Is reading your kid’s Facebook or Twitter feed making you wonder if you went seriously wrong somewhere along the way? Are they spouting Fox news talking points? Do they sound like they work for the DNC? I remember being home on leave from the Navy and telling my mom and dad about a book I was reading which had a very particular political slant. As I explained it and how I thought it made sense I saw them making eye contact with each other. It was a very subtle thing; gone in an instant. Their expressions toward me never changed from interested listeners, but they offered no opinions about the politics I was trying out on them. I remember that look. It made me curious but not to find out what they thought about my new ideas. It made me curious about them. For some reason that look said that I was missing something and it wasn’t in a book; it was in my parents. They were people! Do you know what I mean?? Do you remember when you finally figured out that teachers were people, not just a set of lectures and homework assignments? It takes longer to see parents as people. Don’t ask me why, but something in that shared look cracked open the parent suit a little. I knew my politics didn’t agree with theirs right then, but it didn’t seem like they were going to pursue me over that. They were willing to let me go, but they were not going there. Interesting. Ever see the toddler trick where they run away from you while they look over their shoulder to see if you’re going to chase them? Best way to handle it? Don’t chase. Don’t get your panties in a wad. It takes a certain kind of parent to do that. It takes confidence that the kid isn’t going to get hurt for one, but it also takes confidence that they know your voice and you’ve got enough influence to keep them from going too far. Parents who don’t know who they are lack the confidence to let their children run. What I saw in my parents was the opposite. They were not scared to let me run. They never were. Where did it come from, this assuredness? I think they built it together. They were a unit. They believed in each other. I also think they were confident their views of morality and politics weren’t just right because they were theirs, they were right because they were right, and sooner or later, right would assert itself.
So I had and still have a great mom and dad. Now its my turn. My kids have given me plenty to think about. I hear more of their ideas because of social media. I’m also friends with their friends so I get a taste of a lot of political opinions from younger people. How do I (actually Tina and I) handle it when our kid’s opinions seem out of line with our values? First, and this is more important than anything else at all, if you are in your kids social network it isn’t your right to be there after a certain age. It is a privilege. You get to participate in their life. Be glad. Not everyone is invited in, and you can be invited out. Once I get that firmly in place I ask myself why a comment or post or whatever bothers me. I think about motive. Is my child expressing a desire for righteousness and justice? Or is it just trolling? Do you know what trolling is? You may not know what it is currently, but you’ve seen it before. A troll is that kid in your school that always went fishing to get someone stirred up. Put a little bait in the water and see who would bite. Once they get one on the line just keep cranking it up until they’ve made someone so mad they want to fight and then walk away. Some of our kids are trolls. They spout liberal or conservative talking points to see if they can start a fight with anyone. If that is your kid, well, you’ve got problems besides trying to help their politics. Maybe just go back to basic human decency. Trust me on this; I’ve read lots of your kid’s posts and quite a few of them are pure trolls. Maybe engage them on the level of taking them to dinner and giving them some of the attention they so obviously crave. If I sort through this and believe my kid is earnestly putting out their ideas because they want to share them with others and have others speak into them, I look at what they say and ask myself again; is this the pursuit of righteousness? It may sound very different than the way I would express it, but that isn’t the reason it works in the world.
Righteousness works in the world because it is a created world. I have a lot of confidence in this. Maybe more than my own mom and dad. I’m not afraid of letting my kids run because I know Righteousness not only prevails in the end, it prevails in them. They have their own relationship with Righteousness and so instead of exchanging political ideas with my kids or trying to correct their politics, I cut my eyes at my wife and say ‘I know our kids know Jesus so why get worked up over this thing that appears to contradict him?’ Most of you Christian parents are actually pretty crazy. You want your kids to know Jesus and to know him well, you just don’t want to let any of the things that came into your life and broke you to the point you sought Jesus and grasped him to come into your kid’s lives. Let them run with bad ideas and/or great ideals that seem so full of hope to them. They won’t run too far. Jesus is the hope of the world. He really is. The only hope of the world. Ultimately thats how I handle it when my child starts sounding like a liberal or a conservative; I remind myself that neither of those will save the world, only the gospel will. That gives me urgency and peace. Urgency to ground my kids beliefs in the gospel and to point them back to that in all their thinking. Peace that Jesus is who I need to help my kids see, not my flawed politics. I need to help them see God is a person. That is more profound, interesting and life giving than anything else we could discuss.
