“Sheltered” is not often seen as a positive term. When we talk about someone being “sheltered,” we usually mean that they are naive, having been protected from the big, bad world outside. I don’t think that’s entirely fair. In fact, as a parent, I want my children to be sheltered.
“Shelter” is one of the basic needs of life; it’s a structure of some type that keeps the most harmful elements of the environment from killing you. As a parent, part of my job is not only to provide physical shelter for my children, but also to exercise wisdom in knowing how much and how many of the elements of the world to expose them to at a given age. Because I love my children, there are absolutely certain things I protect them from. I would not, for example, allow my kids to watch slasher movies that I know would taint their imaginations and keep them up at night. So we shelter them.
But there is a difference between a shelter and a bunker. And far too often, we veer away from sheltering our kids to bunkering them in. When we bunker them in, we not only protect them from harmful elements; we deny their very existence. We hurriedly rush them away from difficult to discuss topics; we refuse to acknowledge the evil that is in the world; we create our own world, apart from the real one, and seek to raise our kids there.
It is, frankly, easier to bunker our children rather than shelter them. When we bunker them, we simply assume everything is bad and destructive, and like those hiding from nuclear fallout underground, we seek to control our environment as fully as possible. But when you shelter, you have to actually use wisdom and discernment. Furthermore, you have to train your children to know how to interact in a good and healthy way with what’s outside the home.
That’s not to say bunkering doesn’t teach our children. It certainly does. Though when we bunker them, what they learn might not be what we intended, especially when it comes to what they learn about God:
1. When we bunker our children, we teach them that God is not sovereign.
In Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo once remarked to Gandalf: “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” as he lamented the fact that he had lived to see the evil advancing from Mordor. Gandalf responded: “So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
That is very true. We live in the days which God decided we should live. When we bunker our children, we are many times expressing our silent wish that we did not live in the particular days we do. So we seal off our kids, trying to create an idyllic atmosphere different than the one in which God has placed us. But if our kids were born in the wrong time, then God is not sovereign. We deny that the times and seasons belong to God (Daniel 2:21).
2. When we bunker our children, we teach them that God is not powerful.
What do we tell ourselves when we bunker our children? We tell ourselves that we are keeping them safe. And isn’t that what a parent is supposed to do?
The answer, of course, is both yes and no. Yes, we should protect our children. That’s why we don’t let them stick forks in light sockets. But our highest goal as parents is not to protect our children; it’s to see them embrace the joy and passion of God’s kingdom. Furthermore, at some point we must recognize as parents that we cannot protect our children. Not really. Not fully. We have to come to grips with the fact that God alone can offer them true and eternal security. When we bunker our children, we are telling them that we can do what only God truly can.
3. When we bunker our children, we teach them that God is not sending.
There is, for every Christian, the tension between being in the world, and being of the world. Jesus intent is that we walk this line, being salt and light as His ambassadors, and yet not being polluted by the things of the world. Indeed, He has sent us out for this very work. We are meant, as Christians, to live, interact, and relate to the world around us. In so doing, we are meant to present a different set of values, priorities, and passions while standing right in the middle of the values, priorities, and passions around us.
When we bunker our children, we are teaching them that God is not actually sending us out. We are reinforcing to them that the best place for the Christian to be is inside their own carefully constructed environment rather than living as a stranger and alien right in the middle of the world.
Parents, let’s shelter our children, for sheltering gives us the chance to train them up in the way they should go. But let’s not be dominated by the fear that would take the shelter and make it into a bunker.