Every Friday I like to write a more personal reflection piece on the things I’ve been mulling over. I’ve written about a bunch of different things lately–why teenagers rebel, women getting burnt out from church, why we yell at our kids–and as all of this has been spinning around in my head, sort of like laundry in a washing machine, turning upside down and back and forth, I’ve started to see some common threads.
And one thing that occurred to me is this:
Deep down, we’re supremely scared that God doesn’t make a difference. Deep down, we’re supremely scared that we’re in this alone, and we have to make decisions alone, and all of this rests on our shoulders.
Let’s look at the church example and the teenage rebellion example for a moment to see what I mean.
Our Churches Give off the Message that They are Extremely Insecure
In my article on women starting to say “no” to church activities, we had a great discussion in the comments about what sorts of activities really are vital to a church, and what sorts of activities are more like “make work” projects, that we do because churches have always done these things and there really is no way around it. But then I had a few emails that helped me see things in a different light. Jan Cox, an author friend of mine, asked this:
Why is it that we need food at every Bible study? If I go to a Bible study at 7:30 at night or at 11:00 in the morning there’s always the expectation that there will be food. But when I’m at home I eat three meals a day. I don’t eat at 11:00 or 7:30. So why is it that we always have to make and bring food? Shouldn’t the Word of God be enough?
I think that’s an excellent question, and it gets maybe to the heart of the matter. Food is a wonderful thing, and community is often built around sharing a meal. But why do we bring food when food isn’t necessary?
Maybe it’s because we’re trying to make the activity more attractive, because we’re secretly afraid that if there’s not food, and there’s not a “fellowship” time, and there’s not something “fun”, that people won’t come.
It’s almost like an incentive.
Nowhere is this more apparent in the church than in youth groups, which are little microcosms of the wider church. Youth group is set up to attract kids and make them stay by making it FUN. We don’t want to overburden them with Bible studies. We want to give them lots of messages on how God loves them, and not quite so many on holiness. We want to do lots of flashy games! We want high energy, high power, high numbers!
But isn’t this really saying, “we’re afraid that kids won’t show up unless we make every week like a party”? (My 16-year-old just made a tongue-in-cheek video on the 5 Things She Hates about Youth Group, and I think you’d enjoy it, because it gets to this issue. We give a watered down message and a ton of games, and ultimately, is that effective? I know she’d appreciate it if you watched it and SHARED it!)
There’s a very fine balance between creating a great, nurturing community at a church and being so scared that people will leave that you have to make sure that there’s a ton of energy and activity.
We certainly need fun things at church, and we certainly need some food. But I think the wider point is still there: are we throwing these activities and doing these things to try to keep the ones we’ve roped through the doors in the doors, or are we really wanting to grow in Christ? Because sometimes we give the impression that it’s the former. Like the people get through the door, but then it’s our responsibility to make sure we don’t lose any (even though it was God the Father who went out and found the lost sheep). And we seem awfully scared that we’ll lose people if we don’t have the best worship music, the best pews, the right colour carpet, and the right food at coffee time. (Though I love the coffee bars at many churches!)
We Assume Teenagers Will Rebel
Now let’s turn to the teenage rebellion issue. My 19-year-old’s post from last month on why she didn’t rebel has gone completely viral. It took all of us by surprise, and she’s done radio interviews and been offered internships and all kinds of things since that post came out. It’s kind of ironic, too, because she wrote it in about 15 minutes when she was bored at a university statistics class. So it’s not like we planned it or anything.
But what she set out to argue was this:
Teenagers do not have to rebel. Too many parents treat rebellion as if it’s to be expected, and it’s absolutely not. Many teens won’t rebel, and we shouldn’t expect that they will.
I think that’s a perfectly valid thing to argue. But in the comments many people turned the argument on its head, as if she were arguing this:
If you do these things your kids are guaranteed NOT to rebel.
She wasn’t saying that at all, and I did think that she made it clear. But I’ve noticed a really funny phenomenon on this blog. Whenever I post about how to parent toddlers or how to discipline school-aged children, the comments all revolve around the techniques. But when I post about how to parent teenagers, the comments shift. Suddenly they’re all about, “ah, but you can do all of these things and kids can still turn out badly!” It’s like you’re not allowed to share “best practices” for how to parent teens in case we make people feel guilty.
I just sense that Becca’s first argument is still very much the underlying tone of how we approach parenting teens.
“There are no guarantees. Kids can, and often do, mess up. This has nothing to do with you, though.” Doesn’t this sound like we’re trying to give God an “out”? I believe in you, God, but if it’s not in your plan that my kids stay Christian, that’s okay. It’s not really a prayer of faith, is it?
I do agree that there are no guarantees, but it’s also a matter of emphasis. There are no guarantees that I won’t be hit by a car or get cancer tomorrow, either, but I’m operating on faith that God has me in His perfect plan. And so I don’t worry about those things. If they were to happen, I’d deal with it because God would carry me and He would be with me. But I’m not going to assume the worst right now because that isn’t biblical and it does nothing to help my life.
Yet are many of us walking on default, assuming the worst?
So let me ask you today: are you living out your Christian life as if you have faith that God is in control, knowing that you can hand things over to Him. If something bad happens, He’ll carry you, but you don’t focus on the bad. Do you assume that God will actually make a difference in your life?
Or do you assume that God will only make a difference if we work our hardest and do our best and spin those little legs as much as we can, because ultimately it all rests on us? And so it’s likely we’ll fail. It’s expected we’ll fail. And faith isn’t something we live out. We give lip service to it, but we don’t live it.
God should make a difference. If He doesn’t, what’s the point of all this? But God won’t make a difference until we start living by faith, knowing that He can do His own PR work (we don’t have to). He has the power to draw others to Himself (we don’t have to). He has the power to hold others in the palm of His hand (we don’t have to). He has a perfect plan for us and our loved ones (and we don’t have to worry about it, knowing that if we hit some major bumps in the road, He will then be there for us).
Does God makes a difference? Do you live like He does? If not, what will it take to get you there? Let’s talk in the comments!
Next week I’m going to talk about whether or not God makes a difference in our marriages. I want to explore the fact that in too many cases He doesn’t–and that’s because we’re not letting Him. I think secretly we’re scared that God WON’T make a difference, and so we crowd Him out and ignore what He says. And if you want to watch that video that my daughter did, here it is! (Or you can watch it full size on YouTube).