The Overbite of “Christian” Overprotection
In the previous article I explained how today’s anxious parenting style is harming our children by creating fearful, narcissistic, and anxious children. Sadly, Christians with the best of intentions are leading the way to this wrong direction.
Let me explain. Are children aren’t becoming wimpy because we’re teaching them to be humble and training them to embrace patience. They’re going out into the world as wimps because we parents are ignoring the broader counsel of God, pushing away character traits that make us uncomfortable and pretending that being disengaged from the world is actually about holiness and purity, when more often it’s about fear, lack of preparation, and a lack of love.
Many of us have been following a set of principles that’s incomplete at best. This dangerous worldview, this outlook, is no one person’s creation. It’s no one denomination’s fault. It’s what ministers are told is the central thrust of our faith, the main principles to emphasize on any given Sunday. It’s what many of us have believed makes us believers. I call it The Official Script.
The problem with the Official Script is that it overemphasizes certain character traits at the expense of other important character traits. Here is a telling example. Jesus told his disciples that he was sending them into a dangerous world, as if they were sheep living among wolves. His advice? “Be wise as serpents, innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). He told those who dared to follow Him to be both streetwise and sin-free. Don’t hurt people, but don’t be a sucker either. But right now, the majority of sermons that parents and children hear are about becoming innocent as doves. The wisdom of serpents is largely discarded.
Because of this, we are ignoring God’s broader council, lopping off entire facets of truth about how life is meant to be lived—about what our heart and mind are to become, and about the choices our will is to make. I can’t overstress this: Usually our human intentions in all of this are for the absolute best. Nevertheless, by whatever name we call this way of life—Fortress Faith, Barricade Belief, Castle Christianity, Ivory-Tower Idealism— what we’re actually doing is replacing love with fear, goodwill with criticism, joy with anxiety, hope with worry, and strength with silence.
We’re often either marginalizing or largely eradicating such rugged virtues as wisdom, shrewdness, boldness, and courage (Interesting, the word Jesus used for wise in Matt. 10:16 can also be translated as cunning or shrewd. And courage’s opposite, cowardice, is listed in the Bible as a sin, equal with faithlessness, murder, fornication, sorcery, and lying [Rev. 21:8]). These aspects of integrity require an active and assertive approach toward life—but many Christians think being assertive is wrong. As a result, we’re bringing up our kids to be so sweet and compliant that I wouldn’t be surprised if the federal government and armed forces commissioned studies to determine whether or not children who grew up in churches are capable of defending our country. They may be forced to create another kind of Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell policy.
A football coach at a Christian high school told me it can take the better part of a season to convince his players that it’s okay to try hard in competing against your opponent. ‘‘Many think it’s wrong to,’’ he says, rolling his eyes. ‘‘Some of these boys think it’s wrong to tackle another person. Some of them I’ll never convince otherwise.’’
Why would teenage males believe it’s wrong to compete? Why would Christian school kids believe it’s wrong for them to set a boundary against an aggressive child or to be proactive, protective, and loving and defend someone being bullied? One primary reason is that we’re not showing them all of Jesus, the one who said, “Leave her alone” (John 12:7). Read the Gospels, and you see that, yes, Jesus is the Lamb who was offered as a sacrifice for us. But read Revelation, too; do we know and remember that He’s also the Lion, God’s Ultimate Warrior?
Jesus is meek—He said so himself. Meekness is synonymous with yielding and being submissive. But do we ever pause to ask ourselves, What is Jesus meek toward? We cannot read the Gospels and conclude that He was submissive to the will of man, which is always tainted with self-interest and is sometimes wicked. Jesus is submissive to His Father’s will. This is our calling, as well, and it’s what we should be teaching our children. And being submissive to our Father’s will sometimes brings us into conflict with this world.
Meekness isn’t false humility, meekness isn’t timidity, and meekness isn’t terror of conflict. Meekness is knowing who we are, believing that what God says is true, and then submitting to Him in obedience because we love Him in response to His love for us. Overall, that’s not what our children are receiving from us. Many of us are sending our children out onto life’s daily battlefield in fear that’s born from overprotection.
Making matters worse is how one study shows that 85 percent of people who attend church possess what can be described as a passive personality. Passive people are almost always fearful people who extend fake niceness. They are “kind to a fault.” Yet instead of learning how to be more like Jesus by becoming more bold and courageous, they hear sermons that encourage them to be even nicer and more pleasant, even when the come face-to-face with clear examples of cruelty, injustice and wickedness. For many, it’s the wrong prescription, like giving birth control to a diabetic. Passive people already play life too safe, and they go to churches that tell them to play life even safer, producing children who are even more in love with safety than the risk that accompanies genuine faith and purposeful and intentional living.
Our noble goal is to raise assertive—not passive or aggressive—children who are able to live abundant lives and are better able to love God and others. This requires helping our children to grow the tougher virtues, or what’s called the vegetables of the spirit. But for some Christian parents still reading from the Official Script instead of the gospel facts, encouraging kids to be more ruggedly righteous and to embrace virtues like boldness, tough self-love and tough other-love is a frightening mandate that borders on (and even crosses over into) unchristian behavior. The opposite is true. Furthermore, I’m not advocating the development of children who are selfish and mean—again, just the opposite.
I’m talking about children who are well-schooled in assertive living and are more likely to become powerful and redemptive forces for good. People who understand that in order to possess integrity that a person must be willing to able to use force justly, which is part of the original definition of integrity. Children who as adults are better able to handle their own tears and to help dry the tears of this world. Children who throughout their lives can love their neighbor and ‘‘encourage the timid and help the weak’’ (1 Thessalonians 5:14) through sharing their strength and goodness.
As I explained in both No More Christian Nice Guy and Married . . . But Not Engaged, what many of us consider to be manners or decorum, or being pleasant and considerate, is actually fear and passivity. This is vice disguised as virtue, and until we call it what it is and begin changing our belief and practice, we will carry this deception into our parenting, just as we carry it everywhere else.
I’m glad to say that a growing number of Christian parents are bucking the trend to overprotect their children, though they will appear a little odd. They are entering the fray, picking up their swords and raising their voices against the tides of both culture and church that weaken rather than empower us and our children. George Barna, in his provocative work Revolution, calls such people ‘‘revolutionaries.’’ A revolutionary might ‘‘feel like the odd person out’’ and be ‘‘embarrassed by language that promises Christian love and holiness but turns out to be all sizzle and no substance.’’
I think Barna’s right. Too many Christian kids have grown up believing that being nice and pleasant is synonymous with being good and righteous. They suffer from this shell game. For many, this indoctrination begins in Sunday School where they learn that “Jesus is your Savior. Now let’s make a rainbow.” It sounds odd to think that they should be making shields and swords instead, but this is the direction the Bible gives us, if only we can surmount our beloved infatuation with well-meaning overprotection.
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 with his wife, Sandy, for married couples 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.
Visit Sandy's website for reluctant entertainers at: http://www.reluctantentertainer.com