I just need to vent a little today, so will you indulge me this once? This has been burning inside of me for months, maybe years, so I guess I’ll just have to get it out.
For years – for generations, for that matter – it seems as though the church (and when I say church here I’m referring to the larger Western as in “American” church and whether we like it or not, that includes Conservative Mennonitism) has worked hard to create a place and experience that is completely insulated, antiseptic and “pure” that we hold up as somehow the epitome of what church should look like. There has been a desperate effort toward perfecting the formula, inoculating against disease and creating this beautiful and perfect bubble in which we should live so as not to become contaminated “by sin”.
A while back a friend told me of a conversation she had with someone, and how her acquaintance was defending a culture of strict rules and regulations because they didn’t “trust their kids to make the right choices” without them. Whoa! Really? Wait a minute! So you’re saying your kids aren’t able to think for themselves? How to make wise and sound choices unless someone else tells them what those choices should be? They don’t know how to read the Word, listen to the Spirit and walk in the calling God has given them? Well okay, I’ll give you this – that might work for a little while inside the bubble but even there it’s bound to fail.
What concerns me even more is what happens when life happens outside the bubble? What then? Or should we only live, work, socialize, educate within the perimeters of the bubble? Because you know how dangerous it is “out there”. We might “lose the next generation”. How do we know we haven’t lost them already because we expect them to thrive in sterile, germ-free environment?
Most of us have probably read about some of the research that is showing that the constant use of antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers has actually created a problem that may be bigger than the one it was trying to solve. What happens when we use antibacterial soaps constantly is that not only do we get rid of the germs that might make us sick, we also kill the healthy bacteria so desperately needed to build the immunity necessary to fight off sickness without the aid of antibiotics. Eventually the medicines don’t work, because our bodies develop immunity to those organisms, instead of immunity to the disease itself.
Is it even possible to “thrive” in a germ-free zone? Well sure, as long we can somehow figure out how to keep disease at bay. You know, careful screening of who comes in the door, posting warning signs saying if you’re sick you’d best stay home and don’t come back until everyone in your household has been sickness free for at least a month. The children especially will be at risk if you would dare to interact with the healthy before achieving perfect health yourself.
And since we’ve got this whole health and wellness analogy going and the church is supposedly the place to find healing and wholeness, how about we admit the sick? Oh, and how do we know that we’ve done such a great job of insulating ourselves anyway? Because guess what – we are all sick. We are all sick with the sin that systemically lives in our hearts and we must constantly be examining our own lives and repenting daily for the sin that is inherent to this body.
And now back to the main point – may I just boldly say that we are not doing our children a favor by raising them in the bubble that is the church where the conditions are perfect for living a life of “shoulds” and “have tos”. This is a breeding ground for legalism and holier-than-thou-attitudes which effectively alienates most everyone outside the bubble (and many on the inside) and sets them up to live a self-centered, the world-revolves-around-me life of emptiness.
And they don’t learn how to think for themselves or even develop their own core beliefs. Folks, we cannot believe for our children! And when we try to create the “perfect conditions” we steal away the very things that will develop those beliefs. There must be conflict, wrestling, questioning, searching in order for that to happen. I long for the day that struggle within the church is okay. Where it’s okay to ask questions. Where the process of growing and learning and questioning and wrestling is embraced and celebrated! Where we give our children permission to find out what it looks like to follow Jesus for themselves. And parents, I’m going to tell you something that many find hard to swallow. Your children’s walk with Jesus may and probably will look very different from your own. Celebrate that! Why do we want our children’s walk to look like ours? Honestly, I hope and pray that my children’s walk with Jesus will be way more than mine ever was or will be! Why would I want to hold them back to my experience and expectations? We have to get beyond thinking that if something is my conviction then surely it should be the conviction of every “true” believer, including your own children. Please stop right here and go read Romans 14!
Set your children free to be who God has called them to be and just get over the fact that some things that may be right for them to do might not have been right for us. God calls every generation in His way to His work for that generation. His Word tells us that His thoughts are higher than ours – much higher! and we pride ourselves on figuring out what our pet passages surely MUST mean. God help us!
I think I got sidetracked from my main point again, which is this – if our children see us only living in the bubble and scared of anything outside the bubble and if we try to control the environment within the bubble, (case in point – oh, we can’t have any woman dressing immodestly inside the bubble because it might cause sin in the life of a man… what are they then supposed to do when they walk down the street and this happens? Now don’t get me wrong – I believe there are good reasons to dress modestly, but ultimately men are responsible for their own hearts, thoughts and actions! And that goes right back to who is and who is not “allowed” to pass through those doors, right?) then we have not prepared them for the place where the church has REALLY been made to live – IN THE WORLD! We need to take a pin to the bubble and burst it so the church can be the church, being salt and light in a dark and cold world. We can’t do that if we only shine the light on others in the bubble – they are supposed to be a light themselves.
Do your children a favor today – let them ask questions. I hope with all my heart that they ask some that you do not have the answers to. And do yourself a favor – start asking some questions of your own.
Oh yeah, and the perfect, sterile, germ-free bubble? It’s a complete fantasy – reality is that we are all sinners and we can never get it right until we see Jesus face to face.