I’d like to share a story with you. I warn you it is tragic and has no happy ending. But it is important. Sadly, I’ve seen this story play out again and again, though with different details. And admittedly, this is a compilation of multiple stories with some dramatic license taken on my part. Names have been changed to protect the innocent (and keep from shaming the guilty). You probably know these people or some like them.
Bill and Jane married straight out of college. They had some different perspectives on the details of life, but on the big picture items, they were pretty close. Plus, they were in love. They couldn’t see how anything could go wrong. In time, they had a son, Sam. They both loved him tremendously and were certain he would grow to be a promising young man.
However, Bill and Jane started drifting apart. They simply couldn’t see eye to eye on things. Small differences became major disagreements. Religion, of course, became a problem. Bill’s faith was increasing while Jane’s was decreasing. The relationship degraded into constant turmoil. Bill believed marriage entailed responsibilities and worked hard to fulfill them, expecting and asking Jane to do the same. Jane began to resent the idea of responsibilities, wanting to be more of a free spirit. The only thing they agreed on was loving Sam. They tried to stay together for the sake of their son. But eventually, they just couldn’t get along. The fighting was too intense. Neither was happy: Jane because the disagreements simply seemed like a nagging drag on her desire to do what she wanted; Bill because he knew this kind of behavior just wasn’t right and was plagued with immense guilt.
As you can imagine, Jane wanted a divorce. When Bill discovered that Jane was so unconcerned about any marital responsibility that she was sleeping with a friend from work, he acquiesced. Sam’s world came crashing down. He didn’t know who to love and who to follow. He was confused about what to feel and what his feelings even meant. He didn’t know who to talk to and who to believe when they gave him differing counsel.
By the time the divorce proceedings were done, the parents had agreed to joint custody. Jane would keep Sam throughout the school year and for a couple of weeks of the summer vacation. Bill would get to have Sam with him during two weekends a month and most of the school breaks.
The divorce was not amicable. Bill tried hard to be friendly and godly. But Jane was intent on hurting Bill any way she could. Sadly, Sam became her favorite weapon. Tired of being held down by “shoulds,” “oughts,” “responsibilities,” and “rules,” Jane fully pursued her free spirit ways. When Sam was with her, she let him do the same.
The divorce occurred when Sam was only nine. When he was at his mother’s house, there was no curfew, no chores, no limits on what kind of TV shows he was allowed to watch. Of course, she wanted him to do his homework, but more so, she wanted him happy. So, if he pitched a fit, she would give in and let him do something else. After all, she loved Sam. How could she force him do things he didn’t want or deny things he did want? “A child,” she always said, “should be taught to be free, to pursue his heart’s desire no matter what. To do anything else would be hateful and mean.”
You can imagine it was the exact opposite at Dad’s house. Bill wanted Sam to grow up and be a productive part of society. He knew, if Sam didn’t learn responsibility young, he would always be behind the 8-ball as he grew up into manhood. He pushed Sam to study, gave him a curfew, demanded chores, required limits on electronic media. When Sam would get upset, Bill stood his ground. Certainly, there were times when Bill felt like he may have gone a little overboard trying to make up for the lack of discipline going on at Jane’s house. But Bill loved Sam so much he knew he had to teach him responsibility and try to point him in a productive direction. He was certain that one day Sam would grow to maturity and appreciate the boundaries Bill taught him. After all, Bill had grown to appreciate the boundaries his parents had given him.
As the years wore on, Sam increasingly acted out in school. If Bill was the one to find out, he would pick Sam up and would try to instruct Sam on appropriate behavior, implementing discipline as best he could. If Jane was the one to find out, she would protect Sam and lecture the teachers and principal in how they were mistreating her son. Oddly, the school took a strange position. Behind the closed doors of the staff lounge, the teachers and principal complained about Jane and other parents who never backed them up and let the kids get away with murder. However, as an institution, the school officially stood for Jane’s right to let Sam pursue his passions and pleasure.
