Our front porch is a gateway to the world. In our neighborhood, hanging out on your porch (or someone else's) is one of the best ways to build relationships. It's also a great way for your three-year-old to learn the F word, watch a screaming match, and hear raunchy rap lyrics bumping from a nearby car. Right now he's still fairly oblivious, but the day is soon approaching where he will take note of these things and we will have to have conversations about how we as Christians are to be different from the world.
You might think that we fear these upcoming moments, but I'm actually looking forward to them. We have a pretty controlled environment inside the home and monitor what he watches and hears very closely. But, outside the home, we don't have any control, so, it is best that we embrace life and use it to teach.
There are probably some of you who think we are bad parents for exposing our family to so much of the world and raising our child in a potentially dangerous environment, and that's OK. I don't agree with you, but you're entitled to your own opinion. I grew up very sheltered and I appreciate my parent's efforts to ground me in Biblical truth and protect me from emotional and physical dangers. And we take much of the same approach when we dictate what Andrew and I pour into our little guy.
But, like we are all so good at doing in the suburbs, we can build false senses of security, neglect our need (and our kids' need) for God, and think that the best way to be a Christian is to live a life separate from the world. But, that's not the life we were called to as Christians. We are called to sacrifice and to live by faith, to deny self and carry our cross. And, most of all, we are called to infiltrate the world with our light.
I say this because I recently had a conversation with two families who have children from 13 years on down who went on a tirade about movies. Movies can be such a hot issue, everyone has their own standards, but when I heard them agree that Veggie Tales were often questionable I had to laugh out loud. Apparently they occasionally slip in appalling things, particularly that one based on the Lord of the Rings!
I would find this opinion ridiculously extreme from anyone, but knowing that one set of parents engages in regular verbal/emotional abuse with their children and the other has such a loose grip on reality that their children will never be able to engage in the world appropriately made me almost bite my tongue in half. I couldn't help the derisive laughter that escaped my lips, masking my rage at their hypocrisy.
Is this what we have become as Christians? We stand in moral judgment of something as innocuous as Veggie Tales, while we call our children "idiots?" We disparage the Lord of the Rings for being evil, but would never have a real conversation with an unbeliever? We won't let our children participate in an Easter Egg hunt because of its pagan heritage, yet fail to let our children engage in a church community at all?
I'm not advocating bombarding our children with foul things. I care about protecting my son's ears and eyes and heart. But when do we cross the line of protection and step into a lifestyle of fear and self-righteousness? When did Jesus become enough for us but not enough for our children?
My husband and I have responded to the call to be inner-city missionaries, which comes with its unique challenges when raising a family. I'd be lying if there weren't days when I fear the variables of raising children in this environment. But, I know that God will pour out more grace and more mercy on my son, because I will ask Him for it, and he will have a beautiful (and difficult) opportunity to know the price of sin, see God's mercy in spite of it, and share forgiveness and love with others.
Granted, there's no easy formula for how much to shelter or expose our kids from and to the world. But, I think a good place to start is in our own hearts as parents. Is our protection based in fear or pride? Or, is it an appropriate shelter from biblical danger? Are your teachings and rules meant to train our children to love and serve the Lord or to abide by "Christian" rules?
If we are to teach our children to love and serve the Lord, it will be a messy, challenging, and sacrificial process and our kids will experience hardship along the way. But, ultimately, it is our lives that will dictate what our children become. Are we the kind of men and women we want our children to be? Do we LOVE and SERVE the Lord? If we do, chances are that our children will follow our lead. It doesn't always look like we want it to and it certainly is not easy, but we can rest in the knowledge that our children are sheltered in the hands of God, much more capable and loving hands than even our own.
We do not have to live in fear or stand on pride when leading our children. Jesus is enough for us and He is enough for our children. Let them experience His power, as well as know about Him. Your children will never mistake the meaning of Easter with Easter Eggs if they get to see the power of the resurrection bringing the spiritually dead back to life!