August 15, 2008

What does your kid's God look like?

Mostly when I get those flylady testimonials I just trash them, but every once in a while I'll open one that strikes my eye. Tonight I opened one talking about how clutter affects our children. Even if I don't have kids I'm still interested in how our environment affects us. What I read in there is that a mother has decided she's going to practice "tough love" on her temperamental 5 year old son. To that end she gets rid of most of his toys and explains to him that all she owes him is a bed and food -anything else he has to earn. Lo and behold he calms down and begins playing much more nicely with the toys he has left. When his mom says he's been good enough to earn more toys he asks her to do an activity with him instead. (Angels sing) Small child has learned there are better things in life than having three dozen cars and assorted other toys. Also, he's much calmer and better disciplined. Where's the downside? I think is probably a good example of doing a decent thing for rather deplorable reasons. We can probably grant that the kid likely had too many toys piling up in his room and that the over stimulation and clutter were contributing to his bad behavior. What I really don't get is this "tough love" attitude that says "I owe you the bare minimum, and buster you better sweat for the rest." I mean, what the heck is this telling our children about God? God owes us nothing and yet we're told to ask and ask again believing that God delights to give us good things simply because he loves us so much more than we can ever imagine. Earning just isn't in the picture when it comes to God's gifts to us. I don't want anyone reading this to think I believe parents should be pushovers either or that things can't be earned. There are economic realities built into this world -working is correlated with eating. Kids need to learn this. There are also times when parents need to draw a firm line and hold it. Grant, given, and amen.

Here's what concerns me about this attitude. Looking back at my growing up years I'm realizing just how much of my day to day theology came out of our home culture -the way Mom and Dad acted towards us and each other. There were plenty of times when home theology actually trumped Bible theology since it was what I lived day to day. Hopefully this kid in the e-mail is getting plenty of good, true home theology that will teach him experientially the nature of God's love towards us. If not then this kid's definitions of love and provision are likely to be radically skewed when he tries to understand God's love and provision in terms of what he already knows from his family.

However, what this mom has done obviously had positive benefits for her and her son since she reports that he appears to be more content and less troublesome with fewer toys cluttering up his room. As I mentioned before I'd consider this a case of doing a fairly sensible thing for fairly bad reasons (or using faulty logic/theology). Instead of establishing these troubling (dare I say unBiblical?) ideas of owing and earning as described, there are Biblical paradigms that work well here without doing damage to the parent's image as a good and loving provider. Take the parable of the talents for instance. I would say it's perfectly reasonable for a parent to say, "Child, I'm sorry, but I've just given you too much to handle right now. It's obviously stressing you out, and we're going to do something out that. So here's an amount I think you can handle. When you've grown up a little and shown that you can be responsible with what you already have, and when I don't think it won't stress you out, you can try handling a little more. But for now we're going to start small so you can grow into your responsibilities and learn how to take care of things." So maybe it's a small distinction. You could still argue that the kid's still "earning" his toys by being good. At least it doesn't do violence to the child's image of God (as portrayed by his parents) as being a grudging provider whose gifts are given grudgingly as rewards for inordinate virtue rather than a bountiful Father who smallest provision we could never earn. That's what I meant by the title of my post. In some ways we all show God to each other. The only question is whether or not our portrayals will be true or false.