Shelter is not a place
I’ve been mulling over the whole topic of Fishbowl Parenting this week, in living color, as I sent my older kids off to public school. My husband and I desperately want our children to defy the statistics that indicate a disturbing number of Christian kids turn their backs on their faith when they reach college. Mary DeMuth of Pioneer Parenting poses the question of whether or not our current Christian parenting practice (which she dubs the "cult of protectionism") might be at the root of this trend.
Since our kids are still in progress here, I thought back to my own childhood, which I always considered very sheltered, only to realize we had great freedoms. In our tiny U.S. town we went to public school. We played with the neighbor kids. We watched TV (including such "horrible" shows as Scooby Doo and Bewitched!). We went to an occasional movie at the Almo theater, including seeing such blockbusters as Escape to Witch Mountain and the Poseidon Adventure. Obviously, that was before the days of Plugged In!
Later, when we were missionary kids living in Mexico City (population 18 million at the time), my mom used to let us take the city bus to school (at ages 13, 11 and 9). We participated in all kinds of school activities. I even learned to drive in that crazy city. I never had a curfew.
I sent my mom a copy of my last post on sheltering, and it was good talking about old times.
So how did my parents do it? How did they manage to raise a family who felt secure - sheltered - without being overly, outwardly protective?
Here are a few things I thought of:
1. They were the real deal, spiritually and in every other way. What you saw at church - praying for people and talking about spiritual things - was what you saw at home. They didn’t have a “prayer voice.” And though it embarrassed us somewhat at the time, when they met our super-rich friends’ parents at the private school we attended out of the country, they were still the same, humble missionaries who asked if they had any needs they’d like to pray about.
If we had a problem, we prayed about it. Prayer was not a memorized, liturgical poem, but a living conversation with a personal God. The Bible was not a dusty collection of fairy tales, or list of religious rules to be carried out. It was the living, breathing Word of God, the foundation on which every sphere of our lives was built.
2. They loved each other openly and affectionately. One of my favorite memories of childhood is seeing my mom and dad hugging in the corner whispering what we thought were sweet nothings (we know better, now, don’t we?) in each other’s ears. They held hands when they were together. They laughed at each other’s jokes and covered for each other’s weaknesses. They were a good team.
3. They accepted us unconditionally. I never once doubted my parents’ love. They were affectionate and generous with praise. As a ministry family, people would often ask my mom about parenting. I remember beaming, as if it were yesterday, when she would say of the teenage years, “It just gets better and better.”
There was grace for mistakes, and joy in the moment. My dad would say often, “I just enjoy being with you!” or “You’re my little girl!”
4. They emphasized character, not conformity. As I mentioned, we had few rules that I can recall, and yet they had high expectations for character. Not just when we were in church, but all the time. Not just because we were the preacher’s kids, but because it was right.
My mom would not tolerate the slightest sass, and yet I look at some of the things I was allowed to wear (tube tops and spaghetti straps come to mind), and I realize now what she knew then: a rebellious attitude can’t be hidden by even the most modest clothing. We figured out modesty by example, not preaching.
They believed in old-fashioned pain to the hindquarters administered in love, and I never once doubted their sincerity in applying it (although I was not about to let them know that I appreciated it! I do now.).
5. They pursued us with love and gentleness. I don’t want you to get the idea that my parents were perfect, but I think they did a phenomenal job from their end, given what they had to work with.
I, on the other hand, was a determined, self-willed little spitfire who did not always desire the higher good. I had a very antagonistic relationship with my older brother until we were teenagers and finally started getting along. In middle school, my sister and I tried smoking. I’m sure there were many low moments in my childhood where my folks thought they were failures. But they hung in there with us.
When I was about 13, I had cultivated a nasty habit of rolling my eyes at everything my dad said. Now, my dad is a big jokester, but I was intent on letting him know in no uncertain terms that I thought his sense of humor was lame, and that his constant comedy was a complete embarrassment.
One day he went on an errand and invited me to come along. At one point the stopped the car, looked over at me and gently said, “Is there a problem between you and me?”
Of course I denied it, but I knew exactly what he was talking about.
“Well, I love you so much and I just wouldn’t want anything to come between us.”
That day, I believe, was a turning point in my relationship with my parents, forever emblazoned on the heart of a would-be sarcastic teenage rebel. In one day I went from thinking my dad was the stupidest man in the world, to thinking there was no one greater.
He could have forced his paternal authority over me and made me stop acting like such the defiant teenager that I was intent on becoming. Instead, he came to me with gentleness. He came to me because he loved me and valued our relationship.
He came to me in a way that represented God to me - a still small voice inviting me back into relationship with him.
So my experience is a sort of paradox: I had lots of freedoms, and yet I felt sheltered.
After I left home, I had a few years of settling the details of what I believed versus what my parents believed. But my basic faith in God was never shaken, because I had seen what serving Him looked like.
That leads me to my conclusion about the matter:
Shelter is not a place; it’s a relationship.Although we need to be wise about keeping our kids safe (let's not be simplistic here), sheltering our kids from every potential evil is impossible. The world is corrupt. Hey, the youth group is corrupt!
I would love to withdraw my family from society and keep them from having to face the messiness of navigating relationships in a fallen world. But that’s just not feasible. Maybe not even desirable. Besides, we have enough sin nature between all seven of us, they’d still get to see plenty of corruption!
Instead, we want to make sure our home is the safe place, the most comforting sanctuary on earth, where our kids are guaranteed acceptance, affection and genuine love. Our relationship with our kids should be a reflection of God's relationship with us - overflowing with grace and forgiveness.
And while we’re doing that, we're introducing them to Jesus, and we’re walking along side them, showing them how to “do life” with Christ at the helm.
We don’t have to know all the answers, and heaven forbid we should try to appear perfect. I fail daily, and have to ask my kids’ forgiveness all the time. But we feel strongly that the more spiritually arrogant we are, and the more we try to hide our flaws, the more likely our kids will become disillusioned with God later on.
They need to know we are the real deal.
Most importantly, and my Mom agrees, if we want our kids to have our faith, we need to be constantly showing them Who is our shelter, and where they can go to find refuge, even when there is chaos around them.
I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper;
The LORD is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
The LORD shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul.
The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in
From this time forth, and even forevermore.