He was wearing next to nothing…
…and that’s with a generous measure of optimism. We were driving home from church, and my 6 year old’s gasp made my gaze whip to the rearview mirror. She was staring, horrified, at the rider of a motorcycle on our left rear bumper. The rider was garbed in a head scarf, with no other clothing visible.
“Mama, why would he do that???”
It’s not the first time I’ve heard that question, and it won’t be the last. I’m more than sure of that. We’ve talked about a broad range of topics, and there’s plenty more to come. I cringe when I think about this world my kids are entering. If there were bubble-wrap suits for their souls, you can believe that they would be wearing them!
Sheltering…it’s my go-to response.
Cuddle those love bugs up on my lap and keep them little and blissfully ignorant. But that’s pure selfishness (not to mention, it won’t work.) Friends, we can monitor their friendships, curtail their electronics, sanction their reading, and even homeschool these babies of ours, but there is no sheltering them…not when the drive from church involves leering, nearly-naked people. Not when hot button issues splash across the front pages of checkout aisles and on the airwaves. Not when the latest fairy tale movie turns into a tug-of-war between opposing factions. Not when even close relationships disappoint and are pock marked with imperfections.
No, sheltering isn’t practical, nor does it recognize our children as future world-changers.
They are people with a call on their lives, a mission to fulfil, and dreams that will almost certainly scare me witless. They need to be protected from issues too weighty for their small shoulders, but only for a short season. Faster than I am ready, we need to talk about gritty things. They need to know that falling short is the human condition and that grace is the only thing that sluices through any amount of sediment. They need to know that we all sin and struggle mightily.
They need to know that no heart is immune to foolishness, that no relationship is perfect, that people will disappoint and be cruel, but that Jesus is bedrock solid.
More than being sheltered, they need truth. It’s what sets people free, and isn’t that, more than all the hovering and fretting, what they need? If I get to the heart of the matter, I want my precious ones to be free. I want them to soar, weightless and joyful into a world that is cold and disappointing, and I want the truth to be the wind under their wings. And as we preach the Gospel to them, we imbed it on our own hearts. There will be talks about the headlines in the future. The bombings, the shootings, the stabbings, the ways children are exploited and abused. We’ll need to talk about the horrors of Hitler and slavery and man’s sickening brutality to man throughout history.
If I send them out, sheltered from all that is negative, they have no immunity. They need to be prepared for the dazzling and terrible things they will encounter in this world. They need to know that evil is real, but that they don’t have to be afraid. John 16 should be every parent’s speed dial when it comes to horrifying headlines and fear of the future. When all is said and done, Jesus’ words in verse 33 say it best: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (NIV). When they’re little, we can lay the groundwork for those later talks. The playground gives myriad examples of people being foolish or hurtful or selfish. Heck, 5 minutes in our living room is plenty of opportunity to showcase all of those attributes. Because, honestly?
The enemy isn’t out there, some wild-haired extremist or creepy guy with too many tattoos…the enemy is in your house, seducing you into believing that if you just do it right (whatever it is)…then everything will be peachy keen.
The enemy is in my superiority complex, my self-hatred, my secrets. The enemy is in anything that tempts us to forget that Jesus is the way, the only way to ever get anything even halfway right. Sheltering is ineffective, because although there is rampant evil in dark alleys and lurid magazines and locked behind prison walls…evil is as close as the nearest human heart: yours, mine, and even theirs. Sheltering fails to recognize that we’re all terminal with sin, that Jesus is the only antidote for all of us – for the prim housewife and the tattooed biker, for the Hollywood star and the Hindu priest, for the homeless and the hedonist, the terrorist and the model citizen.
Speaking the truth all through the years about human tendencies, about how much we all need Jesus, about how prone we all are to forgetting all the important things and focusing on all the unimportant things…this can be even better than sheltering. We can relate the Gospel to skinned knees and snobby kids, and it is equally relevant to nuclear warfare and genocide. We MUST integrate what we’re seeing, (whether it’s unclothed men on motorcycles or hurtful words or coveting our neighbor’s sandbox toys) to the truth in Scripture that ultimately points back to God. This is what it means to, “Talk about [God’s law] when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” (Deuteronomy 6:7-8 NIV). This is the dialogue that can continue through the years as they grow and mature – and it needs to.
Because when the world falls in on them, whether it’s in 6th grade or their 60’s, this is their shovel and their shelter: the sturdy grace of a risen Savior. You and I won’t always be there, hovering and editing and protecting…but Jesus will never forsake those kids, just as He’ll never forsake us.
He’s all the shelter that they – and we – will ever need.