“What your parents don’t know can’t hurt them.”
That said, however, I’d like to offer two variations ::
1) “What our parents don’t know can hurt us.”
–> That one’s too serious, so I want to run with this second one ::
2) “What our parents do know can hurt us.”
Let’s be honest. When in our adolescent years we deflected unwanted scrutiny with half-truths and avoided uncomfortable questions with subject changes of breathtaking deftness and subtlety, we weren’t as concerned with our parents’ peace of mind as we were with our own freedom to continue to make bad decisions and fraternize with characters of ill repute.
Right before I pulled out of the Donut Den with two dozen free jelly donuts that Ted gave me and my three partners in crime, I wasn’t thinking, “Gosh, I really want my parents to get a full night’s rest and wake up refreshed, confident that all their children love God and serve their neighbors. I really want to honor my parents by living up to our family’s reputation in Nashville. I should go home and read Romans before bed.”
I was thinking, “There’s nothing like the sound of a lemon-crème filled pastry exploding on the windshield of a car doing 60 miles an hour! The only sound that even comes close is that of a twenty-pound pumpkin demolishing a metal mailbox. And maybe angel choirs. But I haven’t actually heard an angel choir yet, so that doesn’t count.”
I practiced the “What my parents do know can hurt me” doctrine for most of my adolescence, though never with more fervor than a particular Sunday morning my sophomore year of high school.
The night before was Halloween, and my mom, with typical generosity, had agreed to let me borrow her Jeep Grand Cherokee. What was she thinking, right? We don’t have any Irish blood to speak of, but I definitely got the Blarney through my paternal grandfather. I also talked my parents into letting me take the family Suburban on a road trip down to Key West for spring break of my freshman year of college. To my credit, I always returned the vehicles in pristine condition.
I cannot, however, say the same for other people’s vehicles and pieces of property that crossed my path.
Let me go ahead and clear something up about young Christian males:
They love vandalism.
If that seems to clash with their belief system, well, that’s because it does. I’ve never met a person whose behavior is in perfect synchrony with his religion, creed, or code of ethics. Regardless of his beliefs, every person I know is a hypocrite.
Of course, Christians are no different. “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “Lay down your life for your brother” get thrown out the window with any variety of projectiles—balloons, eggs, donuts, festive gourds, even biscuit dough.
Rather than invalidate Christianity or discredit Jesus’ claim to be the son of God, this inconsistency illustrates one of the foundational tenets of the Way: sanctification, or being set apart and made holy, is a lifelong process. Christians screw up their whole lives; they are vandals until the day they die.
That said, Romans 7 and 8 were no excuse or justification for my recreational activities during adolescence. These chapters do, however, help to explain how sin and right standing before God can coexist, how our heart’s desire to do what’s right and our actual behavior are mismatched socks, how I could ride in the between my two sisters on our way to church, admire the previous night’s skullduggery, and savor the sweet irony of my parents’ conversation all at the same time.
The “Pumpkin Patch,” as the hand-painted sign called it, sold pumpkins in Brentwood as a way to fund different benevolent projects and activities. On Halloween night, all the volunteers must have been at their homes, welcoming little ghosts and princesses or taking their own kids trick-or-treating. The tent was empty, and the pumpkins, unguarded. We reasoned that the more pumpkins we took, the fewer the Methodists had to haul off to the dump. Some fine logic, that.
I backed my mom’s Cherokee into the front lawn of Forest Hills United Methodist Church, and my friends loaded the cargo space up to the ceiling with pumpkins. We spend the rest of the night destroying mailboxes, For Sale signs, road signs, anything else that could be altered by the impact of a pumpkin traveling at high speeds. Rest assured, no animals were harmed in the making of this film.
Our path of destruction extended to Kingsbury Drive, which was my family’s customary route to church.
Surveying the wreckage—orange shards of rind, stringy pulp, and seeds splattered all over the driveways, yards, and road; mailboxes mangled or completely separated from their posts; twisted metal of now useless signs—my father said with disgust:
“Who are the parents of these kids?!!”
[You are! Ah hahahaha… ]
If the slightest giggle, chortle, or snort escaped, I knew I was toast—no social life for months. Trying to contain that kind of laughter was like letting roaches crawl up my legs. The discomfort soon gives way to euphoria.
If my parents ever suspected my guilt, they never showed it.* We made it to church where I shared with my friends the bravery, self-control, and selflessness of the morning’s journey.
I’m not proud of what we did, but I am glad we didn’t get caught and punished. That’s no fun for anybody. What our parents do know can hurt us, so I’m glad the only casualties were the property of strangers. Happy Halloween. By the way, recent victim of a drive-by gourding, have you heard the good news?
Replacements for your defunct mailboxes are available at your local hardware store.
*Mom and Dad,
If you read this, keep in mind that I returned the Cherokee without a scratch and that sanctification is a lifelong process. We’re saints in the embrace of a loving God, and I’d still like to go on family vacation in October.
Your Loving Son