Is Better Better?

 

In God’s worldview, some values rise higher than comfort and happiness. Consider the most concise verses in the Bible on spiritual formation:

We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. — Romans 5:3-4

In Paul’s mind, character gets built by learning to persevere through difficult times.

If we never let our kids face difficult times, they’ll never become strong enough to make a difference in a very cruel world — as Jesus made a difference on behalf of all of us.

This understanding may cause some of us to reconsider what we regret most about our children’s current situation. One mother, bedridden by a lifelong hip problem, had to watch while her children did many chores. Her kids couldn’t take part in as many activities as other kids because they had a mom to look after, and she couldn’t get around easily enough to take them places every afternoon and evening. Further adding to their difficulty, the mom had to lean on her boys as she walked with a cane. For self-conscious adolescents, having such a parent can feel rather embarrassing.

Yet, as the mom recounts it, instead of making her children bitter, their experience of life with a near invalid turned her boys into “nurturing, caring people.” Because they had so many chores to do, they had to learn how to work together. The result? Each considers the other his best friend. The mom’s conclusion: “I do not believe that pain is good. But when I look at my children, I think that my life has been good, and I would not wish away the parts that have been hard.”4

We cannot feel unmoved watching our children suffer, yet living in a fallen world ensures that they will. So what’s the alternative? We parents can be so conscientious, so concerned, and so seemingly caring that we inadvertently raise overly soft boys and spoiled girls. Spared from any real pain, kept hidden from any real sacrifice, removed from any real sense of loss, they grow up without any sense of the agony experienced by Jesus on the cross. And if you remove the Cross from Christianity, all that remains is some wise moral teaching not terribly different from any other religion.

In the name of sparing our children these difficulties, in reality we are trying to spare ourselves the hurt of seeing them hurt. This cowardice must not stand. Coddled kids rarely have the mettle to succeed. When critics tear them apart, instead of setting their faces like flint, these pampered puppies will scamper off to the nearest corner, whimpering in self pity.

Have we lost Abigail’s understanding of the pain that purifies?

Two of our closest friends, Boone and Annie Carlson, noticed a major shift in their children’s attitudes when they moved from the country to the suburbs. In the country, chores made up a regular part of their kids’ lives, but when they moved to a city “with a postage-stamp yard,” they started spending most afternoons and evenings taxiing their children to various sporting events. Living on a much smaller parcel of land, they had far fewer chores to do. Over a period of months, Annie noticed that this lifestyle seemed to be creating lazy, self-centered, and demanding kids, so she and Boone sat down and worked hard at creating a chores list, nobly trying to defeat the quiet seduction of the suburbs that was giving their children an unrealistic view of life.

Sadly, many parents travel the opposite direction. They say, “My kids have it so much better than I did” — but to them I want to ask, “Is better better?” If by “better” they mean their own rooms, affluent lifestyles, busy schedules (creating “more opportunities”), state-of-the-art sports equipment, sports camps, and so on, then we should stop and ask ourselves if all of that really is a superior environment for raising children. My father grew up sharing a bed with two siblings; he worked for his own clothes from the time he was twelve years old. Even a young child’s loss of a job seriously affected the family — so much so that when his older sister got too sick to wash dishes at a restaurant, my dad walked in, of his own accord, to replace her. The restaurant owner laughed when he saw the little boy who had come to work. “You can’t even reach the sink!” he said, whereupon my dad pulled up a bucket, went to work, and gave the money he earned to his sister.

Today it would be illegal for him to do any such thing. From this perspective, my dad certainly didn’t have it better. He had none of the advantages enjoyed by most kids today (my own included). But oh, for another thousand men of his character! The question I ask when raising my own son is this: Is my dad’s character an accident, or did he learn some valuable lessons from what he suffered?

This doesn’t mean we should intentionally deprive our kids so they can become strong; this world will provide enough suffering without us artificially manufacturing it. There is a way to create a healthy family without undue coddling, but this isn’t the book for discussing that. This is a book from the parents’ angle, which for me means that I need to develop the courage to allow my children to face some difficulties and even suffering. This truly is “sacred parenting.”

Excerpted with permission from Sacred Parenting by Gary Thomas, copyright Gary Thomas.

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Your Turn

As parents, we want so badly to bubble-wrap our kids, protect them from every danger and hardship, but we can’t. Life is going to include hardships and difficulties. What if our job is to help them become holy instead of happy? What if our job is to help them learn to become godly? Come share your thoughts with us in the comments!

 

Gary L. Thomas

Gary Thomas is a writer in residence at Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, and an adjunct faculty member teaching on spiritual formation at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of over a dozen books, including Sacred Marriage, Sacred Pathways, Pure Pleasure, Sacred Parenting, and the Gold Medallion Award-winning Authentic Faith.

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