Monday, June 16, 2008

Thoughts on Sheltering

Someone recently asked if I'd expand on my thoughts about rules/relationship and sheltering parenting. [Honestly, the subject has been better tackled elsewhere (Parenting with Love & Logic deals with teaching our children to make wise choices and allowing "affordable mistakes" while they're in our home... and other individuals have tackled these things online in terms of homeschooling far better than I could.). ]

Nevertheless, since I was asked to share, I'll share some from my personal perspective.

Growing up, my parents were not repressive and judgmental, but my surroundings were. We were in a fundamentalist church circuit where virtually no pastor/church was "sound" enough for my dogmatic grandfather. Though I was saved at a young age, this environment smothered out the true love for Jesus that can grow in the heart of a child.

Long story short, I went along with my surroundings until I hit age 13, and then I rebelled against it until I was about 16. My parents felt convicted about things and intentionally left the hypocritical environment we had been in (a dying church which they'd been threatened by my grandpa to stay a part of), and sought out a vibrant Christian fellowship. After looking for months, they found it, and though at the time I didn't know why, but I no longer felt the need to rebel. I was drawn to the grace and truth I found among my peers and the families we encountered at this new church.

All that to say, when I was surrounded by rules, I rebelled big time, seeing no need to follow them because in my mind, there were absolutely no *benefits* to following the rules. The people around me all seemed grossly unhappy, personally dreary, and spiritually bored (or even dead). But when I was shown true fellowship, true joy among believers, and a pursuit of holiness-- not for self-righteousness, but out of a true desire to please God-- well, my heart fell in line with that really quickly. "Sign me up!"

What I learned in a nutshell: Christian joy flourishing in faith built on a strong foundation draws the soul toward Christ. An outward focus on rules and "perfection" kill the Spirit, focusing too strongly on the law.

The "world" I had grown up in was dry soil. I had heard about rich soil. They talked as if "this" was it. But it was dry and dead and had almost no beauty growing in it.

The church we joined also had a HUGE contingency of quiver-full homeschoolers (a group of people which I'd never before encountered-- I'd never known ANYONE with more than 3 or at the most 4 children). Ironically, these homeschooled kids/teens weren't allowed to be in the youth group that was life-changing for me, drawing me deeper in faith. They were kept separate. I'd imagine their parents would have used terms like "wise sheltering" or given examples about greenhouses and flowers and how "until they're transplanted", they need to be "protected".

Problem is, those "plants" that had been completely sheltered didn't develop tough roots, and didn't learn how to feed themselves. Sure, they had knowledge... but they had never encountered others who saw the world differently. They'd never even been allowed to hang out with the incredibly godly public school kids I was challenged by in this youth group-- much less the worldly kids they would have encountered by taking jobs, or in some other way having intentional interaction with secular society. I'm sure their parents didn't mean to set their kids up for failure. Many of these parents are still baffled that their children didn't follow the "formula" they had tried to follow so carefully... and don't understand where things went wrong.

When these protected, secluded homeschooled young adults encountered the real world, with "real" sinners who seemed to be sinning and having a blast, they were fascinated. Without exception, they all fell prey to the appeal of the world, at least for a very long and painful season of adulthood. Many of them have never returned to faith.

Protection is a fine goal.

It's the goal of most people cultivating things. Of course you don't want hail to rain down on your newly growing seedlings. You don't want a bird to come and peck away at the plant you've worked so hard to grow. Yes, young plants need careful protection... but protection is NOT the ultimate goal of raising plants or crops or having a garden. And we homeschooling parents can sometimes forget this. While we may be honestly striving to do right by our kids, we could forget to transplant them until it's too late.

Once they're out of the house, whatever that looks like, we're going to be playing a far less significant role in their lives. So in my mind, the transplanting (for a plant, that means growing in REAL soil in the REAL open air rather than being in a potted plant in a greenhouse) needs to take place once we've given them a good start... probably in the early "teen" years.


Transplanting may look different for each family... but if we're going to do it successfully, I think we need to do it while we can still regularly offer up some water and fertilizer to encourage them towards godliness.

For example, one family in our youth group had 6 boys whom they homeschooled through 6th grade. From then on, they put the boys in public school. During that time, they played football (undoubtedly being exposed to all kinds of locker room talk) and kept up their studies while being discipled and mentored more deeply by their father. These last 6 or so years in their parents' home were devoted towards FAITH IN ACTION.

Another example: some families (like Voddie Baucham's) follow a three-part phase of raising children-- the obedience/training phase (teaching our young ones to heed our words), the catechism phase (teaching our children the deep doctrines and truths of scripture), and the discipleship phase (teaching our young adults how to put faith into action). So, the early years are devoted towards training in obedience ("Children obey your parents in everything for this pleases the Lord."), the elementary years are devoted towards teaching children truth about God, His Word, and faith (Deut 6:7), and the last years of parenting are spent with a focus on making disciples. Part of discipling is intentional life-on-life training. In the real world.

Jesus spent incredible amounts of TIME with His disciples-- but He didn't pull out to a cave to spend that time with them. He took them as He was going along in life-- talking to adulteresses, partying with tax collectors, going to weddings, mourning the dead, praying for the sick, pointing out the holiness and generosity of widows and the hypocrisy of the "religious". We can, I think, follow His example by not hiding from the world but doing our best as parents to use the world to continue our children's education.

That doesn't mean every homeschooled kid should end up in public or private school. It doesn't mean every parent ought to opt for youth group. Or that every kid should work at some secular place like Trader Joe's or Krispy Kreme. But we SHOULD be intentional about letting our kids learn what the world is really like, and even letting them foul up from time to time. (Love & Logic talks about this-- letting our kids make "affordable mistakes"-- mistakes that they can learn from and we can live with.) Essentially, though, our kids need to, for themselves, find God faithful and value Him above what the world offers. And my experience and observations tell me that this doesn't happen when our ultimate goal is protection and sheltering.

OK, so I've shared my perspective on this-- but it's not fully developed and I've certainly not raised teenagers, or even begun to enter that world. So what are your thoughts? Those of you who have raised your children into adulthood? Those of you who ARE raising young adults? Public school moms? Other homeschool moms? What say all of you?


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