Monday, October 3, 2011

Pious Parents, Rebellious Kids

TITLE: Pious Parents, Rebellious Kids
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 3 October 2011

Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

After Dr John Stott, and Billy Graham, the next most well-known name in evangelical circles is the late Dr Francis Schaeffer. Known for his wide ministry in university campuses, his writings have influenced many. Together with his wife Edith, the Schaeffers founded the L’Abri ministry (L’Abri means shelter in French) in Switzerland, which focuses on spiritual formation, intellectual development, as well as a safe place for people to cultivate their discernment of their callings and giftings. Due to its huge success, L’Abri ‘study centers’ have been set up all over the world, in Europe, in North America, in Asia, and South America. I have many friends who tell me how they have been blessed by the Schaeffers and the ministry of L’Abri. While a lot is known about Francis and Edith Schaeffer, what is not so well known is a troubled father-son relationship. This week I like to address a rather sensitive topic for pious parents, hurting with rebellious kids.

A) When the Next Generation Walks Away

For a well-respected leader like Francis, it is disheartening to read about the way his son, Frank has spoken out against his own parents. Instead of following after his father’s footsteps, and taking over the ministry, Frank springs in another direction. In terms of faith, the son opts for the Eastern Orthodox tradition instead of the Western tradition. In terms of preserving the privacy of his family relationships, he liberally criticizes his own family in his public writings, albeit through novels, metaphors, and sometimes brute frankness. In one of his recent confessions, he writes:

By the mid-1980s I began the process of escaping my family’s literal-minded religion and the political causes that had become indistinguishable from it.” (Frank Schaeffer, Patience with God, Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2009, xiv)

He criticizes practically everybody. Lambasting the CS Lewis’s, the Rick Warren’s and of course the Francis Schaeffer’s of Christianity for their over zealousness for the evangelical faith, he also takes aim at the atheists, the New Agers, the health-and-wealth gospel people, and other religious superstars for their lack of faith. Somehow, Frank reserves his sharpest critiques for his own parents. In a novel called Portofino, it is hard not to miss the characters in the story as reflecting his own family. In a no-holds-barred description of a dysfunctional family, Frank describes his father as one with an illustrious ministry outside, but with a ‘BLACK’ mood inside. It is not hard to see why the young rebels against the old. In a study of why some Christians walk away from the faith of their fathers, Ruth Tucker identifies one word: Hypocrisy, or if I may add, the perceptions of hypocrisy.

B) Pious Parents

I meet people of different ages. Some tell me their casual struggles. Some are more reserved. Yet, there are some who will readily pour out their grievances at the slightest prompt. One example is the plight of pious parents who have rebellious kids. The story is familiar. They are leaders of the Church they attend. Recognized as group leaders. They take on significant roles within the Church. They are expected to have an exemplary family. You find them in Church Boards, Sunday School, pastoral duties, and various recognizable leadership positions like Bible study leaders, committee chairpersons, and so forth. I know of some of these leaders who seem to have it all. They hold down a respectable job. They are recognized in community circles for their altruism. They serve in Church, and help make important leadership decisions for the Body of Christ. Their families come to Church together to worship, to participate in Church programs that reflects literally Joshua’s pledge:

. . . But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15b)

In the eyes of the public, they look like a good Christian family, who manages to balance their work, family, Church, and social engagements so well. It seems perfect. Too perfect, perhaps. While the usual Sunday crowd only sees the outside of a leader, it is often the children that see the inside more. One word aptly captures the struggle of any teenage or young adult: HYPOCRISY or perceptions of it.

C) Rebelling Against Hypocrisy

I have parents coming to me to complain about their kids. They say that nowadays, the young are less respectful,. They take their quality of life for granted. They are more demanding. They expect the world to owe them a favour. Discipline has dropped. Liberal lifestyles have risen. Prayer life is sparse. Bible reading is non-existent. Some leaders I know continue to pray for their children with much hope. Yet, I can see them holding back a tear of struggle, that things are not going as well as they would have liked.

On the other hand, young people I have met tell me of over-controlling parents, overly sheltered lifestyles, and a cry for greater independence. They state a strong desire to come out of their family cocoons that has conditioned them for most of their lives. They want to be a butterfly, not an overgrown pupa. They want their parents to know they have grown up. They love their parents so much that they want to see greater coherence in their parents. They desire that both the inner life and outer acts of service beat as ONE, not acted out in two. In other words, let there be no hypocrisy in the eyes of the child.

