A common thread to pick up in conversation among parents of young children is how to protect and preserve children from the influences of the world, and how to keep them safe in the midst of the melee of human existence. This, of course, is a natural and good desire. However, one must examine outcomes from both sides of these questions to plot the best course forward.
How much should we shelter children from the world? If a parent succeeds in perfectly preserving and protecting their child from the negative influences of a secularized society, what are the costs to the child? Sheltering a child completely from the darkness of the world does not necessarily ensure the child will more likely have the wherewithal to be “light to the world”, as Christ instructs. The darkness will be that much more shocking and damaging to the naivete of an innocent who has no realistic understanding of evil, ignorance, and malice operating in our lives.
On the other hand, is it wise to leave a child to make their own way entirely? Making no effort to protect a child’s innocence or to correct the course of a young person left to their own devices in worldly experimentation comes with its own damage. If a parent does not make their best effort to point to the truth and raise a child up to love the things in life that are bound to invite their child to real happiness, things like faith in God, family and friendships, edifying work, beautiful culture, music, art, good books, etcetera, then this could be neglect on the part of the parent. This neglect could set the child up to be a person more driven by the desires of their flesh or too weak to combat whatever emotional state they may be in at a particular moment. It may be more difficult for such a person on a natural level to navigate the sacrifice required in marriage, to manage the honesty needed to maintain healthy friendships, and to remain committed to the gift of a steady life of faith and spiritual development.
To be certain, there is no such thing as a perfect parent. There is no such thing as a perfect family! Still, we know that a parent must do what they can to give their children the tools to succeed in life and to be really, truly happy. So how should we proceed?
First, communicating to a child, in a way proper to their age and developmental ability, that the world is indeed NOT a completely safe place is very important for their ability to be grounded in reality. Reality is plain, and evil is a part of the human history on every level. People, even people who should know better, make choices that do incredible damage to other innocent people. Genocides occur, families are pulled apart, people take advantage of one another in many ways, and trust is betrayed. We can not, no matter how hard we may try, fully protect children from the realities of evil because the temptation to act in evil ways is present in every human life.
However, with wisdom, community, faith in God, and growth in life skills and confidence, we can navigate in a world that presents real risks in way we will not regret in the future. With patience, the truths offered in scripture, and a determination to drive toward the good things in life, we can avoid pitfalls and rest in good things. Instead of attempting to hide our children from the realities of darkness, instruction should be inclined towards showing a tender heart the beauty of the all the light that exists in the world. In showing a child the consequences of malicious or unforgiving actions alongside the real beauty of a loving and forgiving heart, a child is shown the natural attraction of goodness, the evident benefits of living in a way that is open to the service of others. Answering why the “light” Jesus speaks of better than the darkness of the world by contrast can aid in understanding which is the best path to take in a given situation for a child.
One time, as I was praying about a talk I was to deliver to a group of high school students, I received an image in prayer. It wasn’t anything earth-shattering, and I am not overly given to receiving such things although I am grateful when an insight or inspiration sticks with me and proves true over time. In this case, I was praying about how to give a compelling witness to some worldly young folks about why they should accept Jesus’ invitation. How could I show them that the gospel is not only TRUE but it is our only hope for real, true happiness? Here is the image: There was a darkened stadium, a massive stadium. Think Madison Square Garden. I couldn’t see its furthest reaches, but I could tell that in this huge room, dark things were lurking about on the edges of the light. And what produced the light in the image? A single candle. This huge room, the giant space of the stadium was punctuated by a single candle. Even from the farthest corner of the darkness, the light could be clearly discerned and its edges seen. The light produced by the small, flickering flame was discernable from every corner of the vast arena, and the darkness could not overcome or overwhelm it in any way. The qualities of the candle conquered the qualities of the darkness. While reflecting on this image, the verse from the first chapter of John’s Gospel came strongly to the front of my mind, “And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:5). The Amplified scripture translation says, “The Light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand it or overpower it or appropriate it or absorb it [and is unreceptive to it].” This image helped me understand just why it is that a candle can conquer a stadium; because the light is better than the darkness. To me, Jesus’ invitation to be a “light to the world” takes on new significance after reflecting on this imagery.
To wrap up these thoughts on how we can strive to best accompany young people, I offer a quote from CS Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When asked by the displace English children about the fearful nature of Aslan, the lion king of Narnia, Mr. Beaver responded, “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.” God isn’t a houseplant, or a bunny rabbit. He is a wild, wild thing. And he isn’t safe. Not at all! In fact, he is a danger to the darkness. Life with him is a wild adventure, and as a bearer of the his light in the world, our children can become dangerous to the darkness of the world as well!
Perhaps we’re thinking about this in the wrong way; instead of thinking about how we can keep our children safe from the world, a desire which may be more fear based than faith based, perhaps we should pray that our loving Father may show us how to call our children to become a danger to the darkness of the world? The darkness of the world is not safe where one with faith in the resurrection of Jesus walks. What if we inspired our children with the courage to be that candle that conquers the stadium, fearless of the effects of darkness and brazenly revealing something that confounds and crushes darkness? How can we equip our children to become lightbearers that scatter the darkness and expose the designs of evil in the world through their dedication to and reflection of the source of all light himself?
To be credible witnesses to our children, we must become the first ones convinced of the power of the light of Jesus to bring healing, harmony, and freedom into our world.
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they set it on a stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
Ephesians 5:13 – “But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light.”
1 Thessalonians 5:5 – “…for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness…”
Luke 16:8 – “And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.”
Proverbs 4:18 – “But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
That shines brighter and brighter until the full day.”
Genesis 1:3 – “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.”
John 11:9-10 – “Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.’”
2 Corinthians 6:14 – “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?”
Matthew 5:16 – “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
John 3:21 – “But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”
Psalm 119:105 – “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
Luke 11:34 – “The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness.”
Ecclesiastes 11:7 – “The light is pleasant, and it is good for the eyes to see the sun.”
Ephesians 5:9 – “(for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth)”
Galatians 5:22-23 – “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
Job 12:22 – “He reveals mysteries from the darkness and brings the deep darkness into light.”
Habakkuk 3:4 – “His radiance is like the sunlight; He has rays flashing from His hand, and there is the hiding of His power.”
Psalm 18:28 – “For You light my lamp; The Lord my God illumines my darkness.”
Psalm 112:4 – “Light arises in the darkness for the upright; He is gracious and compassionate and righteous.”
1 Peter 2:9 – “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
Micah 7:8 – “Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy. Though I fall I will rise; Though I dwell in darkness, the Lord is a light for me.”
John 12:46 – “I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.”
Isaiah 8:20 – “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.”
Proverbs 6:23 – “For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching is light; And reproofs for discipline are the way of life”
Isaiah 60:1 – “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”
John 1:8 “He [John the Baptist] was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.”
“No longer will you have the sun for light by day,
Nor for brightness will the moon give you light;
But you will have the Lord for an everlasting light,
And your God for your glory.”
John 8:12 – “Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.’”
2 Samuel 23:4 – “And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain.”
Romans 2:19 – “…and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness…”
Ephesians 5:8 – “…for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light.”
John 3:19 – “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.”
John 9:5 – “While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.”