Upstream Parenting Guest Post by Janel
I have been curled up with Kristen’s book lately—you know, in those early morning hours when one hopes the kids will sleep for just a few more minutes, or at least pretend. I was struck by her excellent connection between our kids’ entitlement and our own driving force as Western parents: I want my children to be happy!
And I thought, I took this with me to Africa.
I think I hoped that since my children are growing up playing with children who live in a single room, or watching women whose startlingly thick soles of their feet serve as their sandals—all these children in Africa starving literally right down the street—it would immunize them to entitlement.
Turns out it couldn’t immunize them against me. Or, um. The selfishness in them.
And to be fair, I have also seen that entitlement is not restricted to my blond-headed, middle-class American children. Little neighbor kids born a hemisphere away from Little Rock, some ambling over from the shacks around the corner, have paraded into my compound with remarkably similar attitudes. I deserve. I must have.
Unquestionably, living in Africa does help—in the constant training, the discipline of the soul, that weans entitlement out of all of us with the Holy Spirit’s help. I confess to a bit of silent, devilish glee now and then when my kids want to play electronics and—whoops!—power is out again. (It is decidedly less funny as I type to you and wonder when we will regain our internet. Little “deprivations” like these quickly transform me into a sort of pouty martyr for Jesus.) And I love that when my son met a girl his age selling banana pancakes on the way home from our local pastry shop, he shared his beef samosa with her.
I love that our surroundings pressure us to consistently purge, to simplify, to consider carefully our expenditures. Something about those little barefoot girls across the street from us throws a whole new spin on keeping up with the Joneses.
Still—when we found a steal on a second-hand ping-pong table a few weeks ago, my husband hauled out two of our extra-large Rubbermaid bins, usually reserved for our overseas flights. His instruction to the kids: Fill them with things from your room. We don’t need to keep acquiring stuff. It reminded me of a former babysitter of ours, whose mom required that whenever she purchased a new blouse, she get rid of another.
There’s something good, I think, at putting a cap on what we’ll allow in our house. To not be a bottleneck, but rather a funnel.
It’s an idea carrying something in common with our electricity shutting off, then our water or internet: Keep a loose grip. As Randy Alcorn proposes, stuff has gravity. It weighs us down to this temporary place.
As I cuddled with my kids to read Little Pilgrim’s Progress the other day, I was struck by the image of the city Vanity Fair:
[The Wicked Prince] had built this city…just beyond the Dark Valley and the wilderness, because he knew that when the pilgrims reached its gates they would be feeling tired and faint, and he hope that it would then be easy to persuade them to stay there…So he filled the great city with everything that was pleasant and beautiful. It had broad streets and handsome houses, and the stalls in its market were covered with glittering wares…The Wicked Prince took care to give them plenty of things to enjoy so that they might never have a moment to spare in which to think of the King whom they had forsaken.
In my experience, stuff and comfort can be a bit like cheese puffs before dinner. It falsely satisfies, so we forget all about those vitamins that feed our brains and immune systems and muscles, the nourishment that keeps us living. Stuff and ceaseless self-centered activity can bloat our pseudo-sated souls, so we’re oblivious that we’re actually quite starving.
As C.S. Lewis puts it,
It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.
We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.
We are far too easily pleased.
Kristen has some fantastic, uber-practical ideas about gratitude, hard work, and swiveling the spotlight off ourselves and our kids.
Together, I think, we can be the Grateful Generation.