sons, that’s something Monica Swanson has been very cognizant of.
Monica: One of my key verses I always had on my mind is Ephesians 5:15; because, really, the theme is intentionality—being intentional about the things you’re talking about. It says, “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise but as wise, because the days are evil.”
I think the important thing there is to just realize that we are raising kids in an environment that is not for God. Whether they’re in school; or in sports; or in my case, down at the beach, there’s not going to be a whole lot of people cheering them on in their faith. We must be very careful, then, how we parent. Looking for those opportunities takes intentionality, and that’s the only way we’re going to do it.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, August 21st. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. How can we train our sons not to love the world or the things in the world, as the Bible tells us? We’ll talk more about that today with Monica Swanson. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, there’s a lot of conversation in the culture today about what has been labeled “toxic masculinity.” I think what’s happened is—a lot of people have assumed that “toxic” is the automatic modifier for the word, “masculinity”; that if someone is masculine, then it must be toxic. Part of what we have to understand is that, by God’s design, masculinity is not inherently toxic. As we raise our sons, we want to affirm the masculinity without affirming any of the toxic, sinful expressions of that masculinity.
Ann: I think Jesus’ example—of what a real man is—is pretty beautiful, because He was the ultimate servant leader. When those two are combined, I don’t know how people can call that toxic if a man is loving, and leading, and serving the people that he’s around and the people he loves.
Dave: I think it’s true for both men and women. When we’re living out our God-given design as a man—and that doesn’t mean overly-aggressive—it does mean there’s some aggression that’s controlled in a beautiful, tempered way. Same for a woman; it’s a beautiful thing. I think people respond to a man being a man and a woman being a woman. Yet, as we talk about today, it has a lot to do with developing boys into men. How do you do that?
Bob: As parents, we want to be careful that we’re not imposing some kind of cultural gender bias with our kids; but we also want to acknowledge the reality of gender difference and that boys are different than girls. Rather than to try to erase that difference, let’s figure out how to embrace that difference and how to affirm it.
We have Monica Swanson joining us this week. She is the author of a book called Boy Mom: What Your Son Needs Most from You. Monica, welcome back.
Monica: Thank you.
Bob: Monica and her husband, Dr. Dave, live on the north shore of Oahu and have lived there for the last 18 years. He’s a hospitalist; right?
Monica: Yes; yes.
Bob: You have four sons, so you’ve been hard at work raising boys. One of the areas—as we’ve talked about the challenges of a mom raising boys—one of the areas we haven’t spent a lot of time with is helping disciple boys and spiritual formation of boys.
Did you find that there was challenge in this area as you were raising the boys?— that there was resistance on their part to spiritual things, and to reading the Bible, and to going to church, and all of that?
Monica: Yes; well, I appreciate that you mention my husband in the opening here; because really, I do like to always give credit where credit is due. My husband’s been an amazing father and sets just a good and godly example to my boys. I write this book, Boy Mom, for moms out there. I realize there are a lot of single moms and a lot of moms, whose husbands maybe aren’t doing their job so well in that area; but I like to just acknowledge that my husband’s been an awesome father and really invests time into my sons’ spiritual life and all areas of their life.
I do think that a mom can do a lot, whether or not her husband’s involved. I think a mom is such an important figure in shaping and forming her sons. Whether you have a man by your side or not, I think you can do a lot. Finding good male role models is a big key; so if your husband’s not involved or a father’s not in the picture, I say, “Get out there and find some men, who are doing it well; and try to get them involved wherever you can.”
As for my boys, we—my husband and I—just love the Lord and have been so blessed to walk with Him many years. When my boys were little, it was a very natural part of raising them—is just teaching them, from the time they were little, the most basic Scriptures—you know, my husband with my sons—John 3:16 in bed at night, having them repeat after him, “For God so loved the world…” Some of their first memories were laying in bed with Dad, reciting Scripture verses before bed.
