Last Friday, I woke up at 3:30am, caught the earliest flight to Nashville, hung out with a few thousand crazy women, taught for one hour, and flew home. It was the 2011 MOPS Convention, and trust me, this thing is always a good time. They brought in Max Lucado, Mandisa, Travis Cottrell, Lisa Harper, Jon Acuff, Steven Curtis Chapman, Kathi Lipp, and a bunch of other rock stars this year. I slid in and pretended like I had any business being there.
Women kept saying, “We can’t believe you’re here! How do you feel about being here?? Was it so hard to leave? With Remy at home??” And after deciding to say the true thing instead of the nice thing, I answered: “It feels awesome.”
Whatever. It did.
Assuming we would bring home our two new darlings this SPRING, I basically took this year off from traveling and teaching. If you would’ve told me in February that we would bring only one kid home at the end of July, I would’ve punched you in the spleen. So I haven’t taught this year at all, and lawd have mercy, I’ve missed it.
Of course, I laid awake the night before, fretting like I often do before a talk. Here I was headed to MOPS Convention, where all the mamas are measuring their days in poop blowouts and mourning the loss of peeing in private, and rather than bring a helpful message on how to just get through the freaking day, I’m bringing a discussion on our postmodern children and how to let them fail and maybe go to Africa instead of college.
You can see why I’m so popular.
But even after sweating it out pre-session in the bathroom (for 20 minutes), fussing over my notes and wondering for the thousandth time why God always makes me talk about these things when other speakers get to talk about fun things, I remembered after the session why this sort of stuff is my deal. When the women flood the book table with tears and stories and that look on their faces, and they nod and grab me by the hands and say:
I get it.
This is how I’ve been feeling.
This is what my husband says.
This is what my kids say.
I was just having this conversation.
I’ve been trying to explain this.
My heart is saying there has got to be more.
This is my tension.
Then I remember: God is doing something big and deep and important in the body of Christ right now, and I am but one tiny little voice joining a chorus. The Holy Spirit is moving and messing a lot of us up right now, and I may have the words, but thousands, millions of us are having the same feelings.
So as promised, I’m posting all my “notes” from my session, a term I’m using loosely here since I went through my notes and expanded/decoded all the cryptic chicken scratch and basically transcribed the entire hour+ talk. I was going to include just the modern/postmodern discussion, but then I couldn’t find a good stopping place and then all of a sudden I was at the end.
I would love to hear your input, folks, because this is stuff we better take seriously as parents and Christ-followers. We are raising a different generation than the one we grew up in. The tension many of us carry with the gospel and the church and authority in general is undoubtedly the theme song of our kids’ generation, and they are headed into the next phase of culture, with or without us. Let’s make sure it is “with.”
Without further ado…the quantity of notes I’m about to post is ridiculous, the formatting is all jacked, and if you actually get through this and still have something coherent to add at the end, I will give you a cash prize.
Life is messy. Parenting is messy. Kids are messy. The Christian life is messy. And that is ok.
• Our worst enemy as moms is trying to maintain the illusion of control. And not just because it’s hard to keep that up, but because it actually sabotages our own and our kids’ spiritual development.
o It substitutes some “ideal, dream life” for the one we actually see in Scripture, which is laced with adventure and risk and failure and sacrifice and transparency.
o The whole concept of “letting go” begins in our hearts and minds. The practical application comes second, not first. This is something I wish I’d heard when my kids were babies. I think I would’ve found a lot of freedom I craved in those early years
o The time to define your parenting philosophy is now.
Defining characteristics of our kids’ generation:
• We are standing on the fault line of a huge paradigm shift in our culture, and it is a transition from one worldview to another. Most of us have a foot in both.
• Not an endorsement or a criticism – both views have the fingerprint of God in them…neutral information, but this is the world our kids are growing up in, so it is essential to our discussion of parenting. We can’t parent what we don’t understand.
