Guest post by Janel Breitenstein.
It happened as the six of us crept through Kampala traffic for Christmas shopping, that Christmas CD my mom had sent chirping happily about tinsel and snow through our speakers. But sometime after a peppy “Joy to the World”, a banging strong enough to dent the sides of our high-clearance minivan swiveled our heads—just long enough for Banger’s partner to throw open my door and jerk out the purse tangled at my feet. And as a family, we watched my phone, credit cards, licenses from both countries, etc. sprint between a couple of buildings.
I was shaken, hand over my mouth catching tears as I sputtered things I don’t remember. I felt vulnerable. Violated. Targeted.
But not thirty seconds after the “low” of my month, the “high” piped up from my eleven-year-old. “Guys, mom looks pretty shaken up. Let’s just take a minute and pray.”
You know, from the time I first glimpsed two lines turning on a stick, I started changing my diet—followed by checking the expiration dates on car seats, then adorning the house with hand sanitizer, buying the bicycle helmet, securing filters on our internet. After all, it is unquestionably godlike and wise to protect our children.
But I’m also reminded that God’s “faith school” for my kids is so good to teach them, even while they are quite young, who He is in suffering.
That He gives, and He takes away, and we can sing Christmas carols with full hearts afterwards, even as tears streak our cheeks. That my treasure is not here, and suffering—even death—is not what is worst in this universe. That even this robbery isn’t a “when bad things happen to good people” kind of thing. From dust I came—and hell I deserve.
As a friend wrote me, The very thing we would protect our children from experiencing may be the very thing that God wants to use in their lives now, so that when they’re adults, they’ll know how to respond to crisis.
A recent perplexing article in The Atlantic, “The Coddling of the American Mind”, primarily details the increasing hypersensitivity of college students, who’ve basted in a culture of what might be described as uber-protectiveness. The authors relate that parents, schools, and manufacturers have worked hard to communicate the message to this generation, “Life is dangerous, but adults will do everything in their power to protect you from harm, not just from strangers but from one another as well.”
The result? The authors describe in these students what they have dubbed a “vindictive protectiveness,” punishing anyone who threatens to violate “safe spaces” from anything that might make them feel uncomfortable. The writers rightfully declare this trend “disastrous for education—and mental health.” They warn,
Vindictive protectiveness…prepares them poorly for professional life, which often demands intellectual engagement with people and ideas one might find uncongenial or wrong. The harm may be more immediate, too. A campus culture devoted to policing speech and punishing speakers is likely to engender patterns of thought that are surprisingly similar to those long identified by cognitive behavioral therapists as causes of depression and anxiety. The new protectiveness may be teaching students to think pathologically.
They also cite startling statistics on rising levels of anxiety in this age group:
In a 2014 survey…54 percent of college students surveyed said that they had “felt overwhelming anxiety” in the past 12 months, up from 49 percent in the same survey just five years earlier. Students seem to be reporting more emotional crises; many seem fragile, and this has surely changed the way university faculty and administrators interact with them.
To seek control over people and circumstances does only lead to, um, neuroticism. We hold the opportunity help our kids learn to grapple with disappointment; with awkward circumstances and people; with pain; with their own weaknesses; with people who think differently, or let us down; with places where they might contract malaria, or robbed on their way to shop for Christmas.
So much of life is about what doesn’t go our way.
Our kids are always safest in the center of where God wants them—in the same sense that Jesus who was “safe” in the center of God’s will…and went willingly to the Cross. As C.S. Lewis reminds, Aslan is not tame, but he is good. We trust not in horses or chariots (Psalm 20:7) or car seats or kneepads or the absence of pain, but in the name of the Lord our God.
Perhaps even more powerful than our desire to protect our kids is our desire for them to live with vital trust in the Ultimate Refuge—for whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for for Him will find it (Matthew 16:25).
And Who is a rock, except our God (Psalm 18:31)?
Janel lives in Uganda (read more about their work here) where she writes, teaches, and loves on her family.