A few weeks back, as I was wrestling with how best to parent my son, I sent out an email seeking counsel from the most brilliant Christians I know.
The request was phrased as a challenge from the perspective of a fictional young man:
“Christianity is boring. You know what’s not boring? Getting stoned and having sex with a new partner.
You know what’s exciting? Getting drunk while racing to the beach and listening to loud music that glorifies drugs, money, sex, and violence.
Working hard, getting the advantage, beating out the other guy, making lots of money, and spending it. Work hard. Play hard. That’s exciting.
You know what’s fun? Kicking back with the boys, drinking beer, eating pizza, watching football, and making fun of everything you disagree with and people who aren’t like you.
I’ve experienced those things. I know what fun and excitement are really like. I can’t stand reading so I have very little larger perspective on life, I’ve failed at everything I’ve tried to do within the conventional system. Two weeks is an incredibly long time, and the concept of positive authority has been ruined for me by too many people constantly telling me what to do (I have ADD). What does Christianity have to offer me?”
In short I was asking, what does Jesus have to say to our young adults lost in the lies of this world?
Here is one of the more powerful and insightful responses I received:
“In many ways I agree. Christianity is boring. Especially the way we’ve institutionalized it into a club where you either fit the mold or are “backsliding” at best. Our education system is similar. Reading is the most important skill for our little ones to learn. So what happens when ADD and dyslexia interfere? From an early age we set our children up for failure. The same is true with the model of Christianity we’ve set up that requires penance or right behavior. Heck, even reading the Bible is a requirement and so the kids that struggle in school will most likely struggle in Christianity.
This type of Christianity is boring. The world is fun. I don’t regret my party days but rather I often think of them with fondness (I doubt I’d admit it in church though). I think Christianity needs to stop competing. It can’t win.
So what if we offered something completely different? Something not based on fulfilling human expectations but something so deep that it actually changed the way we want to live? AND that by living that way we could make a difference in the world? I think that’s where social justice efforts come into play. When we see the brokenness in the world and that we can be a part of the healing we are compelled to act. Just like Jesus.
Christianity was created and used for control. Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost. Our systems are man made (yup, just masculine at this point) and therefore dramatically flawed. So what do we have to offer?
A safe place to land when he falls is THE most important thing I believe parents can offer their teens but it is often the hardest on parents because it means letting their kid fall and watching them get hurt, when you may have had the power or knowledge to stop it from happening – If they’d just listen right?
Your example (unconditional love, respect, boundaries, a soft place to land), though it doesn’t line up with what your son wants, is still the best thing you can offer. We often return to our family values later in life. At what point in your life did you realize you were beginning to act like your parents? Or better yet, when did you become okay with acting like them?
My grandpa who recently passed away once said “it’s every parents goal that their kids turn out better than they did”. He was an ass and so there wasn’t much of a challenge :). Still, eventually we learn both how we want to be like our parents and how we don’t.
I think the pain of watching your children fail is why Jesus often wept for Jerusalem. And this guy I know posted on his Facebook the other day that he wasn’t convinced suffering was such a bad thing :). So how’s does the suffering of watching your child fail, or be told they are a failure, or even think themselves a failure remind you of your walk with God?
We often react most strongly to the things in our lives we haven’t dealt with in ourselves. That’s something to think about for both you an your son.
This was supposed to be a more concise and pithy email. Instead you got me going. I feel your pain. I’ve seen it in many parents and students over the last 10 years. It gets better. Will you remind me of that in 20 years when I have kids?”