We’ve all heard the stories. It’s the stories parents share in Christmas cards and at cocktail parties. You know, those stories where their child was just elected this or just happened to earn that award. It’s what we parents all do, because we love our kids. But are the stories we’re telling more than we think they are?

If you want to try something difficult, stop for a second and try to come up with a few goals for your kids. I’m not talking about the type of goals that might be met by the end of this week, month, or even this year. I’m talking about goals for their life.

Whenever I speak to groups on parenting, I ask people to share out loud what goals they have for their kids. Inevitably, the goals fall into the same few categories: be happy, be successful and that they would “give back.”

Hmm….

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Years ago I was visiting a friend in Panama. As part of our trip, he insisted on bringing me to a few places in his country that most outsiders found interesting. Little did he know how much of an impact one particular visit would have on me.

As we all know, Panama is well-known for the Panama Canal that runs through the country, connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. The canal contains three different locks that raise (or lower) ships, allowing them to transit through the entire canal.

One of them is called the Miraflores Lock. As my friend and I stood at the visitors center of this lock, we listened to the loud speaker detailing all the interesting facts about the Panama Canal. Ships were lined up as far as our eyes could see, waiting for their turn to go through this lock.

And then the gentleman on the loudspeaker said the most interesting thing…

In detailing the high level of difficulty involved in navigating through these locks, he said this is one of the only places on the globe where captains of ships turn over control of their vessel to an outsider. They do this because people have been trained specifically to steer a ship through the process.

Quite often, these people who have been trained to do this, and who take over control of these massive vessels…. are 19 year old specialists in the military.

We talk as if 19 year olds can’t set their own alarm clocks, pick a major, or decide what type of career they’d like to pursue. We pamper them. And in so doing, they act the way we see them – as adolescents.

For years I’ve worked with college students, but when I heard those simple words over the loudspeaker, I realized I was guilty of aiming far too low in my expectations of them. So when I got back, we met as a leadership team to discuss what it meant for us to “raise the bar” in what we would expect of our college students. The change was drastic.

The same idea applies to all of us as parents. What are our goals for our kids? If our answers have to do with happiness, health, or prosperity, then I’d suggest we are setting the bar way too low.

Why don’t we aim to raise kids who love Jesus passionately, who have strong faith because they’ve experienced God’s faithfulness while growing up, who will follow God’s calling on their life – wherever that leads them, who will fight against injustice, who will show compassion to the hurting, who will realize their life is but a vapor and will live accordingly, who will be generous to others, and who will be servant leaders.

Now this is a target worth aiming for.

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