“The war (WWII) will fail to absorb our whole attention because it is a finite object and, therefore, intrinsically unfitted to support the whole attention of a human soul.”
– C. S. Lewis
Late one night I was contemplating the safety of my wife and kids. I was on a ship somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea. If you are a thinker, underway on a ship at night can be a lonely place. I worried about who would check the front door and make sure it was locked. What if they had a flat tire, who would help them? What if the baby got sick? What if someone broke into the house? What if my wife gets in a wreck? On and on it went. My own bad news network broadcasting in my head. My favorite channels to tune into: doubt, fear, and worry. There seemed to be no end to the channel surfing. But I got a break through signal from God. He walked me through some simple thoughts: what if you weren’t 4000 miles from home right now, you’re on the ship sitting at the pier in homeport…I was liking this channel…now imagine you have to spend the night on the ship because you have duty…ok I may not like this channel so much…but you’re there and your family is at your house about 20 miles away, who is keeping your family safe from the things you’re worrying about? I had to say all of my fears could come true even if the ship was in homeport. Then He asked me if all of them could come true if I was in the house or car with my family. All of them could. God revealed to me His constant watchfulness and care was what kept my family safe (and always had been). What a blow to my ego! It’s not me who’s been ensuring our well being it is God. In that moment I didn’t relinquish control of my family, I acknowledged I never had control of my family. What a relief!
Who is keeping you safe? If I was depending upon our government to keep us safe I would still be up in the middle of the night, not because it is incompetent, but because the absolute safety of a soul is beyond the reach of any government. If any government of ours ever sets out to make us each “safe” we should all head for the hills as fast as we can go. The only way humans know to keep other humans safe is to take away their freedom. It is only in a sovereign creator God that we find both freedom and safety. As C.S. Lewis said of World War II, war will fail to absorb our whole attention because it is finite. We should add fear, worry, doubt…everything else will fail to hold our attention because we have infinite souls. We have God sized souls. Rest, peace and hope only come from having God in our souls, and once you’ve recognized and invited infinity into your soul, the finite will have to flee. When all the bad news starts again, instead of letting it force you to ask “where is God?” let it remind you that you are not in control, and you need God. The distance between you and safety is the exact distance between you and God. How far apart are you? At Calvary God erased the distance between Himself and us through Christ. Now, through faith in Him, we can say there is no distance between our souls and God. That is safety. No wonder Jesus said “Let not your heart be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me.”
My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore. Ps 131
Anthony sprays the Windex on each table and wipes it down carefully. He is so thorough you might think he’s a little too careful. We’ve all seen how a busboy or waitress wipes off a table in a restaurant. It isn’t rocket science. Usually it’s done so fast it would make your head spin. Zip, swish, swash, swirl, your table is ready sir. But Anthony is taking his time. Each table matters to him. He’s seven. The tables in this restaurant belong to his father.
Many years ago I was mowing the grass with a push mower (not my favorite thing in the world) when my boy asked if he could help me. There are moments in parenting when you realize what you are about to say is really important. The haze clears momentarily and you understand what is happening here and now isn’t about here and now; it isn’t about getting the grass mowed. His request presented an immediate challenge. He was too short and not strong enough to push the mower so I couldn’t just show him how and get out of the way. And letting him watch or walk beside me was not going to satisfy him (he really wanted to help and was old enough to see through the fake things you can pawn off on little kids). What could I do? I told him to come on and help, and I put him in front of me. He grabbed the handle with his little hands and I got behind him and put my hands just outside his. We fired up the mower and mowed the grass. I wonder what that must have looked like. It was a bit awkward. We had to learn how to move together and not step on each other. I had to find the pace his shorter legs could handle. The whole mowing experience was uniquely affected by this arrangement. The results where the same. The grass was mowed. I completed the task I set out to complete and could have completed without my son. But something more than grass cutting was happening there. My son was learning something about me. He found out he could participate in my activity. He found out it was fun to be with me. He found out he was at least as important as what I was doing.