As they grew up, they had questions, certainly. They’d have questions; they’d have doubts; they’d have fears. They’d start to think about things like death and “What does that look like?” and “How do I know that I can trust the Bible is real?” When it comes to questions, the way we’ve handled it is—first of all, taking them to the Bible. We read them what God has to say about it; and then, as they get older, my husband really believes in teaching them to search for themselves and kind of wrestle with some of those things/wrestle with their doubts.
As he says: “You know, if it’s truth, it’s going to stand every test; so ask some hard questions. Yes; ask Mom and Dad”; but he’s also started directing them to go to their youth leaders/people we trust outside of us, because I think kids need to know it’s just not Mom and Dad. They have some good role models in their life that they can turn to, and meet with, and dig into God’s Word, and ask the hard questions.
Bob: I think modeling is probably the biggest thing we do, as parents. If your choice is between teaching and modeling, don’t teach and not model; because that just undermines everything you’re teaching—that just says, “Hypocrisy on display here.” If you could only do one, pick modeling; but the point is: “You can do both.”
I would say, in our house, most of my spiritual training of our kids was—it was more modeling than teaching. Mary Ann did more of the teaching of our kids, spiritually. She had more time; she was with them more than I was. This is something moms can do and can be intentional and purposeful; they just have to make it a priority.
Monica: That’s right. Incorporating into our days wherever we can—not just church on Sundays; not just devotions for families that do that. Deuteronomy’s Chapter 6 talks about: “Talk about it as you walk along the street, when you get up, when you lie down,” just trying to look for ways to incorporate your faith into your whole day. The best way to do that is to have the Lord on your mind all day long. If you’re getting up, reading your Bible/if you’re spending time with the Lord, it’s going to be a natural overflow into the things you’re talking about.
I find just really practical ways to talk about what God’s doing in my life, and what I see around me can just be a very natural part of the day.
Dave: I would add, you know—as I watched Ann, and hearing you, Monica, talk about a mom’s role in the spiritual development of your boys—and daughters, but specifically boys—you know, I even preached on it, celebrating Ann at mealtime, at drive-time, at bedtime; all these moments where I saw her seize moments to bring Jesus into the picture.
But I also want to say to the men listening: “Don’t abdicate that to your wife.” I mean, it’s real easy, as a husband and a dad, to watch a woman, sometimes better than us, teaching our kids and just become a bystander/become passive. It’s like, “No; we have to step in there and be a partner.” It is the modeling—they’re going to look at Dad—especially young boys—to say: “Okay; Mom tells me all this stuff. Is it real? Is Dad living this? Does Dad believe this?” They need to hear that from us as well. We need to be active, teaching and living this out beside mom.
Ann: That really doesn’t happen unless we’re saturated with Jesus ourselves and it begins to pour out. It can be the driest time for moms and dads; because you’re so busy with raising your kids, it’s hard to get time in. It’s not like you have an hour just to relax and spend in God’s Word today. But that is when Deuteronomy 6 comes into play—that we talk about Him when we walk along the way, when we’re having breakfast, when we’re having dinner, when we’re going to bed. That became a theme for us, but it didn’t happen unless it was first in me.
Ann: I think that’s key for moms—to figure out how you can do that. I used to have my Bible in the car and at the table; so that I was telling stories, even to our boys, about, “I talked to this woman about Jesus today.”
Ann: So they’d see me doing it, like, “Oh, so this is for real.”
Monica: I totally agree. One of my key verses I always had on my mind, in writing the book and in all things parenting, is Ephesians 5:15; because really the theme is intentionality—being intentional about the things you’re talking about. It says, “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise but as wise, because the days are evil.”
I think the important thing there is to just realize that we are raising kids in an environment that is not for God. Whether they’re in school; or in sports; or in my case, down at the beach, there’s not going to be a whole lot of people cheering them on in their faith; so we must be very careful, then, how we parent. Looking for those opportunities takes intentionality, and that’s the only way we’re going to do it.
Bob: I clearly think Deuteronomy 6 gives us the paradigm for how we’re to do this, as parents; but I’m a little concerned that parents will read this and go: “Okay; so I just do this kind of on-the-fly, when the Spirit moves me. I don’t have to be purposeful and intentional; I just look for opportunities.”
