Creating a Larger Reality for Our Children

Parents do a lot of things. We try to teach our children values. We provide them with home, clothing, education, and more. We protect them whenever necessary and possible and – often much harder – try to let them to struggle when that seems more important. And, of course and most importantly, we love them…deeply, truly, more than they will ever know until they have children of their own.

But I wonder if another thing we do – whether we know it or not – is also frame the world for them, provide them with a sense of what is possible and real, and prepare them to accept — or reject — the terms of the world in which they live. I thought of this when a student sent me the following link to an article about a letter a dad, Kelly Flanagan, wrote to his daughter in light of the overwhelming messages she will grow up receiving that she is only to be valued if she conforms to cultural norms about beauty. I’ll put the link here so you can read it for yourself. Please do. It will take about 2 minutes and will leave you feeling encouraged and inspired.

For whether you are a parent or not, there are undoubtedly people in your life you care about who have bought into the reality that advertising offers us. It is, by and large, a reality defined by lack and inadequacy. You are not beautiful enough, skinny enough, smart enough, wealthy enough, don’t drive a nice or fast or large enough car, don’t live in a big enough house, and so on and so on. The goal behind inadequacy marketing, as we talked about a week or two ago, is sell you a product that promises to reduce that feeling of lack. But the toll is far greater – it reduces us to feeling like there is something inherently wrong with us and that we need to earn the love and respect of others, usually by conforming to cultural norms about success or beauty or strength.

Whenever I read a piece like the this one, I wonder about the author’s faith background. It’s not, of course, that I think only Christian write inspirational and true things, it’s more that the message this dad is sharing with his daughter is so similar to the gospel message that I wonder if there are any explicit, as well as numerous implicit, connections. For above and beyond all else, the incarnation and cross of Jesus tell us that God loves us deeply and truly in ways that we’ll never know or understand, that we do not have to earn dignity and respect but have already been deemed worthy by God, and that we were created for more than simply competing for approval in a world of inadequacy. For God in Jesus promises us not just life, but life in abundance.

But while I’m curious about Dr. Flanagan’s faith background, in the end perhaps that doesn’t matter all that much. Perhaps all kinds of people participate in what Christians call the Kingdom of God without ever knowing it…and maybe it makes God’s smile each time they do.

So as you go about your business this day, look and listen for the too-small realities that those around you have adopted. And knowing that there is a bigger reality out there — one infused with grace, beauty, love and truth by God — feel free to poke the world’s reality, stretch it with a smile, burst through to this larger world with an act of compassion, and create a new world and reality for your children, your neighbors, and for those all around you.

Note: Thanks to Lisa for sending this to me!