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My Daughter, the Unchristian

This weekend my daughter told me that she didn’t want to be a Christian. Before I get to that though, let’s rewind a bit…

My parents raised us three boys to be independent. This was both intentional and unintentional. Intentional in that they wanted to make us into adults that could think and act on our own. Unintentional in that they both had to work long hours to make ends meet thus leaving us to fend for ourselves a lot of the time, beginning as young as 8-years-old.

Overall I like how my parents did things because I think I turned out okay, eventually. With my own two kids however, I am trying to minimize how often they “fend for themselves” while still empowering them to be free thinkers. My daughter turns seven in a few days and my son just started middle school. He is eleven. To facilitate this free-thinking-ness, I encourage honest conversation about the things we all three do wrong personally, from lusting to lying. On the whole, I am very strict about the movies we watch, but I use any “bad” moment in a movie as a teaching opportunity.

Case in point: This weekend the three of us watched “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton”, a PG-13 movie about a 22-year-old girl from a small back-hills town who wins a date with a mega-blockbuster screen hunk. The young girl falls head over heels with chisel-chested perfect-smile Tad. Meanwhile, the girl’s childhood friend and boss does much to sabotage what he is sure is heartbreak waiting to happen. He warns her more than once to “guard her carnal treasure” and goes as far as calling the cops on his friend to thwart her make-out plans with the hunk at look-out point. Unbeknownst to her, he secretly loves her. In the end, she learns of his love and has to make a choice between the big time star she has just met but who drives her wild and the small town boy who is far from exciting but knows her deeply and can even describe her “6 kinds of smiles”. I had to take my daughter out of the room during more than one kissing scene, but I felt it was worth it. One of my favorite, and most telling, scenes in the movie occurs in the beginning of the movie when we see Tad having a fling with some attractive actress “looking to further her career”. They drink, smoke, and drive fast. Before morning comes Tad ushers the woman out his front door, having reached the plateau of the night. Just moments after she leaves, he collapses onto his couch and just kind of stares off into nothingness with a look of emptiness and discontentment on his face.

Yesterday, my kids and I were driving in my car when my 6-year-old daughter, seemingly out of nowhere, tells my son and I that she wants to be a Christian. Apparently, she had been hearing the word in conversations and admired these people who were Christians and so she wanted to be one too. When I asked her what it meant to be a Christian she admitted she didn’t know. So, I explained to her that being a Christian means being Christ-like: forgiving people who hurt us (including her brother), sharing our possessions with others (including her brother), being nice to everyone (including her brother), and more. She pondered these things for a moment then said. “Oh… No… I guess I don’t want to be a Christian.”

This may sound strange, but I was very proud of my daughter in that moment. In her 6-year-old mind she had weighed the cost of following Jesus Christ and decided that it was not worth it. I know many adults who have jumped on the Jesus bandwagon without considering the costs. Then, when their sincerity was tested, too many of them either abandoned Jesus or put on a “Christian” face to make it appear as though they were following Jesus even though they weren’t. It is the latter of these that gives the name “Christian” a bad reputation. We call these people hypocrites. I made no attempt at convincing my daughter to be something she wasn’t. Instead, I will continue to show her how this world’s wisdom is utter foolishness compared to God’s wisdom. We still have a few years together.

My 11-year-old son is different from his sister in lots of ways. For starters, he is so obsessed with image and fitting in that he, without any coercing, decided on his own to be a “Christian” like his parents, grandparents, etc. at a very young age. Although much of his behavior is anything but Christ-like, he puts forth a great deal of effort toward living up to that name. This puts him at odds with his own desire to be popular and cool with his peers. His mom and I don’t see eye to eye in regards to public school versus private school, so this last summer when I contested that he should switch from public to private as he entered middle school, the choice ultimately landed on him. Personally, I went to both kinds of schools and had good and bad experiences in each, but I felt (and still feel) that there is just too much negative peer pressure in public middle school, especially in the areas of sex and drugs. In one of my final pleadings with my son, I compared the two types of schools to soil: both soils will produce both good and bad crop, but on the whole, I contested, the soil at the private school will produce a much healthier crop. He listened to my arguments and really felt that going to private school was the “right decision”. However, his desire for popularity and coolness won out. He had established quite a name for himself in 5th grade that he wanted to build on in 6th grade. On the first day at his public middle school, I watched as he went to and fro mingling with virtually every group of well-dressed (aka “cool”) 6th graders. It didn’t take long after that for my little 6th grade boy to become part of the “in crowd” in both the 7th and 8th grades.

This last Saturday before we watched the Tad Hamilton movie, we were driving to L.A. when my son brought up the notion of being cool and the types of things that the “cool” kids do at his school, particularly the 7th and 8th graders. He told me about a “game” that his older friends play at the lunch table. He says that all at once, any boys sitting next to girls and girls sitting next to boys will reach over into the lap of the persons next to them and grab their crotch, for fun and amusement.

It was in the context of this lap conversation that my son started expressing doubts about the decision he made at the beginning of the school year. He lamented that I was probably right all along and that there are a lot of people doing really bad things that he doesn’t want to be around. In addition to the lap thing, he mentioned the pervasive use of marijuana and actual sex, even among 6th graders. Each atrocity he uttered could have easily made my heart sink deep into my bowels, but at the same time I knew already, at least on some level, that all these things were happening. The silver lining on this cloud of doom appeared when my son reached his conclusion on the matter. He turned to me and said, “I can go to private school next year, right dad?” I don’t expect private school or any school for that matter to make all this stuff go away. No. My delight is that my son came to this conclusion on his own. I had warned him ahead of time to no avail. But now… Now he believes not because I have told him so but because he has tasted and seen for himself. To quote the late Dale Carnegie, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

Please do keep us all in your prayers as we navigate this thing called life.

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