Among the several obligatory family rituals each of our two sons had to endure when they were preparing to graduate from high school one was going out to dinner with their dad for a little one-on-one, father-son, man-to-man time. During each of those two occasions I asked both boys the same question: “What is it you want to be?” The first answer was not surprising, that is I want to be a lawyer or an architect, or . . . whatever the profession de jour might be. No, I explained each time, I’m not interested in what you think you want to DO in life, I want to know what you want to BE. Both appeared a bit puzzled at first, but finally after much thought each son eventually responded exactly the same way. Looking me in the eye they each said this: “I want to be a good person.”
Each of us at some point must make this same basic choice about how we will live out our lives. Do we consciously choose to be a good person – or not? Our two boys being at the threshold of leaving Mom and Dad’s supervision at the time were themselves facing this very critical decision. Thus my purpose in pressing the issue was to encourage them to say it out loud, for by saying it out loud it became a pledge – not to me but each to himself.
And why was that so important?
Martin Luther explained it this way: “Good works do not make a good [person], but a good [person] does good works; [likewise] evil works do not make a wicked [person], but a wicked [person] does evil works. Consequently it is always necessary that the person . . . be good before there can be any good works, and that good works follow and proceed from the good person.” Or as Jesus says in Matthew 7:17-18, “Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.”
I have no idea if either of our sons remembers that evening out with their dad or the question they were asked, nor does it matter. What I do know is that each one has kept the pledge he made to himself those many years ago the result of which is bearing much good fruit. I also know it is never too late for anyone to do the same.