Centuries ago, societies trained their young to follow the ideals and practices of their people. Children learned to play the role of the youth from parents and elders in their society and the youth among them. Before they became adults, the youth acquired from parents and elders among their people the knowledge to live acceptable lives in addition to skills for supporting themselves and their future families. Working, taking up positions in society, relating to people wherever they were as well as having good marriages and family life were not difficult transitions into adulthood.
In the time of Jesus, he submitted to the upbringing his parents Joseph and Mary gave him. He learned carpentry from his father. He definitely also learned other ways of living from his parents, neighbours and elders of his society. We find in Luke 2:40, “ There the child grew up healthy and strong. He was filled with wisdom and God’s favor was on him”. This was written about the baby Jesus when his parents returned with him to Nazareth after presenting him before the Lord at the Temple. Then when he was twelve years old, his parents found him in the Temple, “sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions”-( Luke 2:46b New Living Translation).
By the time he started his earthly ministry, he was prepared for the life ahead of him. And his forty days of fasting, prayer and meditation sealed his readiness for the work God had sent him to do.
The Bible points to prophets who trained under their superiors to become great men of God. Joshua walked with Moses (Numbers 27:12-23), Samuel lived with Eli 1 Samuel 3:1b) and Elisha served Elijah ( 1 Kings 19:19-21), before they became leaders and prophets in their own right.
I believe that, like Jesus, the youth in Biblical times learnt how to live adult lives from parents and elders. Their religion and traditions were the basis for living and training the young.
The same situation existed in African and other societies. This way of life changed when Christianity and formal education replaced their normal lives. However most societies maintained their culture and traditions. Those who became Christian stopped observing a number of their long standing local traditions. What is wrong with this change is that, many parents do not ensure they train their children to live what the Bible teaches. Neither do they transfer to their children those local traditions that may be helpful in adult life including marriage.
In modern times, many children go to school to acquire basic general education. Later they receive further education in the arts, sciences and technical subjects. Some of them go on to study professional courses and trades like teaching, engineering, medicine,plumbing and trading. They rarely acquire any training in relationships with people in their environment including the home, the work space, marriage etc.
Of course some parents ensure their children grow up to become adults who fit into home life and society with few problems. Growing up to become independent adults who have the ability to make worthwhile decisions does not happen easily. So even those children from Christian homes do not always know much about what Jesus taught must be evident in their lives. Neither have these young people been taught any traditions they can add to the few Christian values they hold so they fit into society.
The most serious part of the problem is that little or no training in human relations is given to the youth as they grow into adults. Part of that training must help those who later become adults to choose a spouse and remain in an emotionally healthy marriage. I know that not every adult desires to be married or is able to find a suitable person to marry.
Many people study for many years to become experts in professions and jobs they later practice. If doctors trained for a few months, they would be dangerous people to go to when we are sick. Nobody would want an engineer who is improperly trained for a short period. Likewise carpenters and builders who are poorly trained would create unsafe homes and furniture nobody would want to buy.
In the same manner, those who enter marriage with little or no training make that life difficult and sometimes outright dangerous to themselves! Usually those who go to the Church or to professional Counsellors to prepare them within some months for marriage have already chosen who to marry! Where the choice is not the right one for some reasons, both the man and woman may not be willing to break up the relationship at that point. No wonder marriages which end in separation or divorce have increased. Quite a number of couples continue to live in misery until death separates them.
I don’t know how many churches in my country have what Mount Olivet Society of the Methodist Church Ghana has started for its youth this year. They now have a relationship school with a programme which teaches many aspects of adult life. This among other life areas, includes education,career choice and training as well as how to choose a spouse. The youth are encouraged to enroll in the relationship school for a nine month course. The first batch of students will graduate by the end of the year.
Mount Olivet Society also has special occasions for singles, the married, widows and widowers as well as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. I pray other churches which do not have such a programme will learn from this example. Together they can reduce unemployment, poor behaviour and attitudes in society as well as separation, divorce and misery in marriage. Some traditional authorities have systems for preparing growing girls for adulthood and marriage. I have not found out if there are any such programmes for young boys who are growing into men.
A proverb in the Akan language of some West African countries says, “Marriage is not like palm wine to be sampled”. Producers of this drink allow prospective customers to taste a sample of their product before deciding to buy or not. However, marriage is a permanent institution so trial marriages are not acceptable. And it is unwise to enter marriage lightly or without consideration.
“ A word to the wise is enough”. This is a quote from Plautus.