Protection or Inoculation?

I wrote on schooling our kids a few weeks ago, and the issue came up in the comments of exposing our kids to the ills of society often readily evident in public schools. It is an interesting conundrum. How do we protect our children from sin? Do we isolate them? Do we make sure their only friends are fellow believers who share our cultural convictions? How much TV should they watch? What books should they read?

I recently listened in on a conversation between two wise friends a few weeks ago that got me thinking about this issue. One brought up the scene in Proverbs in which the father instructs his son on avoiding the snare of temptation with the adulteress.

Proverbs 7
6 For at the window of my house I have looked out through my lattice, 7 and I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense, 8 passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house 9 in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness.

10 And behold, the woman meets him, dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart. 11 She is loud and wayward; her feet do not stay at home; 12 now in the street, now in the market, and at every corner she lies in wait. 13 She seizes him and kisses him, and with bold face she says to him, 14 “I had to offer sacrifices, and today I have paid my vows; 15 so now I have come out to meet you, to seek you eagerly, and I have found you. 16 I have spread my couch with coverings, colored linens from Egyptian linen; 17 I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. 18 Come, let us take our fill of love till morning; let us delight ourselves with love. 19 For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey; 20 he took a bag of money with him; at full moon he will come home.”

21 With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him. 22 All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast 23 till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life.
24 And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth. 25 Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths, 26 for many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. 27 Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death.

One friend noted that the passage gives the impression that the father is proactively instructing his son. Maybe he walked his son down to the red light district and pointed out behavior to him from across the street. My other friend noted that, while growing up, his parents often had destitute people in their home for a season. He remembered watching a prostitute doing drugs in his home. And he noted the marked difference in his heart from learning of sin by witnessing firsthand the ugly consequences verses learning of sin via entertainment forms that usually sanitize it of its ugly consequences.

That conversation has provoked much thought for me. My children are going to be exposed to sin. Plus they are sinners themselves. I actually feel fairly equipped to navigate the sin within. I understand how the gospel equips us to face that head on. But now that I’ve gotten that biggie settled in my mind, I’m thinking anew about equipping them for the sin without. I have enough experience with cloistered Christianity to know that it is no savior from the sins of society. Yet I’m not naïve about the effects of unbridled exposure either.

This may be an unsatisfying post to some of you, because I do not yet have conclusions. Mainly, I’m thinking and praying through what it looks like to warn my children as the parent in Proverbs does. I’m praying through opportunities in our community for us as a family to minister to the broken and see the disastrous consequences of sin in people’s lives. I need to make sure that my children don’t first learn of sin from entertainment sources that hide its consequences. The first idea that comes to mind is serving at a soup kitchen with my children. I hope to find a long term ministry close to home where we can do that and more. I’ll keep you posted on this journey and would enjoy hearing feedback from those further along in this process than I.

19 Responses to Protection or Inoculation?

  1. the three wise menn June 2, 2011 at 6:22 pm #

    I don't know that I'm further along since our kiddo isn't yet three, but this is definately something that has come up for us.
    We are part of a group who intentionally have relocated to an inner city to do ministry without gentrification. When we moved here all of the older adults in our small group at our old church told us we would only live here until we had kids…then we would realize it's no place to raise kids.
    Well 1/2 of our time here has now been done while parenting. The biggest thing I learned is that seeing it first hand is going to be best.
    There are tons of 'functional addicts' in other neighborhoods we could've lived in. They are great at hiding their problems. But our friend J who stops by a couple times a week, and whom I've never seen sober, means that we get to talk about alcholism and where it leads to. We also will get to talk about why J has chosen to drink to deal with the pain of his life (and there is a lot of pain) and how Jesus is what he is really looking for, but he just can't see that.
    I think exposure in a way where you walk through it with them and are able to have conversations about it is the best way to teach our kids. Because like you said, they will see drugs, alcohol, sexual sin, and so on from their peers. But they won't neccessarily come to you to proccess those things. If you are right beside them when they see it, you will get to be the first one who helps them work through it.
    Just my thoughts on it. 🙂
    Andrea

  2. austinclariceb June 2, 2011 at 6:47 pm #

    Wendy, this is a tender topic for me. I kind of cringe a little at your comment about the Proverbs Dad taking his son to the red light district, etc. I think there would be a general “raised eyebrow” if a man in our church took his son to the local strip bar to teach/warn his son about sin…As you said, unbridled exposure isn't the best idea.

    “Unbridled exposure” isn't exactly what I experienced as a child, yet I was handed information about sin that was too heavy for me to process as a young child (esp. regarding homosexuality and other sexual sins). Because of this I was burdened and very, very fearful of sin and sinners. I wasn't given categories about God to process sin…my own or anyone elses! My immature mind and heart couldn't process this information alone–and yet I think I was left to simply be crushed under its weight. Every child is different– each disposition and maturity level varies from child to child and family to family. I'd want to study my kids, know their strengths and weaknesses, and pray that God would help me and my husband guide them through the sin they will be exposed to in the world in a way that promotes God's sovereignty, God's goodness, God's protection…God!

    Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts on this.

  3. austinclariceb June 2, 2011 at 6:59 pm #

    Just one more thought:

    I've found that all I have to do is leave my house–literally step outside the doors–to be exposed to sin in the world. I'm not sure as a parent I need to go out looking for it. The neighbors, the radio, the immodest/flirting teens at Target, the angry man at the grocery store, the impatient mommy in our very own home ;), wow, the material is endless and I didn't go looking for a teaching moment! Opportunities to serve the community are certainly opportunities to also be warned about sin and its consequences…but I'm not sure I see the value in taking my kid to the soup kitchen at Colfax and Broadway JUST to teach/warn about sin.

    All that to say…it's possible to over-think this whole “how to I expose/protect my kids from the sin in the world.” Not saying you are doing this, Wendy, but I can see myself turning this into another “thing” that I need to “figure out” about parenting…when maybe God is asking me to take a much more organic approach…one day at a time sorta thing.
    -Clarice

  4. Wendy June 2, 2011 at 7:01 pm #

    Austinclariceb, I hear what you are saying. Just for clarity, I'll point out that it sounds like the proverbs dad is at most across the street looking out from a window, not in the strip club itself. 🙂 But your point is well taken — it's not something to be taken likely, and it's important to understand the maturity of our children and what they can and can't handle.

  5. Wendy June 2, 2011 at 7:09 pm #

    Just read your 2nd post, Austinclariceb. I think the difference is exposing them to the CONSEQUENCES of sin, which is the point of the proverbs passage. That's slightly different than just exposing them to sin. The proverbs father seems to be proactively pointing out where sin leads, not just what sin is.

    I understand your concern about turning this into yet another obligation that you need to do. I certainly wouldn't want anyone to feel pressured after reading this to take their kids to serve at a soup kitchen! I don't!! I'm just forming a philosophy on how I want to navigate my boys through this journey, and if a soup kitchen or other opportunity naturally arises, my philosophy will make me more likely to use it beneficially.

  6. Virginia Knowles June 2, 2011 at 8:16 pm #

    I read your post while preparing for my fourth daughter's graduation from our former church's home school academy tomorrow. I had the dubious privilege of going through the lyrics of the proposed playlist of songs for their graduation dance. I was absolutely appalled at the songs some of them chose. Home schooling is no guarantee. (Yes, I should say most of these students also dual enrolled in college their last two years, but I don't think that was the problem.) Lots of home schooling parents shelter reactively but don't train proactively in discernment, so their kids are unequipped when leaving home. I need to work on that, too. My fifth daughter actually enrolled in public school this past year. She has had a great experience — I can't think of any significant problems she has had there. She's very motivated academically and smart enough to stay away from anyone who will bring her down. But I wouldn't send my son who is two years younger. It really depends on the child and what they can handle. Next year I will still be home schooling five kids, 1st-9th grades. It's not the panacea for all our problems, but it's good enough for now.

  7. Faith June 2, 2011 at 8:40 pm #

    Thank you for writing this.

    I've struggled with this for awhile mainly because I am fearful of how biblically effective I would be to my kids with my upbringing. I grew up with the “no's” and “should not's” though not really learning the specifics or reasons or consequences of {sinful} choices but to avoid it altogether. It sounds pretty legalistic but I did grow up fearing my parents wrath more than God's wrath hence I fell very short of God's glory…

    But during the dark times in my life was when I truly learned so I think I understand what you mean about exposing them to {the consequences of} sin so that kids can learn it firsthand. It's a tough spot and there's a lot to be considered…

  8. Christy Rood June 2, 2011 at 10:16 pm #

    Ahhhhh…the struggle of every Christian parent. How much exposure should my child get? I think it is wise to live in the tension. We will never get it perfect, and pretending that we do is foolish! Cloistering is ineffective at best and destructive at worst. But in our attempts to push against non-exposure, I can see us going too far. Good things to contemplate and constantly evaluate!

  9. H.E.R. Impressions June 3, 2011 at 3:51 am #

    I also want to thank you for this post. My husband and I are fairly certain we want to homeschool, but I don't want my daughter to be as sheltered and unprepared for the world as I was. I was/am a people-pleasing compliant woman who was a bit naive in my teen years. I was so sheltered from some sin that I had absolutely no idea it even existed. This led to some heartache, but God has used it for His good in my life. No, ignorance is not always bliss.

