I returned Sunday from Chattanooga where I attended Lifeway’s #dotMOM women’s conference. I went for the first time last year, and found encouragement through new friends, amazing speakers, spectacular worship, and God’s comforting grace and assurance.
This year, a childhood friend who now lives in Birmingham was able to join me, and the opportunity to catch up with her was worth the entire trip. (Ahh…..the abundant blessings of uninterrupted conversation, toddler-free dining, and a buddy to help you scour the parking garage for your lost mini-van. Gold, people. Pure gold.)
This year was also encouraging and instructive, but I must admit, the conference seemed to court an interesting juxtaposition of messages about motherhood. There’s so much I want to share from the main sessions and breakouts that I’ll likely never find time to blog it all, so I’m just going to jump in with what’s most on my heart.
The Boundary Mom?
One of the main session speakers, Angela Thomas, shared some thoughts on being a mother in His kingdom. A mother of four, author of 15 books, and respected Bible teacher, she had a lot of good to share. A few highlights:
- Keep Christ at the center of your home. In our culture, children often become the center of decision-making; seek first the kingdom of God.
- My laughter and joy is a ministry to my children. God is serious about his followers living in joy! While one definition of “joy” refers to the emotion; another refers to the choice we make each day to be joyful, no matter our circumstances.
- Let our kids see us being redeemed and changed by God in our times of trial.
However, Thomas and several other speakers also seemed to push a “protection” theme that gave me pause. Don’t get me wrong. I know the world is full of ugliness and evil, and I’m all for protecting our children in an age-appropriate manner. There will always be horrible things we should fight to the death to keep away from our children. Yet, I also think as Christian mamas, we can easily fall away from living like Jesus when we start drawing lines in the sand. We can become over-protective to the detriment of our ability to raise disciples.
As one of her arguments, Angela argued that we should focus on the spiritual health of our homes so that our children live every moment under God’s spirit. She said the word of God calls her to be the “boundary mom” and shared anecdotes of confiscating video games from visiting children as they entered the house and calling to shame a parent for allowing his young son to borrow poker chips for a game of Texas Hold ‘Em. She seemed to suggest that Christian mamas should build a fortress to keep our children safe from outside sinful influences.
And I’ve got to admit, that part is conflicting for me at the moment.
I started thinking, does God really call us to be the “boundary” mom?
Proverbs 4:23 does indeed warn: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” And so, as mothers, we try to keep our kids safe from the world. After all, there are a hundred sermons stemming from John 17, calling us to be “in the world, but not of the world,” that drive many Christian parents to create a faith-based cultural quarantine for their children, complete with Christian clothing, music, movies, dating practices, and more in an attempt to keep away the “sinners.”
Yet, no matter the strength or duration of our efforts, the world is going to find its way in. And I think it’s worth discussing, at what point does our protection stop serving God and instead hinder the formation of disciples who must operate outside our carefully constructed boundaries? Where is the line for constructing such boundaries? How do we guard hearts without teaching them to build walls against others?
When I think of Jesus, he seemed to be more about tearing down walls. Crossing divides. Ignoring boundaries in favor of love. While the religious elite huddled in the safety of their temple walls, our Savior roamed the countryside, healing on the Sabbath, dining with tax collectors, and embracing lepers, drunkards, prostitutes and all the others hovering on the fringes of society. He welcomed with compassion and open arms….not closed doors.
And if we truly trust God with our hearts (and the hearts of our kids) doesn’t that also mean we might have to watch those hearts go to some dangerous and risky places in learning how to serve and best love others?
I admit, the speaker’s examples of sin knocking at the door probably struck a unique chord with me. After all, I have fond memories of sitting at the kitchen table in a friend’s house playing penny-poker on rainy afternoons. (For the record, none of us ended up with a gambling problem.) And this weekend, while I was at dotMOM, Charlie opened our home to our daughter’s friends, and a group of girls spent Saturday night in our bonus room, playing video games (probably not all rated “E”), watching scary movies (probably not rated “PG”), and listening to music with “spirited” lyrics.
