By Scott Keith
Our culture is reticent to allow any discomfort or pain to enter our lives. People now don’t seem to have nearly the capacity to bounce back as history tells us they once did. Resiliency is a lost art. A lost art that we seemingly hope will stay lost. Pain, while contrary to God’s original plan for His creation, is nonetheless, in the postlapsarian world, a reality of life. I am no more masochistic than the next guy and do not think that we ought to actively seek pain or adversity. Yet, we cannot daily act as if pain can be utterly avoided. Further, we ought to allow our children to encounter pain and adversity time and again before they leave the protection of our nest so that they know what it is when they face it in the world; and they will.
I love to go camping, and camping to one degree or another has been a part of our family life since we have been a family (some 20 years). I love it because it reminds me of the reality of my comfortable life and because it is a little hard. When I camp with my wife, we sleep on the ground, we cook food over a fire, we are hot when it is hot outside, and we are cold when it is cold outside. Our world is real in these moments. It sometimes sucks –– ask my wife about our recent camping trip to the Grand Canyon and waking up to a morning that was a shocking 7°F –– and it is always real, authentic, and hard work. Camping makes me reminisce of a time when cooking, gathering water, and trying to occasionally be comfortable was the norm and not the exception. Now, we are completely content and comfortable all the time. When I come back from a camping trip I always appreciate my soft bed and the free flowing water from the various sinks and shower in our apartment.
Now before you accuse me of being an overly nostalgic cultural critic who wishes he lived a hundred years ago, try to understand the core of what I am saying. The truth is, I like penicillin as much as the next guy when I have strep throat and love the MacBook air on which I write this blog (sometimes I think I love it too much). I don’t want to be teleported back to 1914, rather I appreciate the fact that adversity produces character and I abhor the fact the adversity is avoided at all costs in our society. I often feel as though we are scared of being scared and fear at all levels that our children will one day get hurt, be told no, or God forbid have to solve a problem on their own.
There was a Forbes article circulating on FaceBook yesterday that seems appropriate to reference. The article listed 7 crippling parenting behaviors which severely limit their children’s further potential. I won’t rephrase the article word for word, but just take a look at the list: (1) We don’t let our children experience risk; (2) We rescue too quickly; (3) We rave too easily; (4) We let guilt get in the way of leading well; (5) We don’t share our past mistakes; (6) We mistake intelligence, giftedness and influence for maturity; (7) We don’t practice what we preach. When are we going to realize that the practice of sheltering and over praising just doesn’t work?
Now let’s flip the list around to see what we should do. First we need to let our children experience risk. Let them do things that might result in a broken arm, a dental appointment, stitches or even hurt feelings. Second, we don’t need to rescue our children every time they are in trouble, but rather we need to let them face their own adversity and figure out their own solutions. Not every adversity is going to scar our children for life, in fact, facing it will likely make them better people. Third, our children are not all the most special children on the planet and we need to stop telling them they are. They are poor miserable sinners like the rest of us and need to know that they are forgiven in Christ as well. Perfect people have no need for a Christ who saves sinners. Personally, I want my children to know that Christ died for their sins, which are abundant. Four, we need to stop allowing guilt and fear determine how we act, and how we raise our children. Decisions made because of guilt and fear, especially parenting decisions, will only result in the negative outcomes we seek to avoid. Five, we need to let our children know that we are not perfect by sharing with them the mistakes we have made, but also telling them what we have learned from those mistakes. Six, maturity comes from overcoming adversity! If we don’t allow our children to personally experience adversity, no matter how intelligent or “gifted” they are, they will never become mature. So, allow them to experience and overcome adversity at appropriate levels. Lastly, we need to stop being hypocrites. If we expect hard work, we need to model hard work. If we expect maturity, we need to model maturity. If we think facing adversity develops that maturity, we need to face it, and overcome it ourselves. We need to experience discomfort with our families now and again so that they know what it looks like and know how to overcome it. We need to take our children camping, let them get jobs, do chores and yard work, help us fix the car, and all of the other sometimes uncomfortable adversities which help all of us truly become mature, resilient, and productive members of society. Remember, a little adversity can go a long way.