  10. Wendy June 3, 2011 at 3:56 am #

    Your comment reminded me of a statement of D. A. Carson's I read in one of his books, “Ignorance may be bliss, but it's not a virtue.” It certainly doesn't serve us very well in life, that's for sure.

  11. Melody Harrison Hanson June 3, 2011 at 4:21 pm #

    I love that you're thinking about this. I hope you will take care with the thought that you want your children to: “see the disastrous consequences of sin in people's lives.” Poverty, and addiction are not always a result of sin. I don't get your connection between sin and the temptations of the world and serving the needy.

    On the other hand, … serving is good.

  12. Wendy June 3, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    I definitely agree with the statement that poverty is not always the result of sin. If fact, it's probably more not the result of personal sin than it is. Not sure about addiction. I'll think on that. Tim Keller's Generous Justice has a great discussion of the complex causes of the breakdown of communities and cultures. It is certainly not one-dimensional.

  13. austinclariceb June 3, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

    Thanks for your follow up comment, Wendy. My husband said the same thing…exposing *consequences* of sin is the goal in the Proverbs passage, not simply exposing sin itself. Thanks again!
    -Clarice

  14. Annalisa June 5, 2011 at 2:00 am #

    Hi Wendy,

    Glad to find you again–we had a brief phone conversation during the tense early Sharper Iron days.=) Then a friend of mine linked to your blog and I realized who you were!

    Thanks for the post; it's something I'm just starting to work through too as a mom. My oldest is 4 and so far it's just been about books/shows with disrespectful behavior. We've chosen to read some of them (not many) and then discuss it with him and put it into a biblical framework.

    But one thing I'm struggling with, which Melody hinted at is how to do this without judging others. For example, my son has started making very self-righteous statements about “bad guys” contrasted to us. Not to mention that sometimes the people suffering sin's consequences can be people very close and dear to us and we have to be careful how we discuss their lives with our children. Perhaps as they get older, they'll be better equipped to deal with the complexity of this?… That we all reject God, but the consequences of some choices are more apparent and immediately hurtful than others?

  15. Wendy June 5, 2011 at 4:38 am #

    Thanks for commenting, Annalisa. I'm working on the attitude of compassion with my boys. I don't yet have much advice to offer on the subject, because we are just beginning this journey ourselves. But I am trying to instill in them a real “suffering with” kind of compassion for others. “How would you want to be treated if this was you?” “This could be you, and we need to love and support them the way we hope someone would love and support us.”

  16. Rachael Starke June 5, 2011 at 5:25 am #

    Me too with loving the idea of letting children see the consequences of sin. Mine are 10, 8 and 5, so our days of just broadly keeping them away from scary stuff are ending fast. It's helped me to remember that my prayers and work, and what they are exposed to either with me or away from me, will never be outside the umbrella of God's sovereignty. I exposed myself to all kinds of things secretly as my parents relentlessly tried to ban everything. But experiencing the consequences myself means I'm my own object lesson, to my kids, and to younger women in my church. I joke that if I started a ministry to teenage girls, it would have a cute name like “Don'tBeAFoolLikeRachael” Ministries. 🙂

    One other thought I got from Russell Moore recently when I asked him a different version of this question. His answer was, essentially, make sure you're filling your kids hearts and minds with what's true and beautiful. That will make the “dissonance” of the ugliness of the world far greater.

  17. Bonnie June 5, 2011 at 6:58 am #

    This is such a helpful discussion for me also, thank you for bringing it up in this way. I have two young boys, aged 5 and 2, and the decision about where to put our oldest in Kindergarten was such a huge one for us, we deliberated and prayed over it for months, for all these reasons that you're mentioning! And then when the time came to register him for Grade 1 a few weeks ago for the fall, I went through the whole re-thinking our decision all over again!

    I liked what one commenter said about it being 'wise to live in the tension', that is helpful to me. It is really challenging, especially when it is referring to these precious ones that have captured my heart – it was easier to philosophize about this before I had actual children to be responsible for.

    I am with you on thinking about some way to serve together with my boys to reach people who are in less fortunate situations too, for these reasons you mentioned so eloquently, and the soup kitchen opportunity is where I went in my mind too. Something like that would be good for me too, not just the boys. I have talked to a guy who runs a group who serves at a local place, and have the time and date all lined up, just need to get organized and do it. 🙂

    Anyway, just wanted to say you aren't alone, and your 'thinking out loud' is very encouraging and thought-provoking for me as well. You speak my language. 🙂 Just found your blog a few weeks ago through your mother's day post and have been very inspired by it since, keep up the great work!

