Our family just returned from a wonderful vacation to the mountains of British Columbia. It was stunningly beautiful! We spent our first day there relaxing at this picture-perfect lake:
My husband and kids had a blast swimming out to a wooden platform in the middle of the lake and taking turns jumping off. I’m highly opposed to submerging myself in freezing cold water unnecessarily, so I happily enjoyed reading on the shore.
At one point I decided to walk down to the sand and take some photos. A man soon approached me and pointed to the water with a very serious look on his face.
“Leeches. The lake is filled with leeches. Look around and you’ll see that the big ones are puffed up on the blood they’ve sucked.”
I immediately freaked out, imagining that my family would soon be swimming back covered in blood-sucking creatures I would be too terrified to remove. But when I looked around the shallow water for signs of my family’s impending leech doom, I didn’t see anything. I started feeling better and decided the guy probably didn’t know what he was talking about.
When my husband and kids got back from swimming, I told them what the guy had said. My husband was as grossed out as I was and replied, “Great. I’m sure it’s not a big problem but now I don’t want to go back in. Way to ruin the rest of my day, ‘leech on the beach guy.’”
A little while later, leech on the beach guy spotted me and proudly walked over with a water bottle in hand. Inside was a gigantic leech with several babies attached.
“I told you so. She’s huge and was just sitting near the shore. They are everywhere.”
He walked away with the confidence of someone who had just revealed one of life’s greatest mysteries. But although it turned out he was right, my husband wasn’t exactly grateful for the confirmation. He still resented our leech friend for ruining his swimming plans.
When the Bearer of Bad News is Resented
That same day, I read with disgust about the now infamous Teen Vogue article promoting sodomy among teens. I truly couldn’t believe this was in a mainstream magazine. Speechless. Just speechless. And it made me consider how counter-culturally we have to live today as Christians. We’re no longer talking about a world where counter-cultural means leaving sports practice early for Wednesday night youth group.
We’re talking about having to protect our kids from widely available TEEN FASHION magazines that teach them how to be sodomized.
In a world like this, parents must increasingly say “no.” A lot. But if we’re not careful in how we execute our counter-cultural living, our kids can start seeing us like the alarmist leech on the beach guy and resent Christianity because of it.
There are four ways we can inadvertently allow that to happen.
1. We focus more on the dangers of the world than on the beauty of Christianity.
There’s no doubt that leech on the beach guy was right about the dangers lurking in the water. But it was astounding to see how absolutely focused he was on the leeches, seemingly missing the stunning beauty around him entirely. He only cared about leeches.
In a world that seems to be going crazier by the second, it’s easy to spend more time pointing out the darkness of culture than the light of Christianity. Now, don’t get me wrong; we absolutely need to make our kids aware of cultural dangers. But when we don’t consistently point them back to the beauty of the Christian worldview which renders our culture so ugly in the first place, our faith will become defined by what we’re against more than what we’re for. There are a lot of problems with that, but for our current purpose, suffice it to say that persistent negativity breeds resentment.
The last six chapters in my new book, Talking with Your Kids about God, are written to help parents understand and communicate the beauty of a Christian worldview versus the atheistic worldview that so often pervades secularism. It was my favorite part of the book to write, knowing how important this knowledge is today.
2. We spend more time addressing what is problematic about culture than why it’s problematic.
Because leech on the beach guy was so focused on danger that no one else saw, we assumed his level of concern was disproportionate to the reality of the problem. Without more information to properly evaluate the significance of leech danger, my husband was left with ambiguous fear while having doubt about the legitimacy of the fear.
It’s a recipe for resentment: enough concern to modify your behavior, but not enough understanding to be confident the modification was worthwhile.
When the message our kids hear is an ongoing stream of don’ts without meaningful explanation—don’t listen to this music, don’t visit these sites, don’t use this social media platform, don’t subscribe to this magazine, don’t join this political movement—they’ll start to wonder if our level of concern about the world is warranted. And meaningful explanation requires demonstrating how the problems actually relate to the Christian worldview. Simply telling our kids that a movie has violence and they shouldn’t watch it, for example, is hardly a meaningful explanation. Why is that a problem for Christians? How can that affect us spiritually? Where should we draw the line? These kinds of questions should regularly be discussed.
3. We frame our lives in terms of worldly limits more than Christian freedom.
If leech on the beach guy had a child with him, I bet that child would be longingly looking around at the groups of people having great fun. Some of the surrounding types of “fun” would be morally acceptable, some not so much. But you can bet the child would feel he or she was missing out on something by spending so much time focused on leeches…and probably resent dad because of it.
I often see ex-Christians comment about the freedom they feel in “letting go of God.” The language they use to describe their deconversion says so much. They saw religion as a limiting approach to life and therefore felt freer after shedding their beliefs in God. But as Christians we know that we are not free in our natural state at all—we are slaves to sin. When we put our faith in Jesus, we are given a new nature that is free from such bondage (Romans 6:18).
The reality, therefore, is that only Christians are actually free.
To embrace the feeling of freedom rather than limitation, our kids need to understand 1) the definition of sin, 2) the reality of sin, 3) why sin is such a big problem, and 4) why we should value being slaves to righteousness rather than to sin (Romans 6:18). Only then will they begin to understand that they’re not missing out when they don’t make worldly choices.
4. We focus more on authoritative parental decisions than on cultivating the skill of discernment.
Leech on the beach guy was incredibly smug. When he told me about the leeches, I asked him to show me where they were. He had no interest in doing so; he merely restated that he knew there were many in the lake. Had he not caught one later to show me, I probably would have left not believing him at all.
In many cases, parents have a bigger perspective than kids can possibly have given their limited life experiences. We have to make certain decisions on our kids’ behalves. But if we consistently present our “counter-cultural” lives as a series of decisions made by mom and dad (albeit for good reason), kids will naturally resent what they feel has been forced upon them. To the degree we can, we should always strive to cultivate our kids’ skill of discernment by involving them in the thought process of our decision making. After all, the second they walk out our door as adults, “authoritative parental decisions” no longer apply.
Finally, I want to mention that if you feel like you’re drowning in rather than navigating the cultural waters right now, there’s a fantastic new book out you should know about. It’s called A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World, by John Stonestreet and Brett Kunkle. It explains why culture matters and how to handle topics with your kids such as pornography, the hookup culture, sexual orientation, gender identity, affluence and consumerism, addiction, entertainment, and racial tension. I highly recommend it for all Christian parents.
Just for fun, I managed to snap a picture of leech on the beach guy in anticipation of this post. Here he is, water bottle in hand, combing the beach for more leeches. Don’t be like this guy. Keep your family’s eyes on the beauty of the Lord and don’t let the world’s leeches suck the spiritual life out of you.