Protecting your child from the world–a parable

Once upon a time, two new fathers were walking through the park when they saw a burning bush that wasn’t consumed. After they took off their shoes and fell on their faces God said,

“Listen carefully. I’m warning you—if you don’t work really hard to prevent it, your children will drown when they are 19 years old.”

“How should we work hard to prevent this?” they asked.

“I gave you brains—use them! But, hear Me—each WILL drown if you don’t work really hard to prevent it.”

The first man ran to tell his wife.  From that moment on they devoted themselves to convincing their child that getting in the water was bad.  They would bathe him in 3” of water until he was 5 and then make him shower only.  They would never let him go to a pool or go to the lake with his friends.  They’d frequently tell him horror stories of drownings and the horrible dangers of swimming or even wading in water.  When the public school started a swimming team they began to home school.  While they used to vacation at the beach every year before he was born, they’d now only go to the mountains (and of course they destroyed all the old vacation photo albums before he was old enough to look at them).  They wouldn’t even let him watch TV shows if they showed positive images of swimming, boating or even wading.  When their son told them that he wanted to be a marine biologist, they told him that this was a demon-inspired curiosity and they wouldn’t hear of it.  After they sent him away to a college in New Mexico to study accounting, they laid awake every night worrying that he wouldn’t stay away from the water.

The second man also ran to tell his wife, and from that moment on they devoted themselves to knowing how to swim and be comfortable, strong and secure in the water.  Then, at the earliest possible age, they started teaching their child to swim.  As the years went by they taught and modeled water safety, skills and strength.  They were in the water a lot together as a family, and both parents watched closely to discern her strengths and weaknesses.  They worked together to strengthen the weak areas and were careful to warn her of the dangers that corresponded to her strengths.  When she told them that her career dream was to become the captain of a submarine, they embraced it with both hands.  When she left for Annapolis shortly before her 19th birthday, they prayed that God would protect her and strengthen her.  Then they fell asleep without anxiety.

You have a very limited time to train your children.  Never forget that while good judgment, wisdom, prudence and stewardship are virtues, safety  (in and of itself) is not.  What do your kids see as your priority for them?  Neither you nor your children are called to be safe.  You are all called, however, to be strong (like Jesus) in a dangerous world that is trying to conform you to its (fallen) image even as it harbors enemies trying their hardest to kill you.  Are you teaching your children to be prudent, strong, and wise as if their life depended on it?  The (very real!) dangers they face now are like the shallow end of the pool.  Get in there with them and train them to be strong, capable, wise and secure in a hostile environment–don’t drag them out of the pool!  They are going to have to spend a lot of their life in the water.  This is by God’s design.  The water will get deeper.  This is also by God’s design.

Naiveté is not the same as holiness.  Fear is not the same as prudence.  Wisdom teamed with strength is fertile soil for all the virtues.

Would your life change if you married a princess?

I remember a time, over 20 years into marriage, when the “big dealness” of marriage overwhelmed me. Certainly, I had thought about marriage many times before. I have always had a very high view of marriage, and I took my calling as a husband very seriously. Then, one night God overwhelmed me with a lesson, and my life has never been the same.

I was folding the laundry while my wife was at a meeting. I was getting increasingly irritated, as pretty much every piece of her clothing was inside out. I was seriously considering putting her socks together inside out (I can be that petty!) because I was so annoyed. Then this thought came and hit me like a hammer:

What if in the summer of 1991 I’d seen a burning bush in my back yard that was not being consumed. What if after I took off my shoes and fell on my face I heard the voice of God say,

“Son!  I have a daughter that I love very much. I love her so much that I was willingly tortured to death so that I could adopt her. There is nobody on this whole planet that I love more than her. She wears My name and bears My image and I am with her (very alertly) every nanosecond of her life. I could tell you exactly how many hairs are on her head, how many tears she’s ever cried and how much potential and aptitude I’ve built into her life. You’ve never met a more important person.