  18. Anonymous November 9, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

    I came across this post and just wanted to express a concern from my own personal experiences. I experienced debilitating migraine headaches from a very young age and through well-meaning doctors became addicted to narcotics very badly. I spent many, many years trying to overcome this addiction. My husband of 20 years and our 8 children have been deeply effected by my addiction and it has caused a lot of loss and tragedy in our lives over the years that we are still working vigorously (although it seems hopeless much of the time) to rebuild our lives. I was turned away from the church at age 13 from very judgmental Christians who from the great hurt they caused me to deny Christ. I spent many years angry with God and even tried to shield my first born from knowing anything about God or Christians so he would be spared the intense pain I went through. Thankfully, God sent a very humble, non-judgmental, little old lady to show me the true nature of Christ. We had a Christian family who lived next door to us later in our lives and I was open and honest about my struggles with addition and all that went along with it, hoping for an understanding ear and helping friend as my family desperately to repair long-acting damage from our past. She was a stay at home who home schooled her children and worked hard to “protect” her children from “sin” just as the blogs above talk about doing. However well-meaning she may have been trying to be, she was in fact the opposite, in my opinion. In Philip Yancey's book, “Finding God in Unexpected Places”, he states, sadly, that the church is here lately the last place people needing to find God will find Him. He also has a chapter devoted to biblical words who have sadly lost their original meanings due to our recent Christian society. One of those words is Charity. At one point I was homeless and had to eat in the “soup kitchens” mentioned above as a way of teaching children about “the sins of poverty?”. I felt so humiliated and worthless going through those lines because of the silent stares and all too loud judgments coming from those “volunteers” that I would rather go hungry than experience such hurtful and demeaning “charity”. I was afraid to go to church or even pray will struggling with my addiction because the church had led me to believe I would only be “accepted” when I rid myself of my sin. But for years I suffered until God revealed to me that the only way for him to “remove the thorn in my side” was for me to pray and pray and take strength in a church family and that He would remove the “thorn” when and if if He wanted to but it would be in HIS time~not the churches time or my time. But when I attempted to go to church I was judged (quietly but loudly to me) and made to feel I was just not “good enough” because my sin was not a “normal” Christian sin. I am now so glad the Lord allowed addiction to come into my life because it allowed me to be one of the poor, suffering, struggling, sinful, lowest of society, worthless, and experience the tremendous humility that comes along with being an outcast of society. It showed me and is still showing me how the only one who will ever see me as a wonderful, loving, deserving person of love, worthy of friendship and being treated with dignity and respect is the loving grace of Christ my Lord. Yes, our children, ALL of our children, even inner city, poor families children, with parents who's lives may be full of sin, need protection from sin while very young and then they need guidance to live Christ-like lives on their own account as they approach adulthood. Do I know the answers on how to do that? NO WAY!! I try as hard as I can with prayer and more prayer for God to help me and then help my children find the righteous path~and I pray and pray for EVERY child to find the righteous path with God leading them; especially if they don't have parents who can. (CONT.)

  19. Anonymous November 9, 2011 at 4:28 pm #

    (Cont.)That Christian family that lived next door to us for years really hurt me and my children by their ways of “protecting their children from sin”. There kids were never allowed to spend the night at our house but mine could at theirs. Their children could not come to our church but ours could go to theirs. Their children would speak about things their parents had probably to them meant to(but you know children~there are no secrets! lol) and would say how their parents said this and that about how our family was not “Christ-like” in this area or that area. It really hurt me and made me feel worthless of God's love because my past apparently made in me some evil that I guess they thought not even God could remove. But worst of all is how it effected my children. Their view of “Christians” became very negative and now was associated with feelings of worthlessness and deep hurt. All the years I spent teaching my children the gospel, reading them the Bible, teaching them compassion and empathy and forgiveness and living a life that imitates Christ and now that some of them are young adults I see that despite all my hard work teaching and guiding them is severely scarred by these “well-meaning” Christians trying to “protect their children from sinful people and sin in the world”. I just want to put a side out there from someone who did not grow up in a typical Christian home and who did not provide the typical Christian home. I needing Christ more than anything for so many years! I needed Him so badly, desperately even; just as so many people out there do today and I just feel that the ways most Christian families are choosing to “protect their kids from sin” is only installing in their children a sense of pride at being “better” than these “sinful people” and sense of righteousness at how much better they are~that even though they are “sinners” they are not the worst sinners and continuing the chain of the many Christians out there today who are so badly needed by the worst of the worst sinners out there but so sadly will never find God through them. Yes, they will go out and try to “witness” and do “food drives” or “volunteer at soup-kitchens” but it is not for the right reasons. It is the exact reason that “charity” now has a meaning to people now a days that is condescending and demeaning to the person on the receiving end. Our family still searches for a church family who will accept us and think us just as worthy of respect and dignity as themselves but have yet to find one. The consequences of our past will take years to ever mend with society but I am SO GRATEFUL that those sins are as far as the east is from the west with God and my Savior, Jesus Christ! I truly hope someone may find in my post what I wish someone had known years ago! Thank you for allowing me to speak my heart!