Excerpt from Don Patterson's upcoming book on raising boys.
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:7-11
Why do sugar cane farmers set their entire crop on fire right before they harvest it? It’s because burning the leaves off of sugar cane has several benefits. First, it increases the sugar production of the cane. Secondly, it improves the quality of the sugar in the stalks. Thirdly, it reduces production time and costs by 25-30%. Those are some significant benefits. When you see a sugar cane field burning it looks like a natural disaster. It’s not. It is a refining process that makes the cane better. God refines us like sugar cane farmers refine their fields. He “burns off “ unwanted leaves and refines attitudes deep in our souls. It never seems joyful for the present. It always feels like a disaster when you are going through it, but later it yields a much greater blessing than you could ever imagine. (Hebrews 12)
Do you remember Joseph in the Old Testament? His story is in Genesis. He was the eleventh and favorite son of Jacob. His father gave him a nice new coat of many expensive colors that his brothers never got. God favored him with dreams about a day in the future when his whole family would bow to him as the leader. He foolishly rubbed the coat and the dreams in his brother’s faces. They hated him for it. And from that day forward they made his life a living hell. First, they threatened to kill him way out in the wilderness. Then they sold him to traveling slave traders hoping that he’d live out his life as a piece of property instead of a proprietor over their destinies. They smeared his coat of many colors in goat’s blood and showed it to their dad. He never went and looked for Joseph assuming he was dead.
Joseph was sold again to a military ruler named Potiphar. God blessed Joseph with favor in Potiphar’s mind but not with freedom. God kept “burning” Joseph’s field. It seemed wherever he went there was someone bent on his destruction. Potiphar’s wife wanted him as a sex slave. Joseph wanted to remain a slave for God. One day she grabbed his coat to pull him into bed. He did what 99 % of all young virile men in the world would not do. He left his coat in her hands and ran out of the house in faithful fear. She was so angry she wanted him to die. When Potiphar came home she told him that Joseph tried to rape her. Potiphar didn’t kill Joseph but he made him lower than a slave. He threw him in prison. Ancient Egyptian prisons were the most despicable places on earth. Things happened there that no one wants to talk or hear about. But God blessed Joseph. He was so favored in jail that he got to carry the keys as a trustee. Then one time Pharaoh’s two highest servants got thrown into prison where Joseph was. They were terrified that they might soon be executed. One night they both had dreams. When they asked Joseph what he thought of the dreams, God gave him the interpretation. He told the baker-servant that he would be executed in three days. He told the cup-bearer he would be restored to service to Pharaoh after those same three days. Joseph begged the cup-bearer to remember him when he got back to the palace and to get him out of that terrible prison. In his own mind, Joseph was the most unjustly punished person in Egypt! But once again, another human being was used by God to “burn” Joseph’s field. The cup-bearer forgot about Joseph for two years. That is, until Pharaoh had dreams that troubled him. Everyone was troubled when Pharaoh was troubled. Because when Pharaoh was troubled heads rolled. That’s when the cup-bearer remembered Joseph. he said to Pharaoh, “I remember this guy in prison that God has blessed to interpret dreams. Pharaoh had Joseph brought to the palace and after he interpreted his dreams, Pharaoh elevated Joseph to the highest office in the land.
For years God had been “burning” Joseph’s fields. But now he was blessed, positioned and refined to be a blessing to millions of people. All that “burning” made sense at the end of the story but not in the middle. Life doesn’t add up in the middle because not all the addends are there. We have to wait on the Lord. No one likes to wait, not even Joseph.
As the Pharaoh’s highest leader Joseph lead an amazing agricultural campaign. Under him the Egyptians gathered and stored grain for seven years. It was enough grain to feed the entire civilized world for a long time! When the seven years of drought followed the seven good years, then the entire middle eastern world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph. And so there came his brothers, begging for him to sell them grain, bowing down to him just as his childhood dreams had pictured. But they didn’t recognize Joseph.
So, what did the “refined” Joseph do? Did he rub it in? Did he get even? Did he take revenge? No! He couldn’t. He had been changed. Instead, he forgave and he gave. In that way Joseph became the most explicit example of Christ like love that we see in the Old Testament. But it all came from his “burning fields.” God “burns” our fields to position us for greater blessings and to refine us to be a greater blessing than we are right now. Young men need to learn this or they stay childish like Joseph’s brothers for their entire lives. Their dads are in a good place to teach them, that is, if their dads understand this truth in their own lives.
Do you remember a time in your life when God “burned” your field? Remember the deep pain you felt, how disappointed you were? It’s easy to be so traumatized by the pain of past experiences that we forget about all the blessings that come from them. If you haven’t stopped to count any of the blessings, you won’t be ready to use your life as a teaching moment in the life of your son. He needs you to be ready to reframe his situation when his field is “burning.” What if, when your son is hurting over his “burning field” you pulled up next to him and asked if you could share with him a story from your life that he has never heard? What if you told him the reason you haven’t talked about it up till then was because it hurt too much? But then, what if you pulled up the sleeve over your heart and showed him the scar by telling the story. When you told it, you were honest about how deeply you hurt and how you hope you never have to hurt like that again. What if, you made sure that you told him one or even two big ‘”take aways” you got from that experience?
Do you know what that talk would do? It would teach your son that life hurts. It would teach him that God allows it to hurt to refine the man inside of him. It would give him hope that he would live through his “burning” and that someday he’d not only see the blessings but would be able to tell someone else, maybe his son or daughter what our had God taught him. It would teach him to be vulnerable by the way you shared your hurt with him. Girls don’t have any trouble being vulnerable but boys are lied to at a very early age. They are told that boys aren’t supposed to cry. They hear that they aren’t supposed to cry. But they interpret it as “they aren’t supposed to feel and be vulnerable.” But you, as his father, as the one who holds his heart in your hands, if you show that life hurts and that it good to let it hurt as you look to God for what good he will bring from it – then you will be rearing a man that not many people get to see. You will help God create another Joseph for the generation following you.
Make it your aim to live with your son during his dark times. Show him that you live in the same trench, in the same cataclysmic struggle to understand life that he does. Show him that God is good even when he “burns” our field of dreams! Help him become the man God wants all of us to be.