(This is part two of a multi-part series. To read the first article click here.)
I never wore a helmet while riding my bike, rollerblading, or ice skating when I was growing up. One time I even face planted a sidewalk and slid for several feet after falling off of a scooter. I scraped up my face, stomach, arms, and legs with major road rash. Yet even after that I never wore a helmet. In my day, the phrase “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” actually meant something. Though some may challenge me on this point, I turned out alright. But times and popular thinking have changed. With new laws, new developments, and more cautious parents, we have lost a particular quality of oppositional development.
Today, there is a phenomenon known as ‘Helecopter Parents.’ This term describes the mentality of many parents today to hover over their children’s development and protect them from dangerous situations. The term itself is exaggerative to emphasize the point that this phenomenon is a bit out of control. There are probably a multitude of factors which have influenced this new era of parenting, but the biggest factor may just be that father’s are not involved in the early development process. Without intending to sound sexist, I have to say that mothers are more prone to over-protection than fathers. Once when I was cliff jumping with my brother-in-law, my mother became so emotionally unstable, that we had to stop before we even made the first jump. Somehow I knew it was a bad idea to invite her along.
But is avoiding opposition a particularly negative thing? A while back, a friend asked me if I considered it a bad thing that they had lived a rather opposition free life. Though I didn’t have an answer in the moment, this is what I would say now. It’s certainly not a bad thing that one hasn’t had enough negative situations in their life to develop a thick skin. Some might even consider it a valuable contrast to the callousness one develops in the nature of reality. Parents may desire to shield their children from the harshness of life to raise up a pure, optimistic, and trusting soul. But while these are positive attributes, one must be aware of the areas of weakness which undoubtedly develop.
A person who has not been sheltered from the challenges of life may grow up to be pessimistic and calloused. But in the same vein, one who has been sheltered from a high degree of opposition has a tendency to be naive. Don’t fool yourself. How you handle opposition matters. If you are calloused, the way you confront opposition may be harsh and hurtful to others. You may come across as a jerk while you see yourself as just being honest. Using the phrase, “The truth hurts” may give you some satisfaction and justify your behavior, but it does not deal with the harsh reality that you have wounded someone else. On the other hand, when you are opposed by someone else, you can make yourself into a martyr and fail to hear the important truth buried in the hurtful words. When faced with life’s challenges, the bold will bulldoze through the opposition with little regard for casualties along the way. While those who have not been taught how to face such obstacles may be laying in the path of those who are ready to break down the wall.
The challenges of facing opposition alone are hard enough, but the reality is that we are rarely alone, and even less, aware of the needs of those around us. A true biblical perspective requires that we consider others first. To show Christ-like love means to communicate in the language of the recipient, but it also means that when we are attacked, we receive it as Christ received persecution.
Christians have always been quick to integrate the subtle philosophies in our culture. Because society is so opposed to opposition, our Churches have turned into safe havens for Christians to remain sheltered from the world. In every way possible, we have made the Christian life as easy as it can be. We have boiled down the pursuit of holiness into a five step program. We have canned devotional studies into DVD lessons with fill in the blank workbooks. In just about every area of life, Christians have created a ‘sanctified’ version. You can wear Christian clothes, listen to Christian music, read Christian novels, watch Christian movies, decorate your house with Christian art, go to a Christian school, and hire a Christian plummer. We have buffered ourselves from the world so that in many cases, Christians can go weeks, months, and even years without even interacting with a non-Christian. But with the depravity of the world growing in fierce opposition to the cause of Christ, our sheltered way of life is slowly becoming obsolete and it is failing to have the necessary effects of countering the corruption of morality in culture. In essence, we have ceased to be salt. We are no longer touching the world in which we live.
While it may seem like a good idea to do what we can to avoid opposition, it actually has a hazardous effect on our spiritual development. Opposition is essential for the resulting product of hope in the of a believer.
“…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5 esv
It is essential that Christians change their mind about the importance of opposition. Paul learned to rejoice and even glory in tribulation and suffering. It is easy for us to think of these terms in a negative light and therefore attempt to avoid them, but everything in the life of a believer is designed to produce something good. Everything God does is for our betterment and His glory. It just so happens that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. So while we are attempting to navigate our own lives to avoid the challenges we might face, our great Father has carefully crafted our pathway to the perfect specifications to bring out the best in us.
The question then becomes, what is the proper balance between opposition and regulation? I have been through many challenges in my life. I have managed to live 28 years without ever incurring any debt (which is a lesson for opposition because I also don’t exist in the credit rating system). I got my first job when I was 14 and worked as many as 80 hours a week during my high school summers working three different jobs. While I would never wish some of the challenges I’ve had to face on anyone else, I know for a fact that I would not be here today if it were not for the opposition I endured. Therefore, while I would never purposely impose opposition on someone else’s life, I will not go beyond what is essential necessary for their well being to prevent them from going through the challenges that are critical for developing their faith and character. For those of us who have already grown up with negative traits, it is our duty to continue the refining process to face opposition with renewed vision and determination. It is in this process that God will shape us into the image of His Son and refine us in the refiner’s fire to come out pure and holy for the Glory of God.
(Check back next Monday for part three.)