How a commitment to personal freedom is gutting Christian parenting…
A while back my wife and I were talking about absolutes…
As we sat over coffee at our favorite local hangout (my favorite drink is a “Honey Badger,” with a little extra “badger” – you should try one), we were trying to soak in the blessings God has poured out on our lives. We both teared up at times (which happens when you realize how much you don’t deserve all the goodness you get from God).
We were wondering at the fact that so many in the new generation of parents seem to be put off by absolutes.
We hear it often in statements like these…
I want to parent in a way that encourages my child to take charge of their life.
I don’t want to require things of my kids, I want them to discover it for themselves.
I want my kids to be free to chose their own path.
On the surface all of these statements have some elements of truth to them. I have no problem there.
But stated in those ways, each of them communicates what I believe is an underlying belief system – that personal freedom is of the utmost value. And that’s a poisonous contention that is quickly gutting Christian parenting of its effectiveness.
Freedom is a great blessing God has given to us as humans… but it has its limits.
In my years as a pastor I was often asked what I thought about the issue of “free will.” It’s a sort of hotbed issue for many who enjoy the intellectual challenge of understanding deep things.
My answer was seldom satisfactory for most people who asked, but it’s one I’ve come to over many years of watching the impact both sides of the debate have had on the real lives of people.
My response to the question?
I believe people have “free will,” but only within the limits of what they are as creatures.
Simply, that means that God remains God. He gets to choose everything that happens, and He does. Our freedom operates within that, underneath that, never outside it.
So, are we responsible for the choices we make? Absolutely. But over and above that choice is God, working all things together for our good and His glory.
How does this gut Christian parenting of its effectiveness?
When parents put emphasis on teaching their children that they are free to choose, to act, to determine their own destiny, they are doing a good thing. Those are important realizations for anyone to come to.
But if they do so to a greater degree than they focus on the fact that the child is deeply loved by and answerable to the living God, that child is being deprived of the most central reality of the universe: God Himself as an active part of life.
He is life.
THAT is the truth that governs all that is. It’s the sovereign fact that trumps the child’s personal freedom every, single time.
Knowing that God is real, alive, and personally active in their life is what will activate and grow the child’s godly conscience. It’s what will make them care whether their actions and attitudes are rebellious and self absorbed, or appropriately submissive and others-centered.
This morning as we sat over our drinks, my wife recalled a memory from when our oldest son was very small, perhaps 7 or 8 months old. He sat in his bouncy seat on the kitchen table while she put away the dishes.
She told him about Jesus. She told him that her smile was a Jesus’ smile, that Jesus was happy about Aaron (our son’s name).
Those kinds of interactions have been a regular part of how my wife parents.
Did Aaron understand what she was saying?
At that age, not intellectually. But his young soul was sponge-like, soaking up truth as it was being spoken.
As those truths were added to over the years and lived out by the most influential people in his life (his parents), they shaped him from the inside out, orienting him toward God-as-King rather than self-determination.
5 children later, we’ve seen the fruit of those faithful and genuine actions 5 times over.
I say none of this to impress you, but to impress something upon you…
When we favor personal freedom over personal responsibility to the God who is here, now, actively interacting with us, we set up ourselves as the most important consideration.
We push God out of awareness. We make self-determination the highest value. And God becomes an impersonal concept, subject to our individual beliefs about Him.
It’s a pattern for self-deception and soul-destruction.
Seek the Lord and live, lest He break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel, O you who turn justice to wormwood and cast down righteousness to the earth! He who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the Lord is his name; who makes destruction flash forth against the strong, so that destruction comes upon the fortress. They hate Him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor Him who speaks the truth. ~ Amos 6:6-10
Though originally spoken to a culture very far removed from our own, the lesson Amos declares rings true for us today.
- When we seek the LORD, we will live.
- When we “hate Him who reproves” and “abhor Him who speaks the truth,” we set ourselves up as objects of His wrath.
The central reality of the universe: Our God reigns.
Let’s not gut our parenting of the most important reality of the universe.
Let’s not handicap our children long term through well-meaning but misguided notions of self-determination.
Instead, let’s hold forth the central sovereignty of our God and portray Him as the primary “Other” in our children’s lives, the One who cares for them like no other, who guides them in His ways for their good and for His glory.
And let’s demonstrate it ourselves, in how we live, what we say, in the faith we express moment after moment as we guide our children through life.