So here’s a question for you parents…
What are your hopes and dreams for your children? How do you envision their lives will turn out – if all goes to plan? What would make you burst with pride as a parent?…
Chances are it will sound something like this :
‘Happiness… It’s the word people gravitate to first – and sure – it’s a generic word that means everything and nothing – but it is usually followed by a familiar list of items that are intended to equate to that word… Think a university education, a satisfying well paying job, career advancement, financial security, a nice wife / husband, a home in a good suburb and a generally safe, enjoyable life.
This seems to be the dominant response of most parents whether they are people of faith or not.
I ‘get’ this to some degree for people who do not follow Christ because this is the template our world lays out for young people to fit into. But for those who hope for their kids to be disciples of Jesus my question would be ‘why are your dreams so lame and so dull? Why would you choose to curse your kids with such a deflating and uninspiring vision of the world?’
The list most people rattle off is a description of the end goal of middle class aspirational living. A happy family in a nice suburb with a good career and enough money to do all they want to do. Not necessarily bad… I know…
But I would want to suggest that this is a blind spot for us as Christians – a default setting in our make up that needs challenging and dismantling.
When Paul said ‘to live is Christ – to die is gain.’ I don’t think this was the vision of the world he was embracing! When Jesus chose the path of a servant through to the cross I doubt he was seeing this either. Why is it we can hold up people as heroes of the faith but not actually seek to be like them?…
Why is there such dissonance between our rhetoric and our actual lives?
My guess is that we have been so indoctrinated into this culture of self centredness that we cannot imagine what life looks like outside of these ambitions. We simply don’t have a stronger more compelling vision to offer our kids. And maybe that’s because we have so fully (and perhaps unintentionally) succumbed to the Australian middle class dream rather than seeking the kingdom.
In my early years of teaching I spent a lot of time encouraging kids to be missionaries, overseas workers and the like with the disclaimer that if God didn’t want you there then maybe you could go to uni, get a job etc… It was a primitive, unsophisticated attempt to articulate some of what I am thinking of here – an inversion of popular thinking to try and provoke a different imagination. I don’t think there is any particular merit in full time Christian work, but I have often wondered why it is seen as an exception – as needing a ‘special call’. Does anyone get ‘called’ to be a plumber?
Tonight over dinner we discussed this with my kids and I had the joy of telling them Jackie Pullinger’s story, how as a 19 year old girl she hopped on a boat bound for China because she felt the call of Jesus to be a missionary and she wanted to follow him. I am guessing it wasn’t the direction most people would have imagined a 19 year old girl taking, but what a life she has lived.
For what its worth I think our world needs engineers, teachers lawyers, and all of those other professions and we need Christians to fill those roles as much as people of other faiths. So it’s not the vocational choice that is the issue.
It’s the package. The predictable trajectory of life that every young person seems cursed to take, unless they are willing to think differently, unless they are willing to resist the societal forces that seek to form them into responsible, productive upwardly mobile clones.
Perhaps rather than telling our kids to study hard, work hard, do the right thing… etc we should teach them to listen to God, teach them the heart of Jesus and encourage them to seek what he wants first.
Maybe that will finish with them getting an engineering degree and a well paying job, but the mindset that accompanies it may well be a very different one.
Is that too idealistic? Am I just being grumpy? Or can we hope to raise children and young adults who will say ‘to live is Christ – to die is gain’, and to live their lives for the sake of others because they have had that idea embedded in their psyche far more powerfully than ‘be rich, be happy?’