By Scott Keith –
Our youngest child is our daughter Autumn who is sixteen years of age. She has always been a very competent child. She learned how to do things very early; walking, talking, tying her shoes all came quickly and seemingly natural to her. When we would teach her to do something, as soon as she had even the slightest idea of how to do it, she would push our hands away and say, “I can dooey it.” “I can dooey it,” has been her motto from that time forward.
When she was twelve, she started babysitting two days a week for some friends of the family. When she started, the family had four children, one of whom has special needs. Soon after, they had their fifth child, and Autumn has been there twice a week every week doing her best to be of some help to this very busy family. Last year, she added to her cadre of duties by taking on the task of watching the infant of another friend once a week. So, three days a week––about fifteen hours a week in total––she works for these families watching their children, teaching them, helping them to potty train, dressing them, and filling in wherever necessary. She does all of this in addition to her standard home-school curriculum while taking two college courses a semester.
My point is not to brag about Autumn per se––though I am always ready to do that. Rather, my point is to examine the reaction of other people. Almost without fail, when we tell people about her babysitting endeavors, they inevitably say something like: “Sheesh, you better be careful letting her do all of that, she’s never going to want to be a mother.” Comments such as these always confuse me. Their argument seems to be that giving teenagers responsibility will cause them never to want responsibility again.
To be honest with you, I think this line of thinking is dangerous. In fact, I know it is. It is another manifestation of the helicopter and snowplow parent mindset. These parents seek to remove all responsibility and burden from the lives of children and instead produce anguish and anxiety in those same children. Removing legitimate vocational pursuits from the lives of our children and teenagers will only cause them to disregard the idea of vocation altogether. It is in living our Christian vocations that we learn how beautiful the gift of vocation is.
I am not trying to say that every child needs to do as much as Autumn is doing. In fact, they don’t. Rather, this is to say that we ought to stop being afraid that we will soil our children on the idea of vocation by teaching them to live it. If we are truly free to love God on account of what Christ has done for us, and free to serve our neighbor on account of what Christ has done for us, then we should not fear our freedom to serve one another in vocation.
I think that one of the reasons we fear teenage responsibility is because we have a flawed idea of vocation in general. I think we have begun to see it as the world sees it, that is as a “job,” or rather, as merely a job. Article VI of the Augsburg Confession says: “Also they teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruits, and that it is necessary to do good works commanded by God, because of God’s will, but that we should not rely on those works to merit justification before God.” That is, good works are necessary for the Christian life.
But, I think that a fundamental misunderstanding of good works prevails in modern Christianity. What the Augsburg Confessions speak of here is not necessarily helping old ladies across the street with their groceries or going on a short-term mission trip to Africa. Rather, what I am suggesting here is that we need to reconsider what living the life as a Christian and living one’s Christian vocation mean. Availing oneself of the proclaimed Word and rightly administered sacraments, and sharing that Gospel with those God has placed in our lives is living life as a Christian. Serving one another in love through our various vocations––husband, father, mother, wife, daughter, son, worker, student––are our Christian vocations.
Dr. Gene Veith explains this concept well in his book God at Work–Your Christian Vocation in All of Life. “For the Christian, love of neighbor becomes something consciously felt, as faith becomes active in love. Though we sin against our vocations, as we grow in Christ the everyday task set before us can be motivated and shaped by love.”
Martin Luther was once approached by a man who desperately wanted to serve the Lord more fervently. He asked Luther, “What should I do to serve the Lord?” as if to imply that he should become a monk or a priest. Luther asked him, “What is your work now?” “I’m a cobbler.” Much to the cobbler’s surprise, Luther replied, “Then make a good shoe, and sell it at a fair price.”
Funny, Luther didn’t say: “Well, one thing is for sure. Don’t make any more shoes or you’ll certainly get sick of it and never want to make a shoe again!” By believing that our children will be burdened by vocational pursuits if allowed to undertake them in their teen years, we spoil them on the idea of Christian vocation generally. Service to our neighbor then becomes self-centered and woesome.
I do not think that babysitting too much will cause my daughter not to want children any more than I believe reading will cause her not to desire to read in the future. In fact, I think that learning to serve these children in love might teach her the joys, and frustrations, of parenting her children in love someday. But our service in love to our neighbor is just that; full of joy and frustration. Love through both joy and frustration is our promise and our blessing.
We are saved sinners stuck together until that time when the Lord brings us home, or He comes again in glory. We live here free to be all that He has already declared we are in Christ. We are His children called to be His people. We are called to stand before Him freely and serve one another freely. As Jim Nestingen and Gerhard Forde wrote, in Free to Be, this is the story of death and birth. “The death of the old you that fights and struggles against God, your neighbors, and the earth; the birth of the new you, born in the waters of Baptism and sustained in God’s speaking. This is the new you God is making in you, the you who is a believer. As God makes you new, you will discover the freedom that God gives, the freedom that is given with joy and the certainty of God’s promise.” Why would we ever teach our children otherwise?