I was eating lunch with a friend the other day and we were talking about our hopes for our children. He and his family, with children ranging from 2 years to 7 years, have volunteered together at PTM. The children attend a predominantly white private school and they worship at a predominantly white church. “One of the things”, he said, “I like about my children going with us to PTM is that at PTM sometimes they are intimidated.” “Intimidated?” I asked.
“They are uncomfortable. They are in the minority. It’s good for them. It stretches them.” It rang true to my ears. If I want my children to grow up to be confident women who can courageously and genuinely be themselves in any setting, then they need to be challenged and stretched often now. We all do.
This conversation reminded me of a scene from the movie Where the Red Fern Grows (which I watched last week with my family). It’s the scene where Billy realizes that he must cut down one of the tallest sycamores in the woods in order to keep a commitment he made to his hunting dogs who had just treed their first raccoon. With blistered hands he chops the tree with a hatchet for several hours. His father, grandfather, and mother come to check on him. After unsuccessfully trying to get Billy to come home, his grandfather remarks to Billy’s father, “Every boy needs a tree to chop down.”
Exposing my children to situations in which they might be intimidated or uncomfortable goes against my instincts to protect them and ensure their safety and comfort. In my heart, I would like to shelter them in a bubble so that they would never have to leave their comfort zone of familiar people who look like them. But, in my head, I know for them to grow with depth and maturity as followers of God, then they must be challenged. They must learn to serve. They must learn to give and receive naturally. They must learn to build relationships with people who are much different from them. I agree with Shane Claiborne that sometimes the most dangerous thing we can do for our children is to surround them with a cocoon of protection.
I also want the children and youth served by PTM to learn what it means to “chop down a tree”—it could mean running a 5K with PTM Life, mentoring a younger student with SaLT, being ready at 6:15am for Breakfast and Bible Study, or simply persevering through a difficult homework assignment.
I really admire people like my friend and others who look for ways to volunteer as a family. If you are interested in volunteering as a family—or in helping your children learn the joy of giving, please give me a call (615-596-4386). We are going to have a family volunteer day one weekend this Fall and I would love for you to join us.