BOIL THIS WAY DOWN, a total reductionist explanation:
Modern thought was the driving worldview for the last 3 centuries: Birthed through the Renaissance, Industrial Revolution, modern invention, opened up “The Age of Reason”:
• Marked by: rational linear thinking, pragmatic thought, science, education, dogmatism, individualism, fundamentalism and absolute truth, authority was unquestioned and respected…emphasis on the individual man’s capabilities, logic, and knowledge
o Modern soundbyte: “I have all the answers, and so can you.”
o Affected how the Christian life was interpreted: faith was proved through factual research (systematic theology classes abounded), apologetics was the primary evangelical tool, come to Christ as a logical, measurable decision (I walked the aisle when I was nine…)
• Christianity was tightly organized around gaining biblical knowledge -“discipleship”
o Modern thought affected Christian parenting:
• The drive to control our environment, plus black-and-white thinking created a very one-way relationship btw parents and kids:
• I am the authority. The end. That is all that should matter to you.
• The rhythm of family life was not a discussion or a group process
• “The way things are” and “the way we think and believe” was pretty much set by the parents, and questions weren’t encouraged.
Postmodern thought is the prevalent mindset/worldview of people today, specifically our kids. So love it or hate it or ignore it, this is the world our kids will grow up in and marry and have children and discover Jesus, so we owe it to them to take a careful look at what it is and be careful and humble learners:
• Marked by: spirituality, experience, community, betterment of the world, justice, creativity, relative truth, environmentalism, globalism, deconstruction/skepticism, and authenticity
o Postmodern soundbyte: “I don’t have all the answers, and neither do you.”
• Our kids are part of a postmodern generation who is highly skeptical of authority and aren’t going to believe or do something because of tradition
o They’ve been let down by parents, government, spiritual leaders…
o They are going to understand God through story and community and justice, not apologetics and dogmatic theology.
• Most churches are still operating out of a modern mindset, and you’ll notice that teens and young adults are FLOODING out of the church.
• PM’s have a genuine distrust of organized religion and perceive it to be arrogant and consumer-obsessed.
• They will respond to parenting marked by humility and authenticity, not control and power.
o They will be moved by how we live for Jesus far more than what we say about him.
o They want to experience the rich, meaningful Jesus…not be entertained or impressed.
o Consumerism to the neglect of a suffering world will turn our kids off. If we want to bring them deeper in the heart of Jesus, we are going to have to care about the people Jesus cared about.
o Our deeds will matter far more than our creed. PM’s want authenticity above all else, so empty words have no chance.
• We must consider this paradigm shift, because the words we’ve puppeted for years have lost their meaning and will be mostly ineffective with our kids.
o We can try to shove a square peg in a round hole, but maybe we should be willing to learn about this postmodern generation, let go a little here and parent the kids we have, not the kids we were.
o Bottom line: Knowing they WILL EVENTUALLY buck dogmatic authority and hyper-controlling Mamas, we have to parent our kids wisely, first through the grid of the gospel and second through the grid of their culture.
Phase 2: Letting go of some old dreams for our kids that are not only unbiblical, but they will rob our children of their true life’s work.
How can we unhinge our kids from the dream this world wants to sell them and attach them securely to God’s dream for their lives? Jesus made his dream for us very clear, and he called it “the kingdom.”
What is the kingdom?
• Jesus described the kingdom constantly, in sort of cryptic ways:
o It’s a new way of living, like a hidden treasure, like yeast changing the dough, it belongs to the poor and meek and the humble and children, it is precious and surprising, the arrogant can’t even recognize it in front of their faces, the lower you are, the easier the kingdom is to embrace
• “kingdom” = “dream”…Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven = God, may all your dreams for this planet come true.
o God has dreams for us: salvation, mission, redemption, community…
o God has dreams for this earth: no more hunger, healed families, healed land, justice, His glory…
• This is the dream we want to plant deeply into our children’s hearts.