See, as a foster mom adopting older kids, attempts to be the “boundary” mom are a bit more complicated for me. My older daughter and my guys came into our lives already well on their way to adulthood. Throwing down a blanket rule against this music or that television show would likely have little result, and more importantly, would only create division. In fact, watching a show I normally wouldn’t watch or listening to a new song has often provided an opportunity to get to know one of my kids better and build trust.
Does this mean that I’m going to allow my two-year-old free access to anything she wants? Of course not. Raising her from infancy, I’ll have a lot more control over how and when we set boundaries, but even considering Ellie, I started seriously thinking about how much of a boundary mom I want to be. What else could those boundaries teach my kids? That I wouldn’t approve of someone? That this friend wouldn’t be welcome in our home? I never want to be the reason my kids fail to reach out to someone in love.
As Christian mamas, we need to find balance and beware of the dangers of putting up too many walls. When it comes to the boundaries pushed by more conservative church culture, I think of all the children of God who will fall on the outside. Kids like mine….who might well be turned away because they brought Eminem instead of Toby Mac.
Thus, while percolating on the “evils” in my own home, I prayed for clarity this weekend, feeling a bit out of place.
And then….came some of that lovely juxtaposition I mentioned.
Jen Hatmaker finished the weekend as the last main session speaker, and for a moment, I felt like she was speaking directly to me. She began with the same message from last year’s dotMom: “brave moms raise brave kids,” encouraging us to stop fearful parenting and raise true disciples for Christ.
But near the end, she made a few changes…
She said that as Christians, we should create safe places for outcasts. In as close to direct quoting as my messy notes will allow, she said:
“Putting boundaries around our families teaches our children to fear. It teaches that others are the enemy. Jesus came to seek and save. He’s not against you, but for you.”
With tears in her eyes, she implored the audience, “Our kids KNOW how we feel about those who are different, mamas. Let’s open our doors wide…”
Amen. Exactly. Amen.
Because when that kid shows up at my door with baggy pants, pink hair, facial piercings, tattoos, bloody video games, or God forbid, poker chips, I want him to know he’s welcome. Heck. I love games. I’ll sit down, and we’ll play for jelly beans. When my teenagers want to watch the latest paranormal thriller, I’ll say “Absolutely not!” but I’ll gladly bake cookies while sending Charlie upstairs for a movie night.
Again, I’m not advocating a complete lack of moral direction for our children. As Jen pointed out, there’s nothing wrong with protecting our kids to a degree, but our parenting should be designed in a way that supports them as they gain freedom in making their own choices and encourages them to love others.
Instead of keeping our kids separate from the the outside (and thereby teaching them to fear all in it who are different), it’s up to us to walk beside them through new experiences. Go see the movie with them and use it as a catalyst for discussing race/sexuality/violence/etc. The kid with the mohawk, pot-habit, and cursing issue? Invite him to dinner. The kid with the gambling chips? Invite his parents over for a poker night, with the winner buying pizza for all. It’s up to us to teach our kids to navigate the world with wisdom, compassion, grace, and understanding rather than fearfully avoiding it altogether. And I’ve been shown again and again, that there is so much room for God to work outside the boundaries.
Sometimes, living like Jesus means we’re going to have to invite the kingdom into our homes, and that can get messy. The kingdom doesn’t always follow our rules or behave the way we’d like, but we’re called to love, nonetheless.
In the study companion to her book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, Jen address the idea of being in the world but not of it:
I artfully skipped over the part where Jesus said, “I am not praying that You take them out of the world…As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” I avoided this concept, preferring a protectionist view-point,meaning pull-out, detach, ignore, disengage, disconnect, wall it off. My answer was to live in a Christian bunker…
But Jesus chose a different way to protect us: truth. Evidently, He deemed that enough to anchor us; severance was apparently unnecessary. Armed with truth, we can live in this world with great purpose, extreme effectiveness, boundless hope. Truth is the linchpin, protecting both our holiness and usefulness.
So, let’s be there for one another as we seek truth. I certainly don’t have it all figured out, but I’m fairly certain it begins with love. And maybe even a poker chip.