Dear Family Legacy,
How do I set parameters related to our family’s faith in a secular environment?
~ Dangerous freedom?
Dear Dangerous Freedom,
That’s a good question. You’re kids are being bombarded by things through school, media, friends, that aren’t necessarily good for them (understate things much?). Of course we want to protect them. On the other hand, if we press too hard, kids will often rebel. If we’re “too strict,” the things we’re trying to keep them from seem even more alluring and enticing. The answer, Johnny Cash might say, is walking the line.
But first, some important underlying principles…
Boundaries. How you look at boundaries is very important. God brought Israel into the Promised Land which was the place where God fulfilled his promises to his people. It was the place where their potential was maximized – as individuals and as a nation. It was a place of spiritual growth and freedom. It was a place of ownership and self-worth given by the Lord…for them and their spouses and children. They built homes, and cities and businesses. They had the freedom to worship God. Their children grew up and got married in peace. It was a place the people could establish roots and grow. The Bible describes it as flowing with milk and honey.
When God took them in, though, he set boundaries: “Every place where you set your foot will be yours: Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the Euphrates River to the western sea (Deuteronomy 11:24, NIV).”
Beyond those borders – east, west, north, and south – the world was very dangerous for the Hebrews. Within them, God promised prosperity. So God doesn’t create boundaries to limit us, he gives them to protect us. We can focus on the limitations, but we forget about the milk and honey we’ve been given. We forget the amazing freedom he gives us. Remember, within the boundaries of his word, every place our feet touch is ours.
Our job as parents is to do the same thing for our kids based on God’s word. Our goal isn’t to limit their freedom or creativity or fun, but to protect them from the things we know (sometimes the hard way) will harm them. It’s not always easy to convince a kid of that, but it is true. If we remind ourselves of the purpose for rules, it is a lot easier to “stick to our guns.”
Salt and Light. God has called all of us – children included – to be salt and light to the world (see Matthew 5:13-16). In short, as disciples we are given the ministry of reconciliation – reconciling others to God. Your kid can be a great witness to his friends…but only if he is firm in his own faith.
Has he accepted Christ as his Savior and Lord and shown evidence he is not easily swayed in the ways of the world? Can he think for himself? Is he moved by peer pressure? If he isn’t a Christian or these areas aren’t strengths, giving too much freedom could possibly lead him back to the yoke of slavery.
Both of our kids accepted Christ at a young age and have followed him continually since that time. However, the early teens did not come without difficulties. There was a period in our son’s teens when his decision to follow Christ transitioned from the faith of his parents to a faith he owned himself. I began to feel fear creep into my soul as he began questioning his faith and even the existence of God. I had to guard my heart from wanting to grasp tighter and force my beliefs on him.
Jim and I spent time talking with him extensively, praying with and for him to hear God’s voice and choose the truth. And he did! So, he re-committed his life, owned his own faith, began his own, personal walk with the Lord and never looked back. His junior year he began considering whether or not God was calling him to change schools from his Christian school, where he was safe and protected, to the public school in our district. He felt like he needed to be salt and light. As much as we were hesitant to release him, we felt confident that the Lord would speak to him about whether or not he should transfer. We knew if God told him to transfer, He would equip him.
If we keep our kids hidden away in a castle, they aren’t experiencing the power of God through ministry. However, we must be wise and we must really know our children. We must know if they are standing firm in their faith, resisting temptation, and if they are empowered by the Holy Spirit. Then we must believe God will reveal to our hearts whether or not in certain situations, our children can be given certain freedoms to be salt and light in the world (Our son discovered, of course, that even Christian schools need salt and light. He has plenty of ministry opportunity now that he’s in college).
So…back to walking the line. How do you reconcile these two seemingly disparate ideas of boundaries and freedom? Here are some principles we’ve followed:
The word of God – Sometimes, God sets the boundaries for us in his word, so there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. If God says no, the answer is no.
Prayer – Some issues aren’t as black and white as we’d like. Here there may be biblical principles (as compared to outright statements) to apply…but we need lots of prayer at this point. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you boundaries.
Relationship – We can’t stress this one enough. If you have relationship and open communication with your kid, you will know where your child stands in his/her faith and you can talk about boundaries. What do they think the boundaries should be? Why? Why do you think that would be good/bad for you? Talk about biblical principles and let them share their opinions. We really do believe (even though they will deny it!) that kids want boundaries – because within them they feel safe. The world is pretty scary these days. Kids want security.
Authenticity – No one likes hypocrites…and kids are always looking for ways around rules. If they see you standing firm on an issue for them, but crossing the boundary yourself, it can get confusing and embittering.
Boundaries and Trust – Finally we make it clear to our kids that we give them freedoms because they have proven themselves trustworthy. We let them get involved in this or that activity because we trust they will honor the Lord and our family’s name. However, the converse it true as well. If your child hasn’t been trustworthy, then stricter boundaries are enforced – with a plan discussed how they can re-gain your trust.