Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. Philippians 4:9
This short verse sums up the very nature of a child. They see, learn, and then mimic. But who are their examples? Their parents, teachers, peers, celebrities, social media? It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child and living in our ultra connected world, the village has taken on a whole new meaning. No longer the close knit community of yesteryear, today’s internet accessed village can extend far beyond family, school and neighborhood. Like with most things, we can look at the influence of people in our children’s lives – including us parents – as either a good thing or a bad thing: a blessing or a curse.
Through the years, various people have spoken to my children about some bad habit, character trait or life lesson. Sometimes they have offered amazing advice, input, and insight that added a new dimension to what we were teaching our kids. Other times, that person has said virtually the same thing we have been saying for months or, dare I say years, and my child received it as if it were their first time ever hearing such wisdom.
What parent hasn’t been upstaged by a favorite aunt or uncle, a neighbor, or close friend who was able to get through to your child when you simply could not? Thank God for those instances. Hearing things from someone other than the parent somehow pierces through the parent-child noise barrier and gives validity and power to their words. Hey, it is what it is. I’m not complaining; instead, I’m grateful for that mysterious dynamic.
When children are surrounded by like-minded people – not clones, but people who hold the same values, standards, and beliefs – those children are safely hedged into a world where they know what is expected and how to succeed. Of course, they are also exposed to diversity of thought; however, the standard of right and wrong are clearly defined. This clarity is not only good for children, but for adults as well. Knowing where the boundaries are, and the rewards and consequences attainable in respect to those lines, allows for individual freedom to move within and outside of those parameters. The sense of personal risk and responsibility is allowed to expand, respectful communication – including disagreements – have a chance to develop, and the freedom to think critically, creatively, and individually is fed.
Contrary to popular belief, having clear standards, rules, and expectations make it easier for people to get along. It’s the wishy washy, ever-changing, emotion-laden, lack of conviction that leads to disunity, lack of trust, and an inability to have reasonable and respectful conversations. When a person knows where you stand, it makes it possible to either accept that position, refute it, or simply choose to detach yourself from it. Either choice makes way for each person to respectfully coexist. This is the village at its best.
On the other hand, the village can become a problem when it consists of beliefs, attitudes, and structures that run contrary to yours. This is all too common in our society today. The Bible tells us that we are to be in this world, but not of it. This applies even more stringently to our children, as we have been called to teach them God’s ways and to resist the ways of the world. Of course, we must also diligently teach them to live in this world, surrounded by temptation, sin and outright opposition. To do this, we must first protect and strengthen them, lest we falsely believe they can be thrust into the whirlpool of worldly views and beliefs before they are equipped to withstand the onslaught. This process must be slow and deliberate.
Teaching and training them in God’s Word, and how to rely on the power of God, is of primal importance. This must come before allowing them excessive exposure to what the world has to offer or we run the risk of them being sucked in before having a chance to resist. Sheltering our children while we maintain primary influence over their formative years is key to setting a godly foundation in their character and value system. Once that is established, deliberate, limited, and monitored exposure is needed to build their experience, knowledge and ability to successfully cope with the world. Intermittent exposure followed by shelter to recover their foundational principles can be a realistic apprenticeship to managing life within our sinful existence.
The blessing of the village can be more powerful than its potential curse. So, choose the village, use the village, contribute to the village, and benefit from the protection of the village. This is how the first century Christians stood firm in the face of such hatred, persecution, and worldliness. They never gave up meeting together and gathered together for the good of the body. So, too, must we.