I want you to marry her and love her like I have loved you. I want you to take her into your house and give her your name. You will do whatever you have to do to help her know and fulfill her calling. I expect that you will treat her in a manner consistent with her relationship to Me. She is a princess. She is My princess. You will treat her accordingly. Do you have any questions? Is there anything I have said that is not clear?”

“No Sir.”

Would I ever consider not turning out her socks if I thought about what it meant to be married to a daughter of God? Is there anything too much to give her? How overwhelming it is that I am called to lead her in following our Lord and will give an account to Him for what I have done?

It is actually pretty overwhelming for a woman too. She is called to submit to a man’s authority and treat him with respect–an actual, real, man living after the events of Genesis 3 and manifesting the fruit of it regularly. Seriously–how terrifying, frustrating and risky is that?!

The plain fact is that all husbands and all wives are (to put it delicately) incomplete in their sanctification. Lest there be any doubt, living with a person who is “incomplete in their sanctification” occasionally feels like living with someone who is “a selfish, inconsiderate, offensive and infuriating sinner.”  Nevertheless, if your spouse has been adopted by God, he/she is actually a prince or princess.  His/Her Father is greater, richer, stronger and smarter than any king you could possibly imagine.  Nothing gets by Him and everything really matters.  Woe to the one who treats one of His children in a manner inconsistent with their privileged position!  He knows.  And, scarier still, He cares.

Let that sink in–God seriously cares.  He loves more passionately and knows more completely and gives more abundantly and threatens more horribly than any father in the history of the world.  If that doesn’t profoundly affect the way you treat your spouse, you need to seriously consider what you truly believe about your Almighty, Omniscient Father-in-law.

Marital Détente

While we may never actually say it out loud, inside I think we can sometimes feel like our little foibles and less-than-perfections are certainly not ideal but are really pretty understandable, given the circumstances. Marriage, however, puts you in the crosshairs of someone else’s “foibles and less-than-perfections” and they suddenly feel more like ugly sins that are not very understandable at all given your circumstances. Nothing can teach you about the ugliness of “foibles and less-than-perfections” like being irrevocably bound to a person who exhibits them. Then, the Holy Spirit (like a ghost of Nathan) will haunt your marriage whispering, “You are the man! You are the man!” And, like David, you can wind up broken and contrite, humbled and at peace.

We often quote Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”. I think we like that verse when we think about the outcome—sharpness! We all want to be strong and sharp!   I wonder, though, if the proverb is really more about the process than the outcome. The image clearly suggests that sparks, heat and pain are plentiful as two heavy, iron-strong dull things bang against each other so hard that one’s out-of-line rough parts get violently knocked off by the an other’s out-of-line rough parts. Why are we surprised when this hurts and offends?

Do you want to be sharp? Then God tells you in Proverbs that you must submit yourself to the spiritual discipline of rubbing against other big, heavy dull, out-of-line, rough people who will scrape against you so hard that parts of you are knocked off. Without anesthesia.

I think the reason that most marriages fail is because ever since Genesis 3 we all want to be sharp but we don’t want to be sharpened. When I say most marriages fail, I’m not just referring to those that end in divorce. While those obviously fail, there is a very comparable failure that exists in many marriages that endure. I call it marital détente.

“Détente” is a French word that literally means “loosening”. It was applied to the state of loosened international relations that allowed relatively peaceful co-existence during the cold war. In marital détente, a couple stays married, but loosens their community so they don’t rub against each other. No pain, no heat, no sparks, no sharpening. The spouses silently agree to turn a blind eye to each other’s dullness and out-of-line-ness and leave the relational space for it to continue unhindered. As long as they both exist in a comparable degree of dullness, they are content to live and let live (which is, more accurately, die and let die).

What will you endure to be sharp?  Will you submit to the discipline of sharpening?

Marriage is many things–not the least of which is a spiritual discipline.