Tag Archive: Experience


Sheltering: an allegory

*(This is an allegory, which is an extended metaphor that represents concepts and ideas.  Read into it whatever you will.)*

When we are young, we must be protected from the world in which we live.  There are too many things that can harm a defenseless child.  As we get older, our parents and those around us that love us try to give us tools and skills to be able to survive.  Some of those are actual fundamental skills:  walking, talking, and the like.  Others are subjective skills:  morals, values, judgment, etc.  Still others are functional skills:  social interaction, interpretation of actions, dealing with different points of view, critical thinking, etc.  Because, as we all know, at some point this child is going to be old enough that they will have to be able to function in the world on their own.

How we get those children to that point is up for debate.  But before they are ready, we give them some form of shelter to varying degrees as they grow up.

The ideas to get them ready are varied and diverse.  The methods come from all over the place.  Some believe in uniformity for learning, and others emphasize individuality.  All of them have some aspects of truth and/or success.  Most people have significant opinions about how it gets done.  Some are so strong that arguments ensue when their beliefs are questioned.  I believe these strong beliefs mean two things.  One, that these people truly care about the children in these systems.  Two, if one’s ideas are “wrong”, then they have been essentially not doing right by their children.

At some point, however, the sheltering needs to be pulled away.   Mentally, emotionally, ideologically, spiritually, and of course physically we shelter our children until such time as the skills to survive should be in place.  Otherwise, the children become ill-prepared to take on the struggles and hardships that the world inflicts upon us.  As someone who works with children in various situations, I recognise when children aren’t well-prepared and are lacking skills or coping mechanisms to have success.

I was one of those kids who was well-prepared for many things, but I was sheltered in various ways, especially in dealing with the ramifications of my own actions.  Also, the consequences of my life choices were headed off in many respects far past the time when they should have counted against me.  With authority, I recognise when someone is given a pass on some issue in their lives.  When children are young, if they don’t learn that lesson early, the lesson takes on a larger and larger consequence the older they get.

Parents love their children, so they often want to protect them from things that scare them about this world.  That’s why so many home school their children.  I applaud anyone taking that much of an interest in their kids’ education.  It offers a parent the ability to teach the children a value structure that matches their core beliefs as a family.  It’s a great crucible for some parents/teachers to be able to give  their children an education and give them some of the other skills that we all desperately need in life while being to reasonably keep some issues that kids deal with far too quickly in today’s society.  It’s a great shelter to have for children, one that if used correctly provides an invaluable experience for children to become who they are supposed to be.

A question:  when should that shelter be pulled back so that children have to deal with a world that doesn’t necessarily treat people like homeschooling?

Different expectations, different voices, different influences.  Different experiences.  As someone who works with a youth group, I want each of my kids to be able to withstand, to quote Shakespeare, “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that is found far too often in the real world.  I want their faiths to be unshakeable, and sometimes (actually every time) to achieve that, we need to be shaken and challenged.  Shakespeare says that there are two ways of dealing with hardship:  accepting difficulty and toughing it out, or attempting to overcome the hardship, and solve the issue which makes life easier.  I want for them to be able to say what they know to be true because they know it.  I want them to know that they can figure things out on their own, without help.  I want for them to overcome obstacles and to be able to meet challenges head-on.

However, we as authority figures in our kids’ lives often want to keep them from suffering anything that can be avoided.  We want to protect them from things that we know hurt them.

Parent birds throw their kids out of the nest at some point, and if they don’t fly, they crash and die.  That doesn’t sound like a great idea to me, but keeping the bird in the nest for the next 15 years doesn’t make sense either.  People that don’t home school often see their children deal with extreme adult issues really early in their lives.  It’s more like crashing and burning.  If I had children of my own, I would be seriously torn about what I would want to do.  Because going through life teaches us things that learning from words never can.  Living is a great classroom.  Experiences are great lessons, if guided by someone who cares to get the very best from their children.

