Asking Our Kids to Save the World

What Our Kids Need to Hear Right Now is the Same Thing We Do: God Loves You

I recently went to Barnes & Noble to buy a birthday present for my daughter’s friend. I walked into the children’s section, passing one table about elections, another about climate change, another about racial justice, another about women’s rights. It took awhile to find the picture book section. Don’t get me wrong: All of these topics are important, and I truly believe that education is an important part of our work as parents and a community. However, what struck me was not how much topical non-fiction they were promoting but rather the implication that somehow kids are going to save the world. I fall into this way of thinking all the time, expecting that if I just read all these books to my three children, and if they just understand all the brokenness in the world, then our problems will be solved.

When despair for the world grows in Wendell Berry, he goes to nature. I do not. Instead, I try to fix things, and one of the ways I try to fix things is through my children. If I teach my children the right way to do things, they will do them and solve the world’s ills. If I buy them the right books and put them in the right schools and make sure they understand all the major issues facing society and the correct way to respond, it will make up for my generation’s failings.

So many of my fellow parents feel this weight. And if we as parents feel it, imagine how our children feel. The other day, when my son and I were watching TV, the issue of climate change came up. We heard, “If we switch to renewable energy, we can cut back on carbon emissions …” None of what the speaker was saying was wrong, but my son looked at me and said, “Well, it’s too late. The environment is already destroyed.” The heavy burden he and his classmates feel about literally saving the world has already made my eight-year-old a cynic.

Our kids are feeling the pressure and are either trying to solve everything or have totally given up, at age eight. And I am contributing to it. If I am honest, I want to be the perfect mom so I can give my kids the perfect moral and religious education so they can save the world for me and for themselves. My nightmare is that my children would contribute to the problems in our world. I expect them to fix all of our mistakes. And that is a foolish expectation.

Here’s the thing: at some point in their lives, probably sooner rather than later, our children will run into exactly the same problem we did: they cannot save the world. And our role is not to tell them to work harder because we are all counting on them to save us. No, my role as their mother is to show them that I cannot fix it all. And our job as parents is to prepare them to face that reality for themselves and to fall on the cross of Christ when all their shoulds and musts can’t hold the weight of all the injustice in the world.

What our kids need to hear right now is the same thing we do: God loves you; God is here with you no matter how dark it might seem; God has made a way where there was no way, and you don’t have to do anything to earn God’s love. Without that knowledge, they will continue to try to muster up the kind of love and care for others that only comes from Jesus. Without an understanding of the Gospel, even the desire for justice is impossible.

The truth is, I lack the faith that God will take care of me and my children as he has always taken care of all his children. I don’t believe anyone can love my children like I can. I don’t trust that God will be with them, and I don’t trust that God is for them. So I believe that I have to be the perfect parent, that this whole grand experiment of human civilization rests on my shoulders. I need to make sure my children stay healthy, learn what to do for our planet, dismantle discriminatory systems, and fight for justice. And that is exhausting.

The truth is God loves my children and he loves me. He has never left them or forsaken them, and he is for us. I am their mother, but they are his even more than they are mine. I cannot save the world, and neither can my children. There is only one savior, and God is at work, even when, especially when, we least feel it.

In my office/art/school room (when we are virtual learning), I have the words to the Prayer for Those We Love which reads, “Almighty God, we entrust all who are dear to us to thy never-failing care and love, for this life and the life to come, knowing that you are doing for them better things than we can desire or pray for through Jesus Christ our Lord.” I try to pray this for my children, reminding myself that he is their Savior, not the other way around.

Image credits: 和 平, Robyn Budlender