8th grade boys retreat/my son has a girlfriend

A few weeks ago some friends of mine at our church found out that I lived on a farm and asked if they could bring out some 8th grade boys for a retreat. I said yes though I knew nothing. Eventually I found out that between a little tackle football, capture the flag, and archery they were planning on talking to the guys about:

  • Honor
  • Purity and how to talk to women
  • How on being a warrior
  • Courage

In hindsight this retreat was about a man’s heart and his relationship to sex. These boys are going into high school. In this sex saturated society they were going to be severely challenged if they wanted to avoid the pitfall of meaningless sex. Meaningless sex may seem exciting and forbidden for high school students but it wounds the heart in a way that it is difficult to repair. Instead of building and supporting the intimacy that is essential for a good marriage, they develop a fake intimacy. They rely on movies and television to provide them with the role model of their attempts at intimacy. Like the movie characters they remember, they try to play the part. Unlike the movies they do not have a script for their movie. Ultimately a sense of failure and fraud sets in. They do not feel like the man they envisioned when they embarked on this journey. This fake intimacy colors all future relationships with women. It is repairable but it takes time.

I mention this because something amazing happened at the retreat. The boys had just finished a rousing game of tackle football in the arena. Demonstrating great common sense I avoided participating in tackle football. Sorry! Been there! Done that! The results are always bad for a man my age. While they were playing I lit the bonfire and moved some logs around the fire to sit on. We were probably thirty minutes into the talk about purity and how to talk to a woman when it started to rain. Everyone went inside except my son. So I sat down next to him. He told me he had a girlfriend. I was shocked! Like many boys his age he seems entirely preoccupied with video games and sports. When he is around girls his age he seems wonderfully clumsy. I thought he had a great chance about being labeled a jerk for the next five years. Boy, was I wrong! He told me that there was a girl at school he liked and she liked him. He said they were very comfortable being around each other and talking about things. So we sat in the rain and he went on to explain what he liked about her. I sat and listened. When he finished we got up and joined the group inside. This was quite an amazing experience for a father. My son was invited to participate in the retreat because he lives here. He is just a 7th grader. It is possible that he will make the same mistake as others before him and succumb to the pitfall of meaningless sex. Then again maybe God has armed him with the armor to protect his heart and the desire to seek out a deeper relationship with God and women.

It feels somewhat strange that God has used me to help my son start the journey in search of his heart. Like many parents I am pretty comfortable with God using the retreat leaders in this manner but I forgot that my participation is not only necessary but required. I should know better. I just finished reading John Eldredge’s great book, Wild at Heart, just before the retreat. There is a lot of wisdom about God and the masculine heart in that book. I find myself going back to reread sections several times as I continue to try and understand my heart and others I care about. I thought I had a lot of time before I needed to apply what I had learned on my son. Boy, was I wrong! The path to understanding your heart and your son’s heart is out there. The difficulty lies in the fact that God’s plan is not the same as your plan.

Wild at Heart