Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A warning for parents (part 2)

[Note: This the the second of a two part blog based on warnings that I have discovered over the last couple years of studying parenting and spiritual issues. In this time I have read two books by Christian Smith, a sociologist who studies spirituality in youth culture. He has identified that one type of faith predominates among American youth. He called it moralistic therapeutic deism. He doesn't consider this type of faith to be healthy. I would agree. Please read yesterday's post if you have not yet.]

As I said in yesterday's post, when I ask parents what their top goals for their children are I usually get these three priorities:
  • That they would follow God.
  • That they would do good and avoid evil. (Obedience.)
  • That they would be safe and happy.
While the first is a godly and biblical goal for parents, the other two are a distraction on the way to developing children who honestly follow God. We have already established that obedience is the wrong goal for parents so today I'll look at the goal of safe, happy children.

This is actually a very easy goal to knock down but it would do a disservice to try to knock it down with isolated verses. There are many examples for why safe living is not God's intention in scripture. Just look at the way that God treats his children: Israel in the Old Testament and the church in the New. Let us look at some more macro examples.

Remember the story of the 12 spies. They were sent into the promised land and asked to bring information about the inhabitants back to Moses and the Israelites. Two responded to God's call to take the land. The other 10 chose to fear scary things and instructed the Israelites to avoid the promise. Because the people chose the safe way out, God punished the people for 40 years.

In Judges, the statement "everyone did what was right in his own eyes" is repeated several times. It is easy to assume that the people of Judges had no leader and no clear agreement about the standard so each one chose to make himself or herself happy. This pursuit of happiness led to all sorts of troubles for the nation.

The Gospels are filled with stories of Jesus turning the tables on happiness. Jesus was not about teaching people the quick way to happiness, rather about putting others needs ahead for one's own. The best example for this principle are the beatitudes. In this teaching (as translated in modern English) Jesus says "happy are those..." But a careful reading makes it clear it is not about the one who wants to be happy to chase his own happiness. Rather it is about putting his immediate needs behind the needs of others.

Over and over again, the case can be made that God wants our happiness and even our safety to fall behind the needs of others and to be reliant on trust for him. If we teach our children to live safe and happy lives, we are short sheeting them. In this way, many Christian parents are no better than their non-Christian neighbors. Our children can easily become an idol for parents. This, in turn, teaches children to make their own state of mind their idol.

I love what C.S. Lewis says about God. Perhaps you remember this dialog in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. When one child asked if Aslan (a form of God) is safe, Mr. Beaver replied, "Safe?...He isn't safe. But he's good."

Teach your children to live in the unsafe territory which is goodness, pursuing God with all their hearts. It won't be comfortable for you or for them, but it will be right.

If you'd like to read more about this topic, I'd suggest Crazy Love by Francis Chan.