I’m concerned that we have kids, growing up, who can’t recite the Lord’s Prayer. Now, there’s nothing magical about the Lord’s Prayer; but when I was growing up, I memorized the Lord’s Prayer, and I memorized some Scripture. In fact, with our kids, I decided, when they were little, that they needed to know the Apostles’ Creed. Now, the Apostles’ Creed’s not Scripture—
Dave: Wow; you’re going deep! [Laughter]
Bob: In our church—see, we don’t recite the Apostles’ Creed in our church; right?
Dave: Yes; yes.
Bob: So I thought, “My kids need to know the Apostles’ Creed!”
Dave: It’s full of truth and doctrine.
Bob: It is full of truth, and it’ll serve them for a long time. When my son, James, was—I forget how old he was at this point; he was maybe six years old—I said, “I’ll pay you five bucks if you memorize the Apostles’ Creed.”
Ann: Bribing is always good when it comes to spiritual. [Laughter]
Bob: And I want to show you—I wish I could show you the video—but I’ll play for you the audio of when he earned his $5.
Monica: I can’t wait.
Bob: You ready for this? Here we go; go ahead.
Dave: Here it is.
Bob: Here on May 11, 1995, to say the Apostles’ Creed.
James: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. Ascended into hell—”
James: “—descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”
Ann: How old was he, Bob?
Bob: That was May of ’95; he was born in June of ’88, so he was almost seven years old when he did that. He doesn’t know what half of those words mean; right? [Laughter]
Monica: “…sitteth”—that’s good.
Bob: Yes! We used the old original. [Laughter]
Monica: I love it!
Bob: But, you know what? That foundation in him/that intentionality—those little assignments, along the way that we do, as parents, in the spiritual development and formation of our kids—he can still do the Apostles’ Creed today, even though he probably hasn’t said it—you know, he doesn’t say it regularly; but it’s buried in there. Such a fertile field in the lives of young children that we can be building spiritual truth in.
Ann: We don’t set the bar high enough.
Ann: Our kids are capable of memorizing every song or video game—what to do in the next step—why wouldn’t we take our time and be intentional about pouring into some real truth?
Dave: You know, it’s funny—I get to watch it [video of James], and he’s moving around like a little—
Bob: Oh, he’s acting it out.
Bob: He’s being a little comic/a little cut-up. At one point, I’m going, “Don’t be silly with, ‘He was crucified, dead, and buried.’” [Laughter]
Ann: I saw that.
Dave: He went down to the floor, you know, “dead and buried.”
But I have thought this: “There were times when we were trying to teach our little boys spiritual truths in the family room, and they’d be up running and crawling. Sometimes, as a parent, you give up.
Dave: “You’re like, ‘Oh, they’re not listening.’” It’s like: “No, no, no! Don’t give up! Keep going! They’re boys; they’re going to move around; they need to be moving. You can still teach. Maybe use the movement as a way to teach.” I’m guessing you did that and are still doing that.
Monica: We sure do, and we sure have. There are times that, yes, we have to basically strap down our youngest; because everyone else is into a good discussion, and the youngest is set on being a comedian; so he’ll stand up in the middle of it, but they’re getting something out of it.
Bob: Here’s the thing about the intentional moments/about the spontaneous moments—we look at it and think, “Did what I want to accomplish in that moment—was it successful?” I think what we lose sight of is the message we’ve just sent: “Thinking about God is important,” “Looking to the Bible for answers is important,” “Spending time with God is important.”
Whatever else got missed in the specifics of that, the discipline of that sends the bigger message to our children: “Oh, Mom and Dad think this is really important. This is not just something that we show up on Sunday and then we forget about it the rest of the week.” We’re modeling for them what’s important to us. Again, even if the specifics don’t come across, the general principle: “God and His Word are driving the agenda for the day,”—that’s what’s important.
