Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Temporal Failure, Eternal Success

I have been involved with faith-based parenting ministry for the past 17 years or so. During this time, I have noticed a subtle error being taught in many forms. I am myself guilty of both believing it and teaching it, though this is painful to admit. The error, as simply as I can put it, is this: If parents raise their children “right” --according to a set of biblical principles, proscribed teachings or proven practices -- they are guaranteed to successfully raise them to become committed Christian adults.

I do believe that chances improve for our children to embrace our faith and become “successful” adults when we follow biblical principles in our parenting but I don’t think there is any way the Bible can be twisted to provide a guarantee.

The problem with this guaranteed-success parenting mindset is that it creates a double bind for us as Christian parents. If we happen to “succeed” as parents with a child or two, who then will get the credit? Who will receive the glory? We will, of course, because we were the ones wise enough or faithful enough or disciplined enough to follow the principles. We did it “right” and in this uncertain world we proved the Bible really works when it comes to childrearing. Our children are the living proof! Ugh. Can you hear the pride?

Then, when we see other parents struggle with their children, through rebellion or substance abuse or immorality, rather than feel compassion we feel judgment. When we remember that teen as an indulged toddler throwing a fit on the floor of the bakery section of Safeway, we seem to instinctively sigh, “We could see that coming!”

Or what if we “fail” with a child or two? Parents then experience a cruel and lonely guilt. The faith community (church) becomes not a place of prayerful support but rather a place of gossip, criticism, guilt and shame for the parents and their children. It is as if they had a highly contagious disease. Can you see how this can destroy a community that is supposed to be full of compassionate grace?

“There aren’t any guarantees. These aren’t appliances,” Gil’s wife said with exasperation about her children in the movie Parenthood. That’s what I am increasingly convinced of. As we raise our children the best we can as parents, introducing them to our faith, there simply aren’t any guarantees that they will embrace it as their own.

Here is the paradox that I don’t think is emphasized enough in today’s Christian parenting ministries: Our children, if they are to fully embrace Christ for themselves, must come to a place in their journey where they must “fail” in some way. There, I said it. The “F” word…fail. For some, this failure will be subtle and almost imperceptible; for others it will be BIG and dramatic. But I believe some failure is absolutely necessary in order for our kids to seek Christ out of real desperation. Temporal failure can create a hunger for the “success” that is eternal.

Why must this be true? Because for them and for us, for our stories to give any accessible hope to the broken of this world, Jesus must be the “Star.” If we didn’t fail, if they didn’t fail, who would be the stars of our stories? We would, in our parenting wisdom and skill. They would, in their ability to follow the straight and narrow. Our churches would, in their way of teaching our families. Or our Christian schools would, in the values they instill in our kids from K-12.

What may be going on when our children fail is that God is orchestrating the circumstances that are necessary to bring them to the end of their own resources so they may cry out for Christ in utter neediness. Our children must have their own stories of rescue just like we have. If they turn to God in their pain then they will have a story where Jesus is truly the Star, not them. When Jesus is the Star, then whatever failure or setback they have experienced, their life stories will bring comfort and hope for others who hear it. And isn’t that the real, lasting eternal “success” we yearn for our children to enjoy?

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow. This nailed the truth dead on. We really don't want to raise our children into adults who will behave and be quiet in church, but to be adults who know Jesus and live by faith with a passion for God and a vision for eternity. "He who has been forgiven much loves much".