Showing Our Kids the Whole Spectrum of Virtue
Wisdom often leads to conflict, and it is spiritually neglectful not to explain to our children that if they align their lives with God’s will, they will be met with challenges. If we don’t, we can be sure we’ll be raising a generation of what I call Second-Seed people—those who walk away from their faith when the going gets tough.
When we read Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matthew 13; Mark 4; Luke 8), which describes why faith grows in some but not others, we hope we’ll only find our inner lives described in one key passage. When we find our faithlessness laid bare on the page, we sometimes fail to understand the real reason: We simply don’t have the backbone to withstand the difficulties that come from being the oddballs God wants us to be.
Second-Seed people respond superficially to God’s Word.
These are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. (Mark 4:16-17 NRSV).
They lack the rugged virtue of fortitude. Why? Because their training makes them so eager to please others that they crumple under even mild criticism. They were trained to be nice kids instead of good ones.
Such people may possess a saving knowledge of Jesus, but they do not follow Him closely. This is what’s caused by an anxious mindset born from spiritual neglect: It depletes people of their rootedness and brings fearfulness, though “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2Timothy 1:7). Passive, worried people are being shaped by someone other than God; they are being made into the image of their life experiences, starting in childhood. We parents need to stop creating spiritual veal and give our kids the training they need—they harder but more rewarding endeavor of creating true spiritual warriors.
I see this, generally, in our teaching children about love. When we encourage them to be more loving, we usually encourage them to do nice things for others. We must also show them that love includes caring so much about someone that you confront him when he’s wrong and defend him when he’s under attack.
Fortunately, a growing cluster of writers are reconsidering our current portrayal of Jesus and Christian faith as a conflict-free existence, they are, as Mark Galli claims, “filling in the picture.” Galli, managing editor of Christianity Today, is among the bright lights emancipating Jesus from well-meaning yet hazardous sermons, books, and songs that portray Him as history’s all-time Nicest Guy.
In Jesus Mean and Wild: The Unexpected Love of an Untamable God, Galli is quick to point out that he does not live up to the rugged ideals he finds in the life of Christ and in the admonishments of virtuous Christian behavior.
My family and friends tell me that I do indeed live out Jesus’ “mean and wild” love—courage, boldness, righteous anger, etc.—more than many people. But I still feel that I am addicted to niceness, and that there are many instances when my courage to act in love fails me. So I’m looking to Jesus to help me grow in this area.
Galli wrote this powerful book to address a subculture in many churches that emphasizes the gentler virtues, which are great, but sometimes don’t address the tougher virtues like courage and boldness. This subculture puts out sermons where we hear that Jesus never got angry, never lost His cool, never said a mean thing and was always patient. This isn’t what you find in the Gospels. I personally was stunned by His boldness and anger found in the Gospels, especially the Gospel of Mark.
This subculture that creates troubled adults needs to see another side of love, which takes a variety of forms.
You learn this pretty quickly as a parent. A good parent is tender and tough, depending on what his child needs. We have a hard time translating this truth into our adult lives when we relate to God. Sometimes God is still and tough with us because He loves us. He’s not being abusive. Athletes tend to understand this concept better than the rest of the population.
Galli says we ignore tougher biblical passages because they make us uncomfortable.
A lot of this discomfort revolved around the misconceptions by some Christians that anger and conflict are always wrong and that Jesus is always nice. We need to topple this false idol of Jesus that we’ve made. [The real Jesus is the same one who] invites those who are weary and heavy-laden to come to Him for rest. What we all have to learn is that Jesus’ love comes to us in a variety of ways; sometimes it feels good; sometimes it doesn’t. But if we give it time, we’ll see that many of the things that didn’t feel good were really God’s means of shaping us, preparing us, disciplining us, loving us.
A merely Sweet Savior is ultimately incapable of helping us—and our children—in life’s most difficult moments.
I need a Savior who empathizes with my pain, but I also need a Savior who is strong to save—who has the power to defeat satanic influences in my life, who will overcome evil in the world one day. In the end, the Sweet Savior merely feels bad for me but is helpless in the face of evil. If we only show children, especially boys, His compassion, they may be tempted to think of Jesus as a wimp—certainly not someone worth giving their lives to. And if we show only the “mean and wild” side, they may become merely arrogant and abusive.
