As the mother of a 16-month-old and another on the way, I've been thinking a lot of the kind of parent I want to be. How much do I shelter my kids from the world? How much do I let them learn things "the hard way?" How much do I protect them? What is my greater responsibility as a Christian mom ... making sure they know and love God at all costs or allowing them to make the choice for themselves, with the risk that they might choose a different path?
My husband and I grew up very differently, basically at opposite ends of the spectrum. I grew up the oldest of four in a Christian home. Dad led us in a devotion ("Family Time") each morning before breakfast, we attended church weekly, all my social activities centered around my church youth group. I wasn't allowed to listen to certain radio stations, watch certain movies or read certain magazines. Although I attended public school, because of my nature as a rule-follower, I never fell in with the "wrong" crowd. My biggest act of rebellion was going to Denny's with my friend Rochelle while I was supposed to be in Sunday School.
I am extremely grateful for the way I was raised. I'm thankful for the solid foundation and example that my parents gave to me. My husband's life journey was different. He began his relationship with God well into adulthood. Our vastly different paths to Christ have caused us to have vastly different views of what it means to be a Christian.
When Chris and I were dating, we'd sometimes talk about the future and the possibility of having kids, but the conversations never lasted long because we usually ended up in a fight. We viewed parenting differently. (I lean more towards sheltering our kids, while he leans more toward letting them learn from their experiences.) We knew that if and when we became parents, we were going to have to work extremely hard to come to a common understanding of the kind of parents we wanted to be.
Well, that time has come. And to my great surprise, the early days of parenting have thus far been ones of open, honest discussion, and mutual compromise.
The biggest surprise, though, has been my personal journey. Over the 2.5 years we've been married, I have found myself on a path of growth and transformation. I have begun to realize that up to the time I got married, my understanding of what it means to be a Christian was a narrow one. In my effort to "be" a Christian (a.k.a. follow the rules) I basically avoided the world. God, in his infinite wisdom, gave me a husband who is much more open to engaging the world, and He is using Chris to gently broaden my view of what following Christ in this world means.
On Chris' recommendation, I am reading a book right now that is literally turning my understanding of what it means to be a Christian upside down. (I'd highly recommend The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons to anyone, especially those with a similar background to mine.) Here are just a few examples of what Lyons says a Christian looks like.
... resists the urge to condemn everything that isn't explicitly Christian. He has a capacity find goodness, truth and beauty in most any creation.
Instead of sheltering my children from secular culture (music, movies, books) that aren't overtly Christian, I should carefully and thoughtfully allow them to experience culture and teach them instead to discern the good from the bad.
If my daughter wants to read a book that all her friends are reading that has content in it that I'm uncomfortable with, instead of telling her all the reasons she shouldn't, I will read it too and then be able to engage in discussion with her about it. If my son wants to listen to a CD with lyrics that I dislike, I will listen to it with him and then have a common ground to seek his thoughts about it.
... models how to effectively engage and contribute to culture instead of training our children to avoid the "wrong."
No matter how much I want to, I'll never be able to fully protect my children from the culture we live in. They'll deal with it at some point, either with my guidance, or without it. I'd rather them learn to engage with the world's culture from a God-focused perspective while still under my guidance, rather than trying to navigate it for the first time entirely on their own.
Instead of teaching our children (either explicitly or by example) to condemn people we see exhibiting certain behavior, we use them as opportunities to talk with our kids about God's desire for us.
... does not expect non-Christians to conform to the same moral code as a Christ follower.
One of the things I never understood growing up was that non-Christians viewed God differently. I thought that everyone was coming from the same perspective I was and so I judged everyone, Christian or not, with the same measure ... the one I learned as a child. This caused me to be extremely judgmental towards non-Christians and all the lifestyle particularities they represent.
It's very important to me that our children are raised to exhibit grace to non-Christians. I want them to accept non-Christians as they are and view them with as much dignity and worth as God created them with.
One last thought that I found eye opening. (And I'm only a third of the way through the book!)
God's purpose for us is not that we live safe and comfortable lives separated from the world. A Christian's main duty is not to protect his children from worldly corruption.
Chris and I strongly believe that we are called to raise our children to engage in culture and think critically about it. This means it's our job to carefully and thoughtfully expose them to the world, not shelter them from it. The risk, of course, is that our children will make a different choice than we want ... that they will get immersed in the world and lose their focus on Christ. As a new mom, the idea that my daughter or son might choose the world over a relationship with God is terrifying to me.
However, I'd rather face that risk and allow our kids to be who God created them to be than raise children who are little automated, non-thinking clones of Chris and me.