In the early years after the divorce, Sam loved his dad and thrived at his home. But as he moved into his teenage years, the desire for independence hit (as it almost always does). He pushed against the boundaries (as all children do). He bucked against authority (as most teenagers will). At Bill’s house, Sam found pretty strong boundaries. But at Jane’s, he found none. As is the sad case with teenagers, he wasn’t mature enough to know what was best for him. So he gravitated emotionally to Jane, and he increasingly hated Bill.
As the teen years hit and high school started, Jane wanted Sam to be popular. So she hosted the parties. She looked the other way when the boys hit the liquor cabinet. She locked herself in her room when Sam had girls over. She figured boys would be boys and it would be awful if she tried to limit or deny his feelings and fun. Plus, she had been convinced that the most dangerous thing in the world was to tell a teenager no, not because he would just go behind her back and do it anyway, but because he would hate her while he did it. She even paid for an abortion when one of the girls wound up pregnant.
Bill tried to convince Sam his path really wasn’t good for him, but Sam refused to listen. After all, the quiet, steady path of self-control and productive responsibility is boring to a teenager in the face of powerful moments of repeated pleasure and fleshly passion. Of course, when Sam was at his dad’s house, they would usually end up in a fight. Sam would storm off to his room, slamming the door; Bill would crawl into his room, crying and praying.
One weekend, when Sam was at his dad’s, he had been invited to the biggest party of the year. Bill learned it would be unsupervised, there would be quite a bit of drinking, probably drugs, and this particular bash had a reputation for being hook-up central. Bill refused to let Sam go. A fight ensued like no other before it. And, sadly, like none that would ever happen again.
Sam called Jane. Jane called Bill. More fighting. But Bill was resolute. The party wasn’t good for Sam. It wasn’t good for anyone involved. Sam might get in trouble. He might get hurt. He might hurt someone else. Bill simply wouldn’t allow it. Even when Jane threated to call the police, Bill stood his ground. When Bill handed the phone back to his son, Sam pushed Bill against the wall. He accused Bill of hating him and never letting him have any fun. “You just want to control my life,” he screamed. “You don’t ever think about my feelings. I’m sick of it. I want to do what I want to do and nobody, not even you, can tell me no. Mom loves me. She’d let me. I’m going to leave and never come back here if you don’t let me go.” Bill remained resolute, and refused to let Sam go to the party.
Sam stormed off to his room mumbling just loud enough to be barely heard, “You’ll be sorry for this.”
As usual, after these kinds of fights, Bill was in his room in tears, praying. He was so intense that he didn’t hear Sam sneak out and drive off. Sam was going to that party no matter what. Nobody, especially not his washed up, backwards, prudish, dad was going to tell him how to live his life.
The party was a blast for Sam. He drank. Tried some marijuana for the first time. Had sex with a couple of different girls. He finally connected with one girl who said her parents were out of town for the weekend. She wondered if he would like to spend the rest of the night at her place. He jumped on the chance. She hopped in his car and headed to her house. Sam was speeding, the radio was blaring, and the two teens were belting out the song in drunken unison. He was trying to cop a feel in the car. He couldn’t have been having more fun in one night. Being utterly preoccupied with his own pleasure, he completely missed the stop light.
The truck t-boned Sam’s car on the driver’s side. The young lady spent some time in the hospital. But today you wouldn’t know she had been involved in the wreck. By the time the paramedics removed Sam from the car, he was already dead.
As his parents sorted through Sam’s belongings after the funeral, Jane came across a journal. As Bill continued to clean out a closet, she sat down on the bed to read. It was filled with ranting about how he hated Bill for not letting him do what he wanted. To be honest, there was no great love for Jane expressed in the journal either. But there was praise for her because at least she knew how to have a good time and wouldn’t get in the way of his having one too.
When she read the entry, she couldn’t stop herself. She threw the journal at Bill, hitting him in the head, and charged him. “You killed him,” she shrieked as she started to pummel him. He tried to pull away from her, but she just kept following him. Fortunately, they both had brought friends to this meeting because neither one trusted the other and both wanted support. The friends pulled the two parents apart. Bill’s friend dragged him out of the house assuring him he wasn’t to blame and asserting there was nothing more he could do. Though Jane’s friend was holding her back, they both hurled verbal abuse at Bill and his friend.