In addition, showing children only the Nice Nazarene runs the risk of making them sentimental instead of truly compassionate.
They give evil a pass instead of confronting it boldly. They become nice instead of loving. To leave this dimension of a tough Jesus out of our spiritual education is to misrepresent Jesus, and that can only create crippled disciples.
Weak and timid children become adults whose lives are often riddled with relational havoc, whose spouses do not respect them. This letter from a reader of my previous book, Married…But Not Engaged, shows how deadly lack of self-respect and respect are to marriages and how true marital harmony is created when a more assertive approach toward life is employed.
I just wanted to share with you the journey that my husband and I have embarked upon thanks to your book.
He failed to come through on his word to me about something, not something big, but still I was angry and felt let down. In previous times, his apologies to me have mostly consisted of his begging for my forgiveness. Although I love him with all my heart, I have, at those times, held onto my anger out of fear of being let down again and have not forgiven him straightaway as I should have done.
Last night, though, was so different. With his characteristic sincerity, he apologized, took full responsibility for the fact that he had let me down, but he did not beg! For the first time in our marriage of almost five years, I was able to admit to him that I felt I couldn’t express my anger to him for fear that he couldn’t handle it. I was able to honestly express my feelings of anger.
At the same time, I understood from the calm, self-respecting way he was speaking that my usual withholding of forgiveness would be entirely useless. He had apologized and was willing to make restitution, but he would not be manipulated—and his life was not “over” until I was happy with him again.
I felt like I’d been pulled up short. I looked at my past behavior and didn’t like what I saw. I recognized that while he would crawl and beg and grovel, I felt justified in my disrespectful treatment of him. After all, he obviously didn’t feel he deserved respect! But last night, when he treated himself with respect, I couldn’t help but give him that same dignity. I felt a new respect for him welling up in me and I let go of my anger.
Now we’re both excited. I’m reading your book along with him so that I can encourage and support his growth, and mine!
We have a baby boy and I feel like this is the perfect time for this change to be happening. I’m so glad that my son will grow up with an example of what a man should be, and (hopefully) the treatment he deserves from his future wife. We are both grateful for your much-needed message!
Weak and timid children become parents whose children find them spineless and unreliable. They have checkered employment histories and an obligatory church attendance that fuels cynicism and resentment toward God. These anxious people also wear their bodies out—they’re more at risk for hypertension, migraines, intestinal maladies, and other stress-related illnesses.
Perhaps the most shocking part of their personality, already entrenching itself while they’re kids, is that they tend to be dishonest and deceptive. Because their parents cannot or will not discern the difference between false humility born of timidity and real humility created by genuine modesty, they don’t point out to their children what fear and passivity are doing to their lives. So for example, when they lose at a board game or at pickup hoops because their timidity prohibits them from cultivating playfulness and competitiveness, they say they lost because “I didn’t try my hardest,” and “I could have won if I wanted to.” These are the words I heard a pastor’s passive son tell my boy. They develop ways to deceive themselves and others in ways that can set patterns and strongholds for their entire lives.
Furthermore, they frequently feel they have no choice in the matter, because their only option is to conform to the will and expectations of others. They’ve been robbed of their ability to do what they believe is right. For instance, when they witness other children being bullied, they watch as if it’s occurring on TV or as if they’re not even present. They lack the tougher virtues, and it’s the tougher virtues they must have.
Paul Coughlin is the author of numerous books, including No More Christian Nice Guy and No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps. He also co-authored a book for married couples with his wife Sandy, titled Married But Not Engaged. His articles appear in Focus on the Family magazine, and he as been interviewed by Dr. James Dobson, FamilyLife Radio, HomeWord, Newsweek, C-SPAN, The New York Times, and the 700 Club among others. Paul is founder of The Protectors, the faith-based answer to adolescent bullying, which provides curriculum for Sunday Schools, private schools, retreats, and individuals that trains people of faith to be sources of light in the theater of bullying.