I normally reserve this space as a place to share important things like Mabel’s haikus or a great new mascara I’ve found. Sometimes I’ll delve a little deeper and share my thoughts on the return of flare jeans (YES, PLEASE.) And you need to know it’s intentional on my part because life can get so heavy and we all have so much serious in our life that my hope is to lighten it up a bit most days.
But this past week has been a heavy, sad week for my real life community. Early last week a boy at our local high school committed suicide after being continually bullied by a group of fellow students. From what I know, the majority of this apparently took place over various social media channels and I won’t even pretend to know like I know all the ways there are these days to harass someone online. I thought I was so tech savvy because I know kids create Finstagram accounts (that’s a fake Instagram) and use Snapchat, but in the last few days I’ve read about so many other apps that make cyber bullying easier than ever.
And in these days of the fallout after this tragedy, I feel like our community is grappling with what should have been done differently, what could have been done differently, and how we keep our kids from being bullied or being a bully. Spoiler alert: I don’t know all the answers to these questions. In fact, at one of my speaking events last year someone introduced me as “a comedian and a parenting expert” and I cringed because I’m not a comedian (as evidenced by the fact no one has ever one time followed something I’ve said with a Ba-da-bum on the drums) and I am certainly no parenting expert seeing as how I’m only twelve and a half years into this job. I know as a parent I have made mistakes and will continue to make mistakes. I’ve been too strict and I’ve been too lenient. I’ve yelled too much and I haven’t yelled enough. I’ve second guessed decisions that P and I have made and, ultimately, find myself on my knees asking God to cover the places where we are going to get it wrong. Parenting is some days like a pop quiz and -SURPRISE- there’s an essay portion at the end.
But here are a few things I do know. I know the darkness wants to come for our kids. I know that evil is everywhere and looking for a chance to whisper to them that they are less than, that they’re inadequate, that they’ll never be enough and that their life doesn’t matter. I know that bullying has gone on from the beginning of time and has never been easier now that we can hide behind a keyboard and show our rear end without showing our face. I know that many people are more fragile than they appear and we need to treat our fellow human beings with kindness and respect even when they are different from us and we don’t agree with them. And I know our kids are looking to us to model appropriate behavior. They may not act like it or acknowledge it, but they know better than anyone if who we appear to be outside our home is the same person we are inside the walls of our home.
What if we teach our kids that their true identity and security is found in Ephesians 2:10, that “they are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for them to do”? Each of us is wonderfully and fearfully made and God has put us in our families, schools, communities and world in this time and in this generation for a very specific and unique reason. And instead of finding power or making ourselves feel better by making someone else feel small and insignificant, we will never feel more empowered or confident than when we run our own race to discover the purpose for which God has created us.
What if we showed them what kindness and compassion look like? There is never any weakness in showing mercy and grace because those characteristics are the very heartbeat of God. Let’s live in a way that teaches our children the importance of loving our neighbor and that peers aren’t our competition. We can cheer each other on without being afraid it takes something from us when we realize that God has each of us exactly where we’re meant to be. The comparison trap is an endless vortex of nothingness that only serves to make us feel insecure and discontent because we are measuring our insides against someone else’s outside.
And what if we instill in them the words of 2 Timothy 1:7, “God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear but of power, love and sound mind”? God doesn’t want us to live in fear and we can call on his power and love to stand up to the bullies in this world and, maybe even more importantly, speak up for those who are too broken and have been hurt too badly to defend themselves. P quoted Edmund Burke at church yesterday and reminded us “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. Let’s raise good men (and women) who aren’t afraid to speak up or do something when they see wrong.
There is so much emphasis on paying attention to what our kids see online, what apps they use on their phones, who they hang out with at school and in their free time and all those things are important. I absolutely check Caroline’s phone on a regular basis and will continue to as long as I’m paying for it and I will flat take it away from her if I ever see that she’s not using it like a responsible member of society. Our mantra here is “social media is a privilege, not a right” and I plan to say it over and over again and any eye rolling will only make me say it more and maybe even have a t-shirt made. But I think I’m realizing the most important thing is to teach her to be true to herself and who we are raising her to be even when we’re not looking, even when she’s not at school, and even when no one will know what she did, because one of these days she’ll be on her own and will need to decide these things for herself. In the meantime, we monitor, we discuss, and we discipline if something stinks in Denmark.
P talked specifically at church yesterday on Proverbs 22:6 that tells us to “train up a child in the way in the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart from it” and how training is not really fun or easy. It takes work and perseverance and dedication to raise our kids. It takes sacrifice and commitment and dying to self as we spend eighteen short – let’s be honest LIGHTNING FAST – years while they’re under our roof pouring into them and equipping them to be responsible, productive and, ideally, employed adults. And, make no mistake, our kids will model what they see much more than what we say.
The thought that keeps running through my mind and heart as I’ve prayed over the last week is that we are called to be the light of the world, a city on a hill. In the days when Jesus spoke those words, a city lit up on a hill would have been a haven for weary travelers, a welcome sight that they were nearing a place where they could find a warm bed and a good meal to sustain them for the rest of their journey. I want our kids to be a city on a hill, a safe harbor for those who need refuge in the midst of life’s storms. And the only way I know to accomplish that is to allow the love of Christ take hold of our hearts and the hearts of our children so that we can show each other how to find a way home when we are lost, to hold out hope when we see someone is hurting and that our differences only cause each of us to reflect our own unique ray of light in the midst of a dark night.