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*(I don’t believe the following about everyone, it’s an observation.)*

Our churches, bible studies, youth groups, and whatnot often do the same thing.  We shelter people from living life, without preparing people to deal with real consequences of faith, or the lack thereof.  We can be so focused on learning that we never apply what we’re learning.  Then we end up with people who aren’t prepared when the world challenges us with “whys and hows”.  Just because this is how we do it, isn’t an informed answer.  Or, we can be so involved in protecting ourselves from ideology and philosophy from outside our faith that we couldn’t have an intelligent discussion about what makes Christ different and significant to someone else.  It creates a “we’re right and you’re wrong” adversarial mentality, and encourages people to put labels upon outside influences without actually being able to engage them as people.  Funny still, is that we can become so insulated that we really don’t ever have deep contact with someone outside of our own faith or point of view.  We aren’t ever challenged by the world, nor do we ever challenge with world with the truth that we have.

 If we keep people from being challenged with things, and basically say to them that they don’t have to deal with difficulty or struggling, then we do them a grave disservice.  Sometimes, we have to have hard questions, and struggle to find the answers.  Like in education, if we constantly lower the bar and don’t challenge them to learn, they can end up impotent and ill-prepared to survive in the world.  Like in dealing with faith, to not prepare people to be able to meet the world knowing what we believe but also why and how it’s relevant… we become impotent and ill-prepared to serve the world.

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The best form of shelter is the ability to withstand or adapt to anything that the world throws at you,
not be isolated from anything that the world throws at you.

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The Presence was Palpable

I was reading an essay written by someone who I had never heard of before this morning.  It was interesting as they were describing an event where tons and tons of people were gathering.  Depending upon the type of event, they recalled how they viewed the people differently when in close proximity to others.  The author, Shelly Miller did a great job of recognising and admitting how easy we colour others in our own minds depending on the situation.  It’s a good read for all of us.  During this observation and reflection, the author used this phrase to describe 6,000+ people coming together for a Christian leadership conference…

“God’s presence was palpable.”

Now, I have had this experience before.  There seems to be an almost electric feeling when you get a bunch of people together for certain events.  When I have attended the Urbana Missions Conference in the past, even the concept of having 20,000+ people that follow God coming together gives me goose bumps.  The actual experience is ever so much more powerful.  In such an environment, it is easy to say what Mrs. Miller wrote.  It is a visceral connection with the presence of an invisible God.

I enjoyed her writing and reflected upon the lessons there, but I was left with a question that had nothing to do with her piece at all.  Why is it that aside from those “big” experiences do we tend not to express a meeting with God in the same way?  Is it that without the throng of people,  we cannot sense God’s presence in a tangible way?  Is it that the meeting is actually different when we spend time alone in prayer or with a bible study group?  Are we more aware of God when many people are gathered together?  Or more subtly, is it that we don’t expect a “palpable” experience with God unless we’re essentially drowning in one?

I’m not saying that no one has ever described a more solitary experience with God as palpable.  However, I think it does show how we are wired to assume that a great cacophony represents more of a “God-experience” than a subtle or silent one.  Yet, in the Bible the one reference to an experience with God that I have always adhered to is in 1 Kings 19.

“The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”  —- 1 Kings 19:11-13

In the midst of craziness, God wasn’t found in the loud noises or the thunderous happenstance… He was found in the subtlety of a whisper.

Too often today, we as Christians feel like we need the mountaintop experience to remind us that God is real.  That is our fallen and self-indulgent state of heart

So, I am left with hard questions.  Do we only have significant connections with God in the wake of emotional or sensory overload?  Why is it that we aren’t overwhelmed with God’s presence like so many instances in the Bible when a personal connection is made between God and a person?  What is wrong with our hearts that we interpret reality in a way that keeps us from being in awe of having a relationship with Him?  I personally feel convicted about the ways that I do not acknowledge that Christ is in our everyday reality.  I also recognise that I need to strive to be in awe of His presence at all times.  That God would choose to involve Himself in my life needs to be that dramatic to my soul.  Imagine if we lived our lives in that way… that God’s presence was palpable every second of every day.  Oh how things would be different.

Selah

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