• What dream are we giving them? Most of us are imprinting our kids with the American Dream
o Most of our parenting choices, goals, efforts are geared toward their success, happiness, security, comfort, and prosperity
o We sprinkle Jesus in there but not enough to alter their entire life’s course– more like a system for acting good
• We take our kids’ lives and add Jesus to it; don’t start with Jesus’ kingdom and process our kids lives through it. True biblical dreams for our kids are so rare:
• How many of us are dreaming that our kids will live among the poor one day? Or foster a bunch of kids? Or spend their lives on justice? Or love Jesus to the exclusion of every normal sounding achievement?
o This old way is not holding.
• We are not making disciples. The postmodern generation is rejecting the church in record numbers.
• Our kids are not going to be afraid of risk and sacrifice like we are, and they are unwilling to turn a blind eye to the brokenness of the world, so if the dream we teach them is about gaining the treasures of this world while behaving and tithing, that is not inspiring enough to keep their loyalty.
o Our goal is not to get them to behave well; our goal is to teach them to love Jesus in the most reckless, single-minded way.
• I have a daughter telling me she might bow out of college for awhile to live in Africa.
• I have a son who can’t stand children’s church because he cannot see what the silly songs and videos and craft projects have to do with the Jesus he knows from the Bible. 9 years old.
• A couple of months ago, our teenagers from church slept on the streets downtown for an entire weekend to identify with the homeless and walk a day in their shoes.
• Are we willing to get ok with this? Because this is the heartbeat of the next generation, WITH OR WITHOUT US.
• We love Romans 8:28 for our kids, but do we actually understand the very next verse?
o Being “conformed into the image of Jesus” is not a pretty process, because our kids are born into sin and God has messy, real work to do to transform them into disciples.
• This process involves sacrifice and loss and struggle and failure and courage and maybe even danger and cultivating a single-minded obsession with the kingdom.
• They may embarrass us or disappoint us or scare us as they wrestle with God, but can we see his redemptive hand in their lives even then?
• When have we grown the most? Changed the deepest? STRUGGLE. Failure. Loss. Risky obedience. Messy relationship mending.
• Our kids are the same. Our job is not to shield them from everything hard, but to parent them through it with wisdom and discernment.
• We should not pull our kids completely out of this culture in some sort of parallel Christian universe, but teach them to navigate the real world with grace and conviction.
o This requires a gradual process of letting go, so our kids can actually live a real life with real people and real problems and discover the real God who shows up there.
What do we do???
There are some postmodern ideals that line up nicely with the kingdom, and if we want to raise children who love Jesus passionately and pour their lives out for his kingdom, we need to capitalize on them.
1.) PM’s are wildly attracted to those who love the unlovely and care about the poor.
a. Guess who else is into that? Jesus. He’s obsessed.
b. Want to show your children the Jesus they’ll follow for life? Love broken, poor, marginalized people. Love them like crazy.
i. Your attention to the poor and unlovely will go a million miles further with your kids than checking off a devotional every night.
ii. Giving you permission to pull out of some Christian program to make space for actual ministry, particularly to the marginalized (Do we really need to serve the saved any more?)
c. Have littles? This can fit into your life.
i. Open your home, take sandwiches to the homeless in your city one afternoon, connect with foster kids and families, sponsor international kids, send care packages to orphanages, let your kids see you hug necks and kiss cheeks and pray with hurting people and welcome them into your life.
ii. Pepper your language and prayers with words about people at the bottom.
iii. Make tangible financial sacrifices YOUR KIDS CAN SEE and reallocate that money to the most desperate people you can find.
