Did you hear about the sleepover next weekend?" My housekeeper/friend Jenny had just arrived one January day after dropping off her kids at the same public school my kids attend. I turned down the impeachment trial on the radio, the better to hear what was going on in the sixth-grade class our sons share.
"Stacey's having a boy/girl sleepover for her birthday," Jenny said, as though she were in shock and didn't know it. "I don't know. She lives with her dad, and he says he'll be supervising, but I had to say I was sorry, I had to think it over, I wasn't sure."
So it's come to this, I thought. A world of parents clueless on what standards to set and how to set them. Certainly a far cry from discussions I'd once shared with homeschool moms intent on redefining the teenage years in a more godly pattern and setting limits for proper courtship behavior.
For the last year and a half, my family had been maintaining those same standards without the support of the homeschool community. Meanwhile, we'd been learning a lot about the needs of families in the world, since our family thought God was leading us-after eight years of homeschooling-to place some of our children in public school.
We had just moved to the country, and in retrospect I see His plan to integrate us into our community, where the elementary school provides a social hub for parents. In addition, we'd also been able to reinject some Christian influence into the rigidly secularized curriculum and holidays, explaining in a friendly way to the principal and teachers that we were part of the multiculturalism they were trying to achieve.
But most of all, we were there for moments like this-my friend Jenny's sleepover crisis, when she felt so uneasy and yet so unentitled to feel that way.
"Jenny, does it seem at all strange that you should feel apologetic for not wanting your son to spend the night at a girl's house?" The muffled speeches of the house managers seemed to provide the perfect background for my question. "Do you really think there's something wrong with setting limits for your kids-no matter what other people think?"
I shared my first experience with setting limits 14 years ago. With no spiritual foundation, my parenting perspective had always rested on the principle that in trusting my children I was demonstrating my love for them. But when my 15-year-old, raised-with-no-rules daughter started staying out 'til 2 in the morning, I told her flatly she must be home by midnight. Later I heard Samantha on the phone bragging to a friend, "My mom gave me a curfew!"
Kids not only need limits, they want them, I told Jenny. They like to know someone's in charge. Then I told her of a study which found that children on an unenclosed playground tended to huddle within a relatively small area-avoiding venturing very far. When the playground was surrounded by a fence, the children spread out far and wide, using every bit of space right up to the limits of the enclosure.
The ones with clearly defined limits were somehow more free. Then I told her how true this was of us as well.
I had reason to remember this talk recently when I heard Chuck Colson address the question of whether Christians should admit defeat in the culture wars, turn away from the world, and tend to their own. This is despair, Mr. Colson said, and despair is wrong for at least three reasons: It is a sin to say God can't change things. It's unbiblical to turn away from the responsibility to take care of His realm. It's a misreading of the times we live in.
While on the superficial level it seems as though our culture is celebrating immorality, Mr. Colson says, in reality our culture is imploding because people can't live with the consequences of the moral relativism they've tried so hard to embrace. They are hungry for answers.
Every day in the mission fields of the public school our family sees up close and personally what the hunger looks like. We're blessed to know-and share whenever we can-the only way it can be filled.
As a result of my discussion with Jenny in January, by early March there were 11 new voices singing praises in our church-including Stacey and her dad.
Mr. Colson is right. The culture war is not a war to be won or lost in political skirmishes, but over the backyard fence, one heart at a time.