Monica: Just recently, I heard somebody ask my son/my oldest son about his spiritual formation. Of course, I was thrilled to hear when he said: “More than anything else, it was seeing what my parents did and seeing where they found truth. When they had a question, they opened their Bible. They didn’t look to culture; they went straight to the Word of God.” You do wonder, when you’re in the middle of it, what they’re picking up. When you can hear them say that’s what they picked up, more than anything else, then something good is happening.
One thing I talk about with friends, all the time, is just the Book of Proverbs and how that’s been so helpful in raising boys. We all need wisdom. A boy’s life—I think the Book of Proverbs in the Bible is just so full of truths that are so practical and so applicable to everything going on today. It’s just a handy book to turn to every day of the month, since there are 31 chapters. Something we ask our boys to do as part of their devotions: “Do whatever you want/read whatever you want,”—some of them are going through studies with their youth group—but I say, “Just read a chapter of Proverbs.”
Then my husband and I try to keep up on it as well; so around the dinner table or when things come up, we can say, “Oh, did you notice how the Proverbs we read today…” It kind of keeps them accountable. There are so many simple, profound truths in Proverbs that I think it’s one of the best books for shaping a boy’s heart.
Bob: With the Proverbs assignment that a lot of families will do—here’s what frustrated me—Proverbs jumps from subject to subject to subject—it’s kind of like, “What’s the big idea?”
Bob: So say to the kids, “Read the chapter, and look for the one—
Monica: —one; that’s right.
Bob: —“what’s the one verse for you today that you want to highlight?—or that you want to think about?—that you want to meditate on today? At dinner tonight, we’ll each come up with what was our proverb of the day.” Maybe, you don’t do that every night—again, kids kind of get, “I’m bored with this assignment,”—but you can throw that thing out and just make it a part of the warp and woof of your life.
Ann: That’s what I was going to mention: “How do you get kids to do that if they don’t want to?”—like, “This is dumb; I don’t want to do this.” How have you motivated your kids to read Proverbs or to be in the Word?
Monica: Interestingly, somehow, without being too hard and fast with rules, we’ve just kind of made it what you do.
Ann: It’s a rhythm of your life.
Monica: I don’t know; it’s a rhythm of our life. I don’t know if we got real lucky, but we haven’t had anybody protest it. I think my youngest, right now, is the one I still have to do devotions with. If he’s going to do it, it’s going to require me pulling him into my lap and saying, “Let’s read your devotional.” But we just say: “That’s what you do. It’s just part of what we do, as a family.” We all—my husband and I—we get up; we read our Bible—it’s just what you do.
I think it helps to start young; but if you don’t, then you can still set that as a part of their day and just make it a simple requirement: “I’m not asking you to spend an hour-and-a-half. We’re just saying, ‘Find a chapter of the Bible and read it.’”
Dave: Let me ask you if you’ve had a dinner conversation about this proverb. This gets us into another area, and you mentioned this as one of the 12 areas to talk about with you son. Tell me if you know where this comes from—Proverbs; I won’t tell you where—but it says: “For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down the path, her steps follow the path to Sheol. She does not ponder the path of life.”
Monica: Oh, yes.
Dave: But it does bring into the whole area for a young man—and all men—of sexual temptation.
Dave: I had a single mom, so I had no dad there to talk to me about that. I actually could watch his model, and it wasn’t a good one with women. So I have a single mom, trying—as I’m 13, 14, 16, 18—talking to me. Talk about that—as a mom, stepping into those areas with a young son.
Monica: Not only is my husband a great man, he’s also a medical doctor; but I will say, “I’m the one who has most of the talks with my sons about those things.” I encourage moms: “It doesn’t have to be the father. There’s no right way to do it. Whoever’s most comfortable talking about this stuff, talk about it.” My husband does get involved in the conversation, but I am usually the one to bring it up. We do talk about that from the time that they can understand things—we talk about purity. Proverbs is a great place to start.