I think we should come to an appreciation of our Father’s work and our part in it. God is going to accomplish his work. He doesn’t need me to do it. He didn’t create me to do it. He invites me into it for one purpose – that I may learn of Him, that I may draw near to Him. Anybody knows one of the best ways to build a relationship with someone is to knock out a project together. To struggle through something together. Just ask Anthony. He isn’t cleaning tables so thoroughly to earn his bag of Skittles pay check. He is there to be near his dad. It is good to work in the Father’s house, but never start thinking you have to work to stay in the Father’s house.
Tina and I got married young, 18 and 21. We had two babies by the time most people graduate college. Tina cried when we found out we were expecting our first child. It was scary. We did not know much about raising children; at least we didn’t think we knew very much, but it turns out we knew enough. We knew we had to work together, We knew we had to be a couple before we were parents or we wouldn’t be good parents. We knew the world didn’t revolve around these little people and that they were going to adjust to us, not the other way around. But the best thing we knew, and the best thing our kids came to know about us was the most simple thing of all. It was that we wanted to be where they were and we wanted them to be where we were. Together. We learned that it was good to be together.
I didn’t think about this until years later, when my kids were mostly grown, but I learned this from my Dad. Wherever my Dad went I went with him. He was a football coach so I was there for two-a-days. He was a life guard at the pool, so I was there getting a tan. He taught drivers ed classes and I was at the driving range. This was normal. This was what we did. This was good. It was good to be where my Dad was. It was good to be where my Mom was too. My kids grew up knowing that wherever Tina and I went, they could come with us. Of course there were exceptions, but the normal order of business of our family was together. There is nothing better our kids can know about us than this: they are welcome; they belong with us. Our kids need this more than they need a new pair of Nikes or to be on the travel softball team. They need confidence there is a place they belong and we can create it for them. It doesn’t take money or social status to do it. It takes relationship space; it takes room in your heart that makes room in your thinking and room in your schedule. It doesn’t take as much effort as you might think. It doesn’t take much more than putting your kid in the seat with you and going to Target instead of going by yourself. It takes longer, but what are you really trying to accomplish with your life? More efficiency or a family legacy of belonging? It’s a good thing to set this habit in place when our kids are younger so they grow up knowing they are welcome, but it is never too late to start. Make a space for them now. Even if they don’t fill it or appear disinterested (yes I know what teenagers are like) the consistent offering of place in your life impacts their minds and hearts.
I didn’t know it at the time because I was a first time dad, but I realized later that I always spoke to my daughter as if she was a grown up. I used words on her that suited my vocabulary, not a three year old’s. I wish I could say I did it on purpose so I’d look like a really smart parent trying to help their kid become a great achiever, but the truth is more like this: I’m not good at small talk. Really, I’m not. I don’t know how to jabber like some people who can carry on a perfectly pleasant conversation about nothing for hours on end. I tried. I got down on her level physically. I took the time to listen to her little words. But when it came time to talk back I used my own big words. She grew up hearing an adult vocalization of the world. I think its been to her advantage. She’s smart and she can explain things well.
This is the way the gospel works its way out in us. God speaks to us in terms of what He is making us into, not in terms of what we are at the moment. He sees the full life – the full vocabulary of living – and he keeps giving it to us. He gets down on our level physically and he listens to our small talk. Thank God for the patient lessons and the willingness of our Father God to play with us; to love us into Christ, the hope of glory.