As my firstborn hurtles through childhood and adolescence is now coming into view, I am increasingly aware of the alien way in which my husband and I as Christian parents are raising her and her siblings. Up to now, the differences in how we parent and how the world parents would probably seem relatively minor to the average onlooker, but I see many countercultural choices my husband and I will have to make on the horizon. Many of the activities, devices, and entertainment our kids’ peers will guzzle unquestioningly are things that as Christians, we will have to reject entirely. This grieves me. I recall my own alien upbringing and the uncomfortable feeling of abstaining from certain movies or activities or items of clothing that my friends were enjoying. It was hard, and I don’t relish my own children experiencing that same discomfort.
I’ve been thinking lately about these decisions and how easy it is in a climate of godlessness to become the people of “We don’t.” We don’t dress provocatively. We don’t have sex outside of heterosexual marriage. We don’t watch explicit or obscene TV. We can easily begin to adopt a mantra that is a riff on the old saying, “We don’t smoke, drink, or chew, or go with those who do.” In many ways it’s true that there are a lot of things we can’t participate in as God’s people, holy and dearly loved. But the danger is that we can convey to our children that “No” is the heart of our religion.
“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.” (2 Cor. 1:20) This is one of my favorite passages of Scripture, a reminder that all God had pledged His desperate, depraved, despairing people for centuries—salvation, redemption, restored fellowship with Him—were fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah. Christ was the resounding Yes their ears had longed to hear. In Jesus, God’s people no longer lack; we have abundance. We do not despair; we have hope. We do not starve; we are satisfied. We do not hear no; we hear a bellowing Yes. And it is this message that I want to communicate to my children about the Christian faith.
Staggering numbers of young people raised in Christian homes are abandoning their Christian heritage when they go off to college, and the reasons for this are beyond the scope of anything I could write here. But I wonder if part of the problem is that too many parents are failing to give their kids the full picture of our faith by merely reacting against the culture, rather than proactively showing the goodness, beauty, and truth of the claims of Christianity. We are failing to demonstrate how deeply cohesive and satisfying our worldview is. Rather than saying, “We don’t have extramarital sex,” we should be saying, “Our bodies and souls were designed by God to bear His image, and sex is the powerful union of two bodies and souls forever, so it can only be beautifully and joyously experienced in the lifelong covenant of marriage between one man and one woman.” Rather than, “We don’t watch trashy shows,” we should teach, “Our minds are a gift to us to use for the glory of God; therefore, we should take care to put what is excellent into them.” We need to help our kids understand that anytime God asks us to say no, it is because He is offering us a better Yes—far better than anything we could ask or imagine.
We cannot expect our kids to reject all that is ugly, false, and evil if we have not first taught them to love what is beautiful, true, and good. We should keep them away from immorality, yet we must not do so only as a protective move, but also as a preparatory one. We want to help prepare them for an eternity of goodness, truth, and beauty, because that is what God has in store for His people. We want to cultivate a taste for all that is lovely, not merely a distaste for all that is rotten. We want them to choose not to participate in evil because they are far too busy participating in something gloriously good. The Nos of Christianity are really a Yes to something infinitely better for us than the pathetic attempts the world has to offer at happiness. If we want our kids to joyously embrace God’s standards for His beloved, we must be convinced not only of the deep badness of what the world offers, but also of the infinite goodness of what God offers. We must show them that ours is the religion of Yes.