1. You cannot put a price on this sort of discipleship.
2. Be warned: this is transformative for you too.
2.) PM kids will respond to authenticity and honesty and genuine parents, as opposed to a very controlling, dogmatic appearance-based approach.
a. Don’t hear me say we should all be loosey-goosey, hippie-dippy parents who have no rules and just live by their feeeeeeeelings.
i. We are still responsible for leading our children in the ways of Jesus, but our kids will be watching for transparency…I cannot tell you how much this will matter.
b. This gets real tangled up with how we want people to think of us.
i. We’re uncomfortable with failure; ours and certainly our kids. Our instincts tell us to protect our image to a watching world as moms who are doing everything right and whose kids are always happy and well-behaved
ii. This creates bondage, because in the name of measuring up, we’re doing our kids a real disservice by robbing them of the messiness that is the actual Christian life and preparing them for an unreal world where sin and problems are hidden away and only accomplishments are paraded
1. Bible is clear: Hiding produces shame.
2. Shame sometimes prevents bad behavior, but it doesn’t bring life or freedom or grace
c. False or unrealistic expectations can destroy a healthy family.
i. Some of you didn’t expect what you have (more babies by now, less babies by now, difficult child, child with special needs, job situation you don’t want, you want to be home, you want to be back at work….)
1. Let go of what you expected, and embrace what you have
a. The tug of war between expected and actual is what kills the spirit.
ii. God does his best work in reality. That gap between expected and actual is where grace takes over.
1. Tell your kids: It’s ok to mess up. I don’t expect you to be perfect and I will not be a perfect parent. Say those words, and you’ll create a house of grace.
2. Let them risk something and fail…even if you knew they would.
3. Then teach them what to do with failure: this will serve them the rest of their lives: we apologize, we try again, we try a different way, we learn from it, we don’t regret every mistake.
4. Say “I’m sorry” often and sincerely. Accept your kids’ apologies.
5. Let them enter a hard or challenging or difficult relationship with your guidance….you do the same and let your kids watch you navigate it with grace and truth.
6. Help your kids make amends for their mistakes without shaming or humiliating them. Act proud of how they respond to failure, not just when they get things right the first time.
a. They’ll learn that they can mess up, and no one will die.
d. Imagine your role as a coach rather than a dictator; this perspective will help our kids move from dependence to independence, and it eliminates the controlling approach we know our kids will rebel against.
i. Shift in thinking: “What do you want to accomplish?” and guide them into making their own decisions on how to get there.
ii. A coach asks good questions: What would it look like if…?
iii. Keep their goals in front of them, and shut down the lecture circuit.
iv. Speak of God’s plan for their lives from the time they are in diapers:
1. “Well done, good and faithful servant.” What would ‘well done’ look like here? What would servanthood look like here?
3.) Trust God that he is playing a crucial role in our kids’ lives, and we are just one piece of their story; we can fail and make all sorts of heinous mistakes, and God is still sovereign over our children. We are not responsible for controlling every minute detail of their lives.
a. Our authority over them is only the first small fraction of their timeline, but God’s leadership lasts their entire lives. We better get them properly introduced.
i. Let’s teach our kids to love Jesus, not a set of rules. We should be talking about his character and love and passion and heroics as much as we are talking about biblical behaviors.
b. As we consider the scary concept of letting them go, hear this: Our kids will not get lost in culture if they have experienced the dynamic, loving, radical Jesus.
i. If they know him in a life-changing way, they will learn to engage culture as a change agent and advocate without getting tainted by its influence.
ii. This is how God designed the kingdom. He raises up disciples and releases them on the planet.
1. There is no prototype for this. Your kids don’t have to fit an image or a mold or follow a specific script and neither do you.
2. God has always allowed every sort of personality and quirk and unlikely disciple into the family.
c. Believe it or not, the kids who go to Sunday School and Awanas and don’t drink in high school and go to college and vote Republican and keep everything between the lines are not a discipleship-prototype. Just let go of that notion.
i. There are actually all sorts of radical, unconventional pathways in the kingdom.
1. It’s made up of artists and dreamers and rapscallions and risk-takers and strange birds and dark horses and redeemed screw-ups and even suburban moms.
2. Do not fear if you or your family or your child colors outside the lines or wanders down unlikely roads or zigs left when everyone else zigs right, because if they love Jesus and contend for his glory in their few days on this earth, then they will indeed hear one day, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”