At a recent parenting forum on children and technology at my church, I offered a discreetly told example of failure from my years of parenting teenagers. Even in the retelling, I could feel the knot of panic in my stomach the same as when the events were playing out in real time.
Nothing stirs fear in us quite like when our responsibilities as parents intersect with the tough realities of our world. And parents today face their share of legitimate fears.
Between social media, shifting sexual ethics, sex abuse scandals, pandemics, pornography, and all of the usual challenges of raising kids, the consensus is clear: Parenting today is hard. Christian parents are afraid, perhaps more than I’ve seen in my 25 years in ministry.
We want to protect children from temptation and negative influence, but the task feels insurmountable. We can feel powerless, asked to sail through uncharted waters with monsters left and right. But in the middle of my parenting fears, the Lord brought to mind timeless help to serve as a compass: He reminded me about what does not change.
Did my children face unprecedented challenges with technology and social pressures? In one sense, yes. But on closer observation, these were old challenges with new wrappings. The Book of Ecclesiastes goes to great lengths to drive home the point that there is nothing new under the sun.
I had always regarded this message to be a bit of a downer, but in tumultuous times, it emerged as the stabilizing force I needed. These challenges were not unprecedented. These waters were not uncharted. The eternal God looks down on this generation and sees no new problems. Not only that, he stands ready, as he always does, to be faithful to this generation and all generations.
Were my children certain to be overwhelmed by the temptations before them? Praise God, no. I had long appreciated the assurance in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that God always provides a way of escape from temptation. But parenting teens helped me to meditate on that verse: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.” The temptations of this generation are not novel or unforeseen. They are as old as human history.
What appears unprecedented to us is just another mechanism for committing an old sin, a modern method for giving in to an ancient temptation. Technology gives us new ways to succumb to the old temptation of lust. Cultural trends give us new ways to succumb to the old temptations of self-determination, self-will, and self-worship. Anxious parents can remember these common sins come with God’s same provision of escape.
Parents of all generations wrestle with fears both legitimate and illegitimate. I suspect that Christian parents from previous generations who raised children in famine, persecution, poverty, plague, enslavement, and war would question whether we face exceptional challenges in ours.
The same deep wells of wisdom that were available to them are available to us. The same escapes from common temptations are available to us and to our children. The same God who was their rock and fortress is ours today.
Much as we may want to, we cannot keep our kids safe from the world. What we can do is parent with the right fears in view, educated to the risks around us, anchored in reverence for God.
As Tim Kimmel has noted, our task is not to raise children who are safe, but to raise children who are strong. Children have sensitive “spiritual noses.” They can smell fear in us. We owe them the fragrance of Christ in our daily interactions with them. Let our parenting be motivated, then, not by the fears of our generation but by the fear of the Lord.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Parents motivated by fear rightly placed will carry the distinct aroma children need to be surrounded by to grow strong in a world that is, has always been, and will always be unsafe.
When we as parents model calm in the face of uncertainty and wisdom in the face of temptation, we invite our children to that same strength of character. We invite them to fear as they ought in an unexceptional age.
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