A couple of the verses I have my boys memorize come from Psalm 119; verse 9 says: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to Your word.” Verse 11 says, “I have hidden Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” Those, to me, have been just two verses that, from a very young age, I said: “You need to know these; because there’s only one way to stay pure, and that’s by having God’s Word hidden in your heart. That’s why we go over these. There’s a reason behind what we do. You have to know the Word of God, or else you’re going to be double-challenged.”
Bob: Here’s how this gets expressed in the Boy Mom Manifesto, which is at the back of your book, Boy Mom: What Your Son Needs Most from You. You say, “As a boy mom, I’m committed to investing in my son daily. I will lead my son into relationship with God through guidance and personal example; I’ll pray for my son daily; and I’ll do whatever I can to help him mature a vibrant, spiritual life.”
If you fail at a lot, and you succeed at that, that covers a multitude of other issues in your son’s life; because it brings him back to what is the source, what is the anchor, and what’s going to really matter. I think your book, your blog, and this conversation that we’ve been having this week for boy moms is really significant. I think this is going to help a lot of moms, who are raising boys. Monica, we’re grateful for you.
Monica: Thank you so much!
Bob: Thanks for being here and for talking about this, and thanks for writing the book. We have copies of Monica’s book, Boy Mom: What Your Son Needs Most from You, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order the book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; the number to call is 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Thinking about what Monica shared with us today, I’m just aware, again, of how important it is for us, as parents, to be intentional, to be purposeful, to get out of the day-to-day mindset and think big picture/think long-term. David Robbins, who’s the President of FamilyLife, is here with us today.
David, we’re doing all we know how to do to try help moms and dads, all around the world, adapt an intentionality mindset with their parenting. The Art of Parenting® video series that came out last year is now starting to expand in Central America/Latin America. We’re hoping to take it into East Asia and into Arabic-speaking countries, but we’re working on raising the money for translations. This is something we think can be revolutionary for families and for cultures.
David: Parenting is such a universal language. We’re sitting on this resource that we knew God was making something special as we created it, but we are seeing it truly reach hundreds of thousands of people.
I know personally, for me, living in a secular place like New York before I came to FamilyLife, not everyone would come to church with us; but they would sit around our kitchen tables or in our living rooms, and they would talk about the challenges of parenting. There was something sacred with it—there’s something around legacy—and there’s something in this want to of: “I need help.”
We are helping people, radically, reorient their lives around a gospel-driven, biblical viewpoint on what parenting is and how the role of a mom and a dad in their kids’ lives and how they shape them. You know, in Latin America, one of the things that has been so encouraging for me is watching FamilyLife staff and volunteers train pastors and lay leaders in churches all over Latin America, where the Like Arrows movie is shown to full audiences. At the end of it, there’s a team of people, going, “We are starting these Art of Parenting groups.”
You really do see the power of a mobilized force of people—laypeople/pastors—connecting with this resource; and it going and reaching areas, and countries, and streets, and neighborhoods. It really is awe-inspiring to see all God is doing and how He is using this resource. That’s why we want to invest more into it.
Bob: Well, and this month is a significant month; because we’ve had some friends of the ministry, who have come and said: “We want to help you guys expand. We want to see this happen on a broader scale.” They have agreed, during the month of August, to match every donation we receive, dollar for dollar, up to a total of $500,000.
We’ve been hearing from listeners; thank you to those of you who have gotten in touch with us. We still have a ways to go if we’re going to take full advantage of the matching gift, so would you consider making a donation today? Go to FamilyLifeToday.com—donate online—or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. When you do, we’ll say, “Thank you,” by sending you a copy of Dennis and Barbara Rainey’s book, The Art of Parenting, which is a great book for you if you’re in the middle of raising your own kids; or if that season has passed, get a copy of the book and share it with somebody at church or maybe with one of your own kids, so that they can benefit from the book. Again, donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Help us take advantage of this unique matching-gift opportunity. We appreciate you.
We hope you can join us back tomorrow when we want to talk about the challenges that seem to be almost daily for a mom who is a stepmom. Ron Deal’s going to talk with Melanie Anthony tomorrow about where a stepmom finds her strength. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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