Volume 17, Issue 1: Childer
Children need to know who they are, and they need to have it on good authority. One of the worst manifestations
of modernist individualism is the idea that "we will let the children decide" what religion they will adhere to when
they grow up, or what elementary school they will attend, and so on. Such an approach is fundamentally an assertion
that each individual establishes his own identity. And when this route is taken, one of the first casulties is the security of
the childbecause security is all tied up with identity as a given.
Children need the security of
givens.Your family name is a given. Your mother and father are a given. Your sex is
a given. Your nationality is a given. Your faith is a given. Your tribe is a given. Your race is a given. When these
things are up for grabs, the result is that children hold their identity loosely, or confusedly. When confusion sets in, the
result is that everything is up in the air. A pathological example of this would be seen in someone like Michael Jackson,
who does not appear to accept any givens. But our name, sex, race, family, nationality, and religion are like the
concrete slab under the house, or like the floor joists. They are not furniture, to be periodically rearranged when the whim hits.
Far from squelching individuality, this kind of fixedness is the bedrock of it. Getting the givens close to the bone
is one of the most important tasks in bringing up children. If a little girl is sitting on her father's lap watching a
football game, and she turns to him and asks, "Who are
we for?" he should simply tell her.
"We are going for the Seahawks." This is just one additional blessing for herit helps her to understand who she is, who her people are, and how
they understand themselves.
But what if he says, "Well, honey, when you grow up and marry, your husband may take you to live in
another franchise market, and so I could not presume to tell you. I want to leave your options open"? If he does this, the
result is that he is refusing to give to her something that she needs very much. The example is a trivial one, but it illustrates
a broader pattern.
Parents, of necessity, impose a whole host of things on their children. The only question is whether or not
the impositions will be done selfishly or selflessly. If a man starts doing football drills with his three-year-old because
he was cut from the team in high school, then the chances are good that he is
selfishly trying to live through his son vicariously. But if he does the same thing because "that's what's my daddy did with me, and my granddaddy did
with him," then the time is a blessed one of establishing identity. Parents teach what they know, which means the
options are limited. This is not a problem; it is a design feature.
The choice is not between "imposing selfishly" and "not imposing." The action of "not imposing" is actually
our contemporary way of imposing confusion and insecurity. The true choice is between "imposing selfishly" and
The word impose may make some think that parents are to rule their children with a mailed fist, making them
all into cookie cutter offspring. But this is not the point at all. Every family culture has a set of givens, and God sees to
it that each child born into the home arrives with a set of his or her own givens. A child born into a non-musical
family may have enormous musical talent. A kid born into a bookish family may be a real athlete. The complicated
interaction of these givens is to be done in love, but the central point being made here is that the child's givens are not an
absolute. They are not a shrine at which all dutiful parents must worship. The fundamental adaptation is of the child to
the family, and not the other way around.
Vocation used to be far more of a familial given than it is now. We see this in many of our last
namesMiller, Cooper, Smith, Tanner, and so on. But just because the economy of the modern world has made it comparatively
rare that a great-grandson will be doing the same thing his great-grandfather did, and in the same shop, does not mean
that we should therefore abandon all the other family ties that remain. This is especially true of our faith.
The central question of identity is the child's identity
in Christ. If the parents are in Christ, then the child is holy
(1 Cor. 7:14). This means that a child should be taught, from his earliest moments, that "as for me and my house,
we will serve the Lord." He should not
be taught that "your mother and I serve the Lord, and we hope that one day
you too will join us." Children should be brought up in such a way as to think of departing from the faith as a species
of squaring the circle. They should not even know how to get their minds around it. But too often, Christian parents
teach their children to think that the unthinkable is in fact an option. The fact that we called apostasy a
regrettable option does not erase the central lesson learned, that it was in fact an
option at all. And so we bring up children who have no
certain religious identity, and are certain of no religion.