D) Why the Young Are Leaving the Church

A recent Barna report (Sep 2011) lists 6 reasons why young people are leaving Churches.
  1. Churches seem overprotective.
  2. Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
  3. Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
  4. Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
  5. They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
  6. The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

The survey then suggests the need to connect to the ‘new normal.’ In other words, tradition must keep up with the modern. The Church must not force conformity, but welcome diversity. While this report is written for the American context, it is worth taking some time to study it, because by and large, the world is influenced by America in so many ways. Behind each reason, I sense a common fear: Hypocrisy or the perceptions of it.

  • Why tell others to be Christlike, when you yourself are not as Christlike as you preach?
  • Why try to protect others, when you yourselves are in need of protection?
  • Why follow the Church’s teachings when there seem to be little results?
  • Why must the Church claim to have the truth when the world does possess ‘some’ truth too?
  • And so on.

When children see how lopsided their parents have been with regards to hours in Church versus minutes at home, they can easily become bitter. They see their parents being more interested in outside work rather than inside family. They see their fathers projecting a ‘half-full’ image externally, but manifest a ‘half-empty’ emotion over the dinner table.

I believe there is a need for BOTH quality time and quantity time. Regardless of how busy any parents have been, quality time is no substitute for quantity time. Quality time can be beneficial in the short term. However, if it extends into years, the damage can be permanent. One of the saddest situations I have seen is absentee parents during the time when their children need them most. The years 9-14 are typically the most influential years any child can have. Miss this stop and one will have missed the train of their children’s youth altogether. According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, the statistics are dire.

“. . . working fathers spend an average of only twelve minutes per weekday one-on-one with their children – who in turn spend more time in front of the TV (or Internet, italics mine) by age six than they will spend speaking with their fathers in their lifetime.” (Suzzanne Levine, Father Courage: What Happens When Men Put Family First, NY, Harcourt, 2000, xix)

Perhaps, the reason why the young are not attending churches is not mere rebellion, them sensing some hypocrisy in the church.

E) Communications: Quality Time with Quantity Commitment

Let me state that every sinner is a hypocrite in some ways. Some more, some less. The fact is, we are all guilty of not behaving well enough. That said, there are ways to close the gap. One way is through honest communications.

Communications reduce the risks of hypocrisy or the perceptions of hypocrisy. It is easy to sacrifice working for God in Churches or in outside ministries and neglect our sacred duties as parents. We think erroneously that when we serve God faithfully outside, God will automatically take care of our family inside. This is wrong. Absolutely misguided. Note Paul’s exhortation to fathers.

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

It takes a few seconds to exasperate our children with a careless word. It takes years to bring them up in the Lord. Isn’t this a trend among many parents? Isn’t it a problem among men who fails to connect with their children well enough?

I am thankful to God for my wife, who constantly reminds me about my need to spend time with my kids. I remember a time on Wednesday afternoons, when I will take an extra hour off work during lunch time, so that I can go for lunch with my son. As I reflect on those afternoons, rain or shine, my son’s eyes glimmer with expectation and joy as we pop into a McDonald’s as father and son. We are literally living ‘Happy-Meals’ on Wednesday afternoons. After a long absence, I re-started this practice some weeks ago. Thankfully, my son graciously allowed me to take him out for lunch. It helps me to understand what he is going through in his new school. It helps me understand the way he thinks. It helps me appreciate the fact that my son is now a growing young man!

My readers, if you are a parent, carve time out intentionally with your kids. I know that for those of us who work, it is easier to spend time making money, chatting with colleagues or running around with our business. I understand too that sometimes, men will be challenged for conversational topics during family time. Just be humble. Ask for help. Ask your wife for help. Perhaps, when pious parents spend more quality AND quantity time with their families, be more intentional in communicating, be more present in their children’s lives, we will find the perception of hypocrisy becoming strangely smaller, and smaller, and smaller.

Incidentally, there is a new movie in town. It is called COURAGEOUS. Fathers, this is a must-see movie. Perhaps, it may even change your family dynamics. For the better of course. One more thing. If you are a parent with rebellious children, remember it is never too late to change. As far as parenting is concerned: Better late than never.

Thought: "Small boys become big men through the influence of big men who care about small boys." (Anonymous)


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