I’ve been working on this post called something like Mama, Don’t Feed Your Children Christian Clichés. In my best snarky voice, I was going to make fun of those moms who demand a “hedge of protection” around their children or tell them that, yes, our dog Sparky is certainly in heaven or the moms who really believe Romans 8:28 gives their children a pass from pain and sorrow. I was even going to ridicule the billboard just outside of Chattanooga on I-75 with the angelic (dead) teenage boy propped up on a pink celestial cloud reminding drivers to wear their seatbelts. I’m a mom, so I get it. The clichés make sense because we want them to, especially in that moment when our child hurts and wants answers. Easy answers.
I was going to talk about how we translate the truth to make it more palatable for our children and how for a while this is fine. After all, it’s hard to make abstract orthodoxy accessible to children’s concrete minds. But the danger comes later when we alter truth in order to make life more palatable. I was going to ask if we really want our kids to embrace an epicurean faith, one that stops at the taste buds and never gets fully digested into the deep tissue.
I was going to talk about those messy, painful times when a pink cloud cliché is easier than truth. When what is biblical seems like a hopeful myth in the face of real, hard life.
And then it hit me.
That’s why we do it. We want our children to trust in something that actually doesn’t make sense on the face of it. We want to trust, too, but we wonder at the mythic nature at the core of the Gospel. We believe God became flesh and died on a cross for our sins. We believe he rose from the dead and is still alive today. We believe this God lives inside our hearts. Step back for just a moment and consider how crazy that sounds.
Indoctrination is good. We want our children to know these basic truths and we give them every opportunity to ingest them. But indoctrination can lead to a numb acceptance. And numb acceptance will not hold up when the hedge of protection comes down and the difficult drama of real life appears far more real than the catechisms that comforted our kids in Sunday School. Add the clichés to those catechisms and our children are in danger of lumping the half-truths with the simple, stunning basics. And then what a mess they’ll have to untangle when they wake up as adults.
Consider the day when the notion of a God who came to earth and died and rose looks ridiculous to your child. When grace flies in the face of his or her understanding of life. When the truth you meted out so carefully becomes the elephant in the room. This may not happen, but it might. Give your child an elephant that is real and stands up to scrutiny. Don’t give in to the easy half-truths. Our friend Ron Blue says, “The longer term your perspective, the better your decisions today.”
The faith leap of parenting is a long jump.
So, instead of reducing the most colossal mystery in the universe to stuff like “when God closes a door, he opens a window,” a panacea which, aside from not being in the Bible, teaches our kids that God always has a contingency plan to make them happy, why not revel in the ridiculous mystery of what we know is true?
What if instead of fumbling to define God for our kids, we directed them to the One whose ultimate prerogative it is to define himself, to a God who called himself, from the burning bush to the cross, I AM? And what if we ourselves trembled in the Presence of this God and, in the midst of our quaking, asked him to show his glory to our children. Our small truths will never produce an earthquake in their hearts. The only Person to ever claim that his very essence was Truth can do it, though. Yes, there is a body of truth worth teaching our children, but in the end what we prayed desperately for our children was that they would encounter the Truth-giver.
A.W. Tozer said, “A low view of God is the cause of a hundred lesser evils. A high view of God is the solution to ten thousand temporal problems.”
Our clichés give our children a low view of God. So why not give them instead a higher view? Why not cultivate that view in our own minds, even though the high view often prompts more questions than it answers, even though it is full of paradox and wonder? What if we left the inevitable sorting out that comes with this view to God? To our children? What if, as our kids matured, we became their advisors, ones who stand in awe alongside them and marvel at this God who, though his thoughts are higher than ours, has stooped to make his very being known to us?