A well-known coach was once asked by a would-be sportsman what the most important thing was for him to become a champion. The coach thought for a while before uttering the smart response: “Choose your parents wisely.” A large number of people, especially teenagers, would love to be able to choose their parents (whether they would do so “wisely” is a different matter!), as they feel they are lumbered with the ones they have. Interestingly, many youngsters are frustrated by their own parents, but think that their friend’s parents are “so cool” – not realising that the one whose parents are perceived to be “so cool” is offering a similar lament, ‘my parents are so lame and yours are so cool’!
How much influence though, do our genes have over us? I have been staggered to see how my son has some of my brother’s mannerisms, yet they have rarely been together over many years. I also see some of myself in one of his sons, although again I have not spent much time with him. Perhaps it goes back to their grandparents, our parents! When parents
of pupils introduce themselves to me, I can often see the parent’s looks in the child. This also tempts me to ask them, when describing the behaviour of their child, who that child takes after! Of course, the answer is always the same: if the behaviour is good, the child
takes after the mother; if it is bad, the child takes after the father!
So yes, we do take after our parents in many respects, sub-consciously, no doubt. But it is actually God who has given you those genes, not your parents. In Psalm 139:14 the writer praises God “because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” This was when he recognised that God “created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Jeremiah shared how God’s word came to him, that “before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” Isaiah also pronounced with conviction and delight that “before I was born the Lord called me.” And while we are on the subject, it is good to remember that it is God who has given you these parents, this background, for you to achieve what He wants you to achieve.
Our genes are important but it is God’s genes that are more important. We are, after all, “created in the image of God.” (Gen. 1:27) It’s not so much our parents we should choose wisely; in that regard we do not have much choice. But as Joshua urged God’s people in Joshua 24, it is our heavenly Father we should choose wisely.
Is it purely, therefore, our genes that determine our ‘success’? Many have debated this question as to whether it is nature or nurture that will govern our chances. Are we born with talent or can talent be developed? Many sports psychologists speak of the “10,000 hour rule” – this being that with 10,000 hours of purposeful practice any of us can succeed. Gary Player, the legendary South African golfer who at the age of fourteen incredibly scored a par on the first three holes of his first ever game of golf, and went on to win nine of golf’s Major Championships in an illustrious career, had a view on this: “Yes, I am lucky – and the more I practise, the luckier I get!” Of course we would prefer it if were down to our genes, as then we would not have to work hard to achieve our goals, but that’s not how it works.
Thomas Edison, the inventor, is quoted as saying that “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Genes may provide the inspiration but that’s only a tiny fraction of what is required.
The truth is that our genes simply explain where we have come from, why we are like we are – that is all! The reality is that we, and not our parents, have a choice with regard to what to do with them. We cannot use our genes as an excuse. Just as we love to wear our jeans in our own style, we can do the same with our own genes. After all they are ours. But if we really want to make something of life we would do well to look at a tracksuit rather than jeans. Look at nurture instead of nature, look at forecast rather than background. It is the tracksuit of practice, rather than the jeans of fashion, that will determine where we end up.
Plenty of good parents have raised children who have gone on to commit crimes, while many poor parents have produced brilliant sportsmen or musicians. It is convenient to lay the ‘blame’ at our parents’ feet when things go wrong, but actually it’s our responsibility as to what we do. We may ‘succeed’ in a sport where our parents did not, purely because they never had the opportunities that we have. It is not the genes. It is what people do with what they are given.
Oscar Wilde once made the celebrated witty remark:
“All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. And no man becomes likes his. That is his tragedy.”
Similarly, some marriage counsellors have said that if you want to know what your future wife will be like when she is older, look at her mother. But that is not the whole truth. We may become like our parents but it is not a tragedy or a truism. It is not a trademark. We can change because we can choose. We cannot choose our parents: but we can choose what we do with what they have given us. So we mustn’t spend our energy blaming them; we should eclipse them. If we can see faults in them, we can decide to be a better person entirely by not slipping into the same traps that they did. They are your genes – so wear them well.