When my daughter was 8 or 9 years old, she had her first "conflict" between worldly and spiritual activities. Her softball team was in a tournament, and had an important game scheduled on Sunday morning. My daughter dearly wanted to be at that game. When we got to services, she saw one of her favorite "grandmas" at the front of the building. She ran up to her and said, "I'm having to miss my softball game this morning because of church!" I will never forget and will always appreciate this wise sister's answer to her. She hugged her, and said, "That's wonderful! I'm so proud of you!" My daughter walked away from her happy and proud that her sacrifice was appreciated, rather than sad at her "loss."
In the years that have followed, all of my children have suffered similarly, as gospel meetings, Wednesday night classes, and even Sunday morning assemblies have conflicted with their secular schedules. These are rather mild cases, but are nevertheless characteristic examples of how those who follow Christ suffer in the face of an uncaring world. Paul said that such would be the lot of all Christians, "Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12). Anyone who names the name of Christ will suffer as a result of his profession.
I am proud to say that my children have suffered these persecutions stoically, but it breaks my heart that they have had to give up even this little bit for their faith. Having said that, I believe these "losses" to be among the most powerful and important lessons they have learned in their short lives as Christians.
As parents, we long to protect our children from the harsh realities of life. It breaks our heart to see them suffer either emotionally or physically, and we seek to shield them from whatever heartbreak we can. Much of this is needed, and responsible. However, it is possible to be so protective of our children that they fail to receive needed lessons that only heartbreak and suffering can bring. It was a wise man who wrote in Ecclesiastes 7:2-4, "Better to go to the house of mourning Than to go to the house of feasting, For that is the end of all men; And the living will take it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, For by a sad countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, But the heart of fools is in the house of mirth." So, where is that fine line between protecting and coddling our children? When is it that as parents we are properly protecting our children, and when is it that we are retarding their spiritual and character growth through our overprotective tendencies? These questions are very difficult, but there are scriptural principles which can help parents navigate this difficult minefield.
compromise our and their faith.
Children can be cruel. Kids who are "different" in any way often feel the sting of ridicule from their peers. Kids make fun of others because of physical defects, cultural differences, economic hardships, and religious convictions.
Christian parents want their children to "fit in", and be popular rather than to suffer such cruelty. This is often the reason for allowing children to miss Bible study or worship so that they may take part in other activities. It is also why some parents allow their children to wear inappropriate and immodest clothing. Recently one Christian parent defended the decision to let her child go to the Prom for the same reason. The argument was, "They will not be dancing, and it is such an important event in their and their friends' lives, there will be no harm in them going."
Of course, there is damage done when such compromises are made. Service to God no longer can be upheld as the first priority in the Christian's life. The child's influence as a Christian suffers, as those who see them at the prom don't see the proper influence that any Christian should be exhibiting toward others.
Years ago I asked a Christian parent where her 16 year old daughter was, as she was not present for services. She told me that her daughter was visiting a Baptist church with her friend, and defended her decision by saying she wanted her daughter to have her own convictions regarding her faith. It is not surprising that her daughter, now grown, is not a faithful Christian.
The question arises, how do we ensure that our children "have their own convictions?" Do we encourage them to experiment with other religions, or do we following the biblical precedent?
(Deuteronomy 6:6-7), "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up."
(Ephesians 6:4), "And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord."
Myriad examples could be given of this wrong minded approach to raising our children. In our desire for our children to be independent in their thinking we allow them to watch TV and listen to music according to their tastes, without supervision. We let them choose their own friends, and then weep at the consequences of the wrong decisions they make.
While it is good to let children make decisions, the parent must have the final say. That way wrong decisions can be corrected, and the child can be taught. This is what Paul intended in his instruction to Christian fathers to bring children up in "the training and admonition of the Lord."
A while back my son was invited to attend a lectureship with a friend of his from another congregation. I objected, because the man preaching had taught error publicly in times past. In this case the error concerned the historical accuracy of the Genesis account of creation. Not wanting to offend, I explained my reasons to the friend's parents. They exhibited little interest in hearing the issue, and the mother actually said that such issues should be kept from our young people. She said, "Our kids don't need to know about these things."
Such a "head in the sand" mentality will leave our children woefully unprepared to take their place as leaders of the Lord's church in the next generation. While I understand these present battles over error are not theirs' to fight, they desperately need to know of error that they not be overtaken in it. What our children need is more study on these issues, not less. They need more preaching on denominational error, liberalism, immorality, and other doctrinal errors. They need to be innoculated against digression by studies on authority, the nature and work of the church, and other fundamentals of the gospel of Christ. Too often their instruction is limited to "young people issues."
Paul likened those "tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine" as "children." (cf. Ephesians 4:14). He encouraged the young men to show integrity in their doctrine (cf. Titus 2:7). It is obvious that the young are especially vulnerable to the false teacher. And many parents, with the good intention of protecting their children, are instead leaving them unprepared for the onslaught of error.
And so some Christian parents are confused as to what constitutes the protection of our children. There are two disparate philosophies of child raising that can not both be correct. The first of the two attitudes could be illustrated in the following compilation of conversations I have had with parents in the recent past.
"I am going to allow my child to go to the Prom, so that he will feel part of his peer group, and will not be ridiculed for his faith. As long as he doesn't dance, I don't think he should have to suffer the taunts of unkind children.
"Also, I think the church should try to accommodate my children's activities. For example, if there is a big "football game" or other important event that would interfere with a scheduled gospel meeting, have the gospel meeting from Sunday through Thursday, and don't meet on Friday. That way my child would not be forced to make hard choices, or feel left out by missing a band concert or other school activity."
No verses support this concept of parenting. For example, the Bible says to flee temptation, sexual immorality, etc., and yet some parents are willing to let their children dally with such ungodliness in the name of "fitting in." We are telling our children that we can approach temptation, and be side to side with it, so long as we don't go over the edge. Such is dangerous thinking. Recently, school boards in various areas of the country have come under criticism for setting guidelines regarding conduct and dress at school proms. It seems that kids are emulating the dress and moves of Hollywood, and dancing is becoming ever more sexual. The school boards are having to draw lines to exclude the most obscene gestures and revealing dress. And some Christian parents are willing to expose their children to such evil!
The second "conversation" is more true to the scriptural concept of "protecting" our kids.
"I will not allow my child to go to the Prom, because of the sinful activities that go on there, and the message it will give to him that the activities are not all that bad.
"When my child has conflicts with church and secular activities, I will explain to him what is most important, and though I know there will be sadness at the loss, I also am confident that his faith will be strengthened by enduring this hardship."
In a nutshell, it seems that we are more interested in protecting our children from disappointment than we are in protecting them from sin. We want to save them from what is their lot in life, "Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12).
In this wrong minded attempt to protect our children, we rob them of the joy and growth that comes through tribulation and persecution. "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing" (James 1:2-4).
And, in so doing we rob them glory that comes from the testing of their faith. "Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him" (James 1:12).
May we as Christian parents use these Bible principles as we seek to protect our children!