It is a tragic story. But I leave it to you. If blame is to be asserted for Sam’s untimely death, who bears the lion’s share? Is it the parent who communicated his love by teaching responsibility and expressing boundaries and who tried to keep him from that party or by the parent whose love fed the passions of Sam’s pleasures that sent him to it? Is it the parent who sacrificed his own joy by having to bear up under the brunt of hatred when denying Sam his fleshly passions and pursuits or the parent who used permissiveness to engender Sam’s favoritism and hurt the other parent? Is it the parent who fought against the tides of fleshly passion and cultural permissiveness to try to teach his son right and wrong or the parent who took the path of least resistance and placed desire, feeling, and pleasure above obligation, responsibility, and self-control? You tell me.
No doubt neither parent was perfect, and neither parent was 100% awful. And, of course, neither parent wanted Sam to die. Both in their own way loved Sam and wanted what they thought was best for him. But I’ll let you be the judge as to which parent was pursuing what was right and which wasn’t.
I share this story today because it is actually the story of our Western culture. There are two parents in our culture. And while we may think of individual parents who fill these roles, I’m speaking more generically. There is one group of people who are like Bill, spiritually and morally conservative people who believe there is a right and wrong delineated by Someone greater than us. But there is another group of people like Jane, spiritually and morally lenient people who believe right and wrong is a personal issue that no one else should even comment on let alone limit.
The former is a responsible parent who tells the children in our society there is right and wrong. We all have desires, but some of our desires are wrong. We all feel some wrong desires, but we must learn to deny them. We shouldn’t pursue every feeling we have, no matter how many people feel the same way. And this parent assures the children that, when they grow to maturity, they will understand and grasp why the boundaries are important.
The latter is a permissive parent who tells the children in our society whatever they want and feel is best. The children should be able to pursue any and every desire. It would stunt the children to inhibit or deny any of their desires. This parent feeds the children’s desires and looks the other way when the children’s desires hurt them and others. In fact, this parent denies the hurt caused to the children. And while this parent would never admit it, she really asserts there is no need to grow up but to simply live all of life with childish pursuit of immediate gratification.
This permissive parent looks at the responsible one with violent attack, using the children against him. The permissive parent uses the hurt and even death the child experiences to blame and attack the other. There is no compassion for a hurting responsible parent from the permissive one. There is only continued manipulation and a plea for freedom from moral restriction and restraint. There is only a leveraging of the guilt the responsible parent already feels because he is cognizant of a right and wrong and can even pinpoint mistakes made on his own part.
But I encourage the Bills of the world (including the moms who have taken the role of Bill), do not let the Janes of the world discourage you. Do not let them sway you. Stay the course. They will call you evil. They will call you controlling. They will accuse you of hate. They will demand permission to pursue any sin they feel strongly about. They will demand you not only permit it but accept it, keeping your protests against it to yourself. And when those who have listened to and accepted their message die, either because of their sins or because they view death as the ultimate protest against healthy boundaries, they will turn on you and claim it is your fault. Do not believe them. Do not follow them in calling good, evil and evil, good. Sadly, the Janes will sacrifice many children on the altars of their gods of fleshly passions, including many of our own children. And my heart breaks for each and every parent whose child has been sacrificed on that altar. I pray for you and mourn with you. But the answer is not to dance with Jane. It is not to get back in bed with her. She has left us. She pursues what previous generations thought was unspeakable. Do not be deceived, her children and grandchildren will pursue what even she thinks is unspeakable. If we compromise with her, covenant with her, and remarry her, we will merely lay the foundation for our children and grandchildren to follow paths we cannot possibly imagine. We must continue to teach our children that her path and the path of her father leads to destruction. We will be attacked. We will be shunned. We will be ridiculed. But we will be right. And, praise God, there will be some who learn the truth, experience its freedom, and eventually enjoy the peaceful fruit it brings. Let us teach the children and pray for them, always showing them what is right in this life, preparing them for the one to come.