In all of life, there are two categories of problems. Problems Within and problems Without. When we consider the weaknesses of and dangers posed to ourselves as Christians, to our children, even the church, we can divide everything into those spheres: Within, Without.
There is no shortage of dangers to place in this category. Internet, materialism, negative peer influences, movies, our hyper-sexualized culture, pornography, drugs, distractions like social media, the messages sent by our society, post-modernism. But anything, even if not inherently corrupted, will corrode your family, your character, your church, if you let it. There’s a difference between working and workaholism, for example. Withouts, left to themselves, will always become unbalanced, if not parasitic.
More subtly are the Withins. These are not dangers, rather tools. It’s the lack of them that is dangerous. Relationship with God, Bible reading, prayer, quality family time, stability at home or in a marriage, wholesome interests and activities, regular responsibilities to fulfill. Yet left to themselves, the Withins are also perpetually moving – just in the direction of disintegration.
Recently, I was confronted with the fact that one of our children is caught up in a bad habit. Aside from being out of ideas with how to deal with it, I was angry with myself; I felt like I was always on the defense, never getting ahead of the habit to eliminate it.
What I was lacking was conscious, preventative action.
Similarly, if the truth is that we can’t shelter our children (or ourselves), then it is not enough to ban, fret over everything dangerous. When we remove that which might corrupt our children, or ourselves, we must fill that void. Just as we don’t only shed the old man, but adorn the new.
Is the answer to be removed from all people and places that might have xyz? No. Casting off all limits is irresponsible but what is the best defense for those times when they are exposed to things we don’t do at home or don’t want them to pick up? Not hiding, not getting angry, not tearing down others.
The best defense is action at home.
Instead, shouldn’t we fill up our absorbent children with what is wholesome, pure, lovely on a constant, regular basis? Is it any different for the individual Christian? If we say ‘no’ to what we deem bad, but don’t offer anything enjoyable and good in place of it, what sort of complex will that create? Resentment, a stronger temptation to seek out these so-called bad things, discontentment? Ironically, we’d still be enslaved to the very things we’ve avoided in order to escape enslavement.
How does this tie in with the bad habit one of our children is dealing with?
Nothing is stagnant. Bad habits just become stronger and deeply ingrained when we’re on autopilot. We don’t simply stop studying the Bible, for instance, we develop and strengthen the habit of not studying the Bible. Everything is in a state of motion, helpful or not.
That feeling of always being one step behind those Withouts comes because we’re playing life passively.
My kids are clothed, fed, read to, they play outside, sometimes our laundry gets done, Bible studies are had, our house hasn’t burned down and we generally get to church on time. But does that mean I’m taking an intentional role in the Big Things of life? No.
Living solely by the checklist – even a checklist that includes a devotion – is the equivalent of autopilot. And autopilot squelches conscious action.
That perspective illuminates what kind of effort is required to cultivate a healthy and wholesome family and self. The answer is not tips and tricks for disciplinary moments or dangers, it’s the slow, steady, purposeful walking with your children and God throughout each day. And it can’t be written on a checklist.
In two hours spent with my children free of distractions probably 50 teachable moments arose. That’s a completely unscientific guesstimate but I am amazed by the abundance of calm, natural opportunities there are to shape our children in such a short amount of time. And those organic, simple preventative instances are worth 100 bouts of lectures and punishment after the fact.
But we see only a fraction of those sneaky occasions when we’re on autopilot – when the checklist says we’re done. Do you have hours of “free time”, or do you have two hours of training your children, of being present in real life?
Everything around us has one goal: convincing us that It is Most Worthy of Your Attention Right Now. All these various Distractions do excel in turning our heads this way and that – our energy, our spirits, our management of time, our homes are disintegrating quickly because we’re at the mercy of these Distractions, always on the defense, never ahead.
The principle is that our time is precious and pivotal, especially the time we are granted with our kids. I cannot stress enough: make it worth it, by attention to that which is worthy, that which isn’t a Distraction from Real Things. Actively attend to the Withins-knowledge of, communion with God and his word, leading and nurturing your family, self-disciple and growth in the Spirit- and do not grow weary in doing so.
Because perhaps Distractions from and weaknesses in the Withins are the only reason the Withouts loom so large these days.
Strong Christians. Strong families. Strong churches.