I was drinking coffee late into a Thursday night with my girlfriends as we were discussing the challenges of raising kids in today's me-centered "gimme-gimme" culture. In the course of the conversation, I made the comment, "But I'm not called to simply raise middle class kids. I'm called to raise disciples of Christ."
The comment came out and the conversation went on,and friends went home and I didn't think about it again. But a few days later one of my girlfriends told me that she'd been thinking about my comment ever since, as it had spoken to her heart in a special way. Funny how God does that.
Ever since she brought it up again, the comment has been ruminating in my heart too.
In this gimme gimme world of instant gratification, how do we raise kids to be passionate followers of Christ? Jesus doesn't ask us to think of ourselves first, to satisfy our own desires, or to go after everything we think we are entitled to. Quite the opposite. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matthew 16:24)
I think it's safe to say that no generation has been so addicted to the instant gratification of our every wish as we are today. I just heard that Starbucks has developed an app that allows customers to order their coffee over the phone so that it's available for pick-up when you get there. Handy? Absolutely. But you have to admit that it screams instant-gratification.
I'm also guessing that no generation has been so obsessed with self as we are today. I'm sure you heard a few weeks ago that a major morning news show was running a special called "Love Your Selfie" in which adults were sending in "selfies." The purpose was to promote body image, which is fine, but seriously? Adults sending in selfies, which is one of the most 7th grade words and concepts I've ever heard of...taking a picture of yourself, alone, and posting it on social media for the sole purpose of flattery.
It seems to be the height of narcissism.
And yet as Christian parents we are called to raise children in such a way that they take Jesus seriously when he says "deny yourself." That's a tough call.
Tonight just shortly before 6pm, my kids were playing an adventure game in the living room and I was getting supper ready. I cheerfully called out, "Kids, supper is ready!"
And immediately one child scoffed and said, "Ugh! Supper always wastes my playtime." It was not said in a playful teasing voice; it was said in a snotty sassy voice. I asked the said child if I should stop serving supper, and reminded the child that many children at our own school frequently go without supper. Those children would happily and thankfully eat this supper I cooked. The said child's attitude corrected quickly and we enjoyed our supper.
Most of us. Another child threw a tantrum after realizing that the rest of us were already eating our dessert of left-over green shamrock cake. This child, however, had left their plate untouched and then tantrumed about not getting cake. Then the said child pushed his/her plate across the table so fast that it fell on the floor (surprisingly not breaking), and had to sit on the floor next to it until the said child finally picked up the plate and all the food. And then due punishment followed.
It was unpleasant.
Now, my kids are really fantastic kids. And I understand that they are kids. But I also understand that they have been born into sin and that my role as their parent is to train them in righteousness. I refuse to settle for the "kids will be kids" mentality. I want my kids to know the joy of obeying Christ now, too. Not just when they become adults.
Jesus said to let them little children come to Him. That statement is profound in many ways, and I think one thing Jesus meant was that young children actually can handle discipleship. They aren't too young to follow Jesus. But I need to train them in doing so.
And it aches me because in the midst of a society that screams "HAVE WHATEVER YOU WANT AT THE MOMENT YOU WANT IT" we already get the rundown from our older children about how "everybody" else is going on vacation, and "everybody" else gets to go to restaurants, and "everybody" else, etc. etc. etc. They are being taught, simply by existing in today's world, that they are "entitled" to cake and vacations whenever they want it.
But really, if we're honest with ourselves, we'll realize that we're not "entitled" to anything. God alone gives us breath and life. He alone in his abundant love and grace gives us righteousness and peace, and then on top of that, every morsel of food or drink of water or car to drive or taste of green shamrock cake or a great book to read or a friend to talk with or a house to live in or an iphone...those are all lavish gifts of his goodness. It has nothing to do with me being entitled and everything to do with God being abundantly good.
And if He takes all those things away...He is STILL abundantly good.
So, friends, how do we do this? I mean really, I want to know from you how we do it. Many of you have gone before me in parenting and I want to know what you've done.
There are steps we're taking - not having cable, living frugally, doing Operation Christmas Child with our kids, sponsoring children through Compassion International and World Vision, talking openly and honestly about hunger and poverty and children dying from starvation.
But there is so much more we could and should be doing. We should be doing service projects with our kids at local food banks. We should be ringing salvation army bells as a family. Honestly my excuse is that we still have an 18 month old and it's logistically difficult with toddlers. Maybe that's a poor excuse.
We want to take our kids, near and far, to see and taste and hear and feel true poverty, and experience it as a family. The plane tickets alone for the six of us might cost nearly as much as a year of college tuition, but some experiences are more important than tuition money. Because until a person sees real poverty, and tastes it and feels it first-hand, one's heart usually isn't fully broken in the way it needs to be. And until your heart is broken for the things of God, it's much harder to live all out for the things of God.
In my work with teenagers, I see a generation of teens that is surprisingly ready and wanting and hungering to take the love and peace and justice of God to a world that desperately needs it. I see a generation that wants to deny themselves for the sake of Jesus, but doesn't know how. Because by and large, our generation of adults isn't actively showing them. What we're giving them instead is iphones and ipads and selfies and twitter accounts and apps to order your coffee immediately. So since that's what we as adults are handing them, that's what they do. But they want more.
And by wanting more, I mean less.
Today's young people want less empty narcissism and more emptying of themselves.
And I want more for my kids than the gimme gimme culture in which they are being raised. I want them to know that Jesus really meant it when he said that to truly be his follower we must deny ourselves. And I want them to know that the joy of denying themselves for the sake of Jesus is a joy far greater than getting cake or vacation whenever they want it. And it's a joy far greater than instant coffee. And it's a joy far greater than a fat paycheck.
And I want to know from those who've gone before me in parenting how you've carried out this call. Or those who are walking alongside me in parenting - share what you're doing now.
We're in this together.
Let's not simply raise middle class kids. Let's raise disciples.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?