Salon recently put out a thought-provoking article called “The War on Children’s Playgrounds;” definitely worth a read if you haven’t seen it. The byline was: “By trying to make kids’ spaces safe and risk-free, are we taking all the fun out of growing up?” The article discusses our cultures’ trend toward prioritizing safety above all else, using the lens of playgrounds, and describes the losses our children will ultimately face from this mindset. “What we’re bequeathing our children is a childhood designed by lawyers,” author Lenore Skenazy writes. Too true. We’re also implicitly teaching them that the most important thing in life is staying safe.
The problem is that being safe isn’t the number one goal in life; at least it shouldn’t be if we’re following Jesus. We follow a God who was hated by many when He walked this earth as a man, who was murdered by his enemies, and whose followers often came to similar ends. He was not a man who prioritized earthly safety above all else by any stretch of the imagination. Jesus told his disciples, “‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”
Our culture idolizes health, safety, and longevity of life; this is a flawed viewpoint even from a secular perspective. From the Salon playground article: “‘It’s as if we think that there’s a world in which, if only people did things properly there would be no accidents, ever,’ says Philip Howard, author of Life Without Lawyers.” Howard’s right, and it’s ludicrous. Accidents and injury are as old as the earth and an unavoidable part of life; more than that, they’re part of our inheritance as humans since our first parents fell. They come with living in a sin-stained world.
To teach our kids that playing it safe is the way to live is to fail them in the spiritual realm. We are in a battle. The outcome literally will be life and death; there are going to be wounds, injuries, and fatalities. What we need is discerning, tough, hardy footsoldiers ready and eager to following Jesus into the battle; kids who see pursuing Christ, regardless of the cost, as infinitely more important than self-preservation. What we don’t need is kids who grew up wary of going down the slide for fear that they might fall off and bump their heads.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should throw caution to the wind or bring up adrenaline-junky kid, taking risks for risks’ sake. We need wisdom, discernment, and appropriate stewardship of our bodies, which are the temple of God. But ultimately, we need to help our children confront Jesus’ question to all of us: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world (including perfect health and living to 100), yet forfeits his soul?”
“A friend of mine, I kind of think of her like a daughter, sent me a text the other day from Italy, and I texted her back, ‘Be safe.’ And then I thought, ‘Wait a minute; what does that mean? As a father, is that what I want to impart to my daughters? Is that the message – hold on and be safe and get through?’ That’s not the message. The message isn’t to be safe; it’s to be radical. And so I deleted that and I wrote, ‘Be safe, but be more radical than you are safe.’ And that’s what Jesus is saying in the Gospels… The lie of the American dream is that we all deserve to be safe. There’s nothing safe about true Christianity… But we’ve created a different Christianity that’s very safe, and I’m tired of it.”