I have always hoped to be the kind of person who infiltrates culture with good. Who lives the change I want to see. Who is not afraid of the world, but sees the beauty in what God created and helps draw that out. Something deep inside of me moves at the very words be salt and light. I want to bring out the God-flavors and God-colors of the world (Matthew 15:13-16) The Message. I resist the idea of hunkering down and building cozy walls to live inside of because I know that a light hidden under a bucket doesn’t do any good. Light is meant to shine and salt is meant to make things better. My Alma Mater’s tagline is “Engaging the culture, changing the world” and this way of thinking sent me out as a passionate young adult. And I assumed it would just ease on into my role as a parent.
Enter neighborhood kids.
I love that they want to be at my house. I love that we live in Southern California and that 99% of the time they are playing outside of my house. They eat all my snacks and make a mess of my garage but I welcome it. I am home, our house is fun and safe and I want to be a salty and shiny parent. But when I’m doing laundry in my garage (where all the toys also live) I don’t appreciate a punk 8 year old girl saying to me, “Can you go now?” First of all, who talks to parents that way? In their own home? And what exactly is it sweetheart that you don’t want me to hear?
Yesterday I went out to check on a group of them and found Harper sitting on the curb because the bigger kids were telling “scary stories” around the side of the house. I think they were leaving her out again but apparently she wasn’t bothered. After pulling Sawyer aside to find out what kind of stories were boing told, he said that one of the girls told a story about a guy named “hairy pickle” and that he knew it didn’t mean butt cheeks. And then he said it was probably inappropriate. But funny. Oh good Lord.
I reminded him that Harper was sitting alone, that she is 5 and he is 7 and then I agreed that the content of the stories were not so appropriate. I suggested that he tell a great story and then move onto better fun and thanked him for telling me what was going on. Then I went inside, lamented to Brian that I want the neighborhood kids to go away, that I am glad we won’t live in this house when that girl is in high school (a few months back she tried to make Sawyer kiss her) and that this salt and light business should be for people without little kids. Brian reminded me that we won’t live here, but that we will live near other neighborhood kids and a different high school girl that scares me.
So big deal, kids are kids and stories about hairy pickles are not a crisis. But it’s the trajectory I worry about. I recently had a conversation with a couple gals who work with Brian and they both said that the most damaging decisions they made in their adolescent years were with/influenced by neighborhood kids. Great. Just what I needed to hear.
Yet I know I won’t be able to help myself from loving my kids friends, especially the ones that need it most. I learned that sort of mothering from the best. And lest I forget that my adult life so far has been dedicated to loving children and teenagers and pointing them to God. I pick on neighborhood kids because that’s the stage we’re at. And reaching out often means bringing things in and with our own little hearts and minds to nurture, it can get tricky. I am no veteran here- my kids are young and we have barely begun the road to independence. But “neighborhood kids” could be anything that comes into your world that you cannot control. Things you feel could threaten the well-being of the family you love so fiercely.
Our tendency is to retreat, to pull inward and protect. And some of that instinct is God-given and good. Our kids are a heritage from the Lord and we have the privilege of loving them, providing for them and protecting them. And there are times when extreme measures need to be taken for their good.
But sometimes we choose extreme because it’s easier. If we just live in a bunker or throw our kids to the wolves then we won’t have so many conversations or decisions to labor through everyday. But this world needs us to be present and to transform it with God-flavors and God-colors and teach our children to do the same. Constantly weighing situations, exercising wisdom, talking & praying through things to find a balance between extremes- and it’s all very hard.
I deeply resonate with the idea that we must be preparing our children for the road rather than preparing the road for our children. No amount of control on our part can pave the whole way for them. We can make intentional choices to protect them and do all we can to prevent crisis, but the opportunities to be outside of our protection will grow and we cannot keep them on our map. Hard decisions and bad influences will come and our kids need to know how to choose well. If we throw them to the wolves, they will limp through life wounded. If we build our bunker and abandon every place we can’t control, we will lose our saltiness and our chance to lighten the darkness in the world (and our kids will not be better for it.)
My Olivewood Salt Keeper (a fabulous gift from a friend) sits on my counter by the stove and is filled with coarse grains of kosher salt. I pinch some onto almost everything I eat. It draws out flavor and goodness in whatever it touches and without it, life just isn’t as tasty. I am often reminded when I go to grab it, that salt is gently sprinkled not poured.
Little by little we add flavor. We share a taste for what God is like. We draw out the good. There are no easy instructions or tried and true formats. No correct move for every situation and no static picture of what it looks like to be salt and light. But I know that it takes a commitment to engage and a refusal to let fear be the guide. Bit by bit, we transform our homes, our children and our neighborhoods by offering goodness. Pinches of truth and mercy. Sprinkles of grace and kindness. We use our talents, open our homes, give what we have to people who need it. We demonstrate a life marked by honest words, pure hearts and open arms. Those are God-flavors and colors. Taste and see that the Lord is good.