Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Dangerous Business of Teaching Our Children to Share

I remember the blank looks I got when I told a group of friends that we don't make our kids share with each other. We were all Christian moms, and my comment was definitely controversial. It's not that we don't value sharing. How can we not value sharing if God does? But there are nuances that get dropped in our zeal to turn these little self absorbed tyrants into good citizens of God's kingdom. And not teaching these nuances simply turns them from one kind of self-absorbed tyrant into another kind of self-absorbed tyrant. Let me explain

Picture Johnny and Janie playing happily side by side. Suddenly, the laughter turns to squabbling because Janie has grabbed Johnny's favorite Matchbox car. Johnny grabs it back; he was, after all, playing with it first. And he is indignant at his sister's utter lack of respect.

(If this scene has never played out in your house, you don't have enough kids. Remedy that immediately. Kids, and all that comes with them, are one of God's greatest teachers. Back to my story...)

In walks Mother to save the day. Appalled at Johnny's selfishness, she sternly instructs him to hand the car to his little sister. Johnny obeys. Mother praises him for sharing.

Mother is wrong.
Johnny did not share.
Johnny did obey his authority. And for that, he should be praised. But Johnny did not share. Johnny just had his private property forcibly removed from him by his governing authority and redistributed to another. Johnny just paid a tax. But Johnny did not share.

Now let's revisit the scene. Let's say Mother isn't quite as wooden as all that. (Hooray for Mother!) Let's say Mother understands the importance of stewardship and private property. Let's say Mother's appeal to Johnny goes more like this:
"Johnny, I understand that the car is yours. And owning this little car comes with great responsibility. Do you think you should share the car with Janie? Do you have good reason to not let her play with the car?"

At this point, we need a flow chart.
If Johnny willingly hands over the car because Janie wants or needs it, then Johnny has given from his heart. And Mother should praise him for sharing.
If Johnny willingly hands over the car even though Janie has a record of breaking his stuff, Johnny has exhibited mercy, and Mother should praise him for being merciful.
If Johnny refuses to hand over the car because Janie has a record of breaking his stuff, Johnny has exhibited stewardship, and Mother should praise him for that.
If Johnny doesn't have good reason and hasn't thought this through, then Mother is seeing Johnny's depravity. He is a self-absorbed little tyrant, and she should proceed with training and/or punitive measures forthwith.

But let's not forget Janie. Mother is not done parenting in this situation. If Mother is on her game (meaning her hormones are in perfect harmony with her world; the baby slept through the night; she's not having a bad hair day; she had a bona fide quiet time that morning; but I digress...), then she will not neglect training Janie, either.

Mother needs to make sure that Janie understands a couple things:
1. Janie is not entitled to Johnny's private property.
2. Johnny is not obligated to give his private property to her.

If  Janie understands this and backs off, she has demonstrated wisdom beyond her years and should be praised for respecting Johnny and his stuff.
If Janie shrugs and grabs at the car, she is attempting theft. Mother is seeing Janie's depravity. She is a self-absorbed little tyrant, and Mother should proceed with training and/or punitive measures forthwith.

Are you seeing the nuances of teaching our children about sharing? Sharing is predicated on the idea of private property. It is impossible to teach sharing without teaching about private property. Oh, and in case you are wondering, private property is straight from the scriptures, both Old and New Testaments.

If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he shall repay five oxen for an ox or four sheep for a sheep. Exodus 22:1
If a man causes a field or a vineyard to be grazed over, or lets his beast loose and it feeds in another man's field, he shall make restitution from the best in his own field and in his own vineyard. Exodus 22:5
If a man borrows anything of his neighbor, and it is injured or dies, the owner not being with it, he shall make full restitution. Exodus 22:14.
Take a trip through the books of the law, and you will see numerous instances of God protecting private property.  Why do we parents protect it less? Why do we act with our children as if private property is grubby, clutching, and materialistic? Not only is that basically gnostic (!), I submit that we are not portraying God correctly to our children when we do that. 

Read the account of Ananias and Sapphira.
Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit? and keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? You have not lied to man but to God. Acts 5:3-4.
They were not killed for withholding property. The property was theirs to use as they saw fit. They were killed for lying.

Do not forget to do good and to share with others. For with such sacrifices, God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:16)  Sharing is sacrificial. It is an internally motivated willingness to suffer loss for the benefit of another.

If sharing is likened by God to sacrifice, then sharing must be internally motivated. It comes from the heart. The prophets are full of rebuke for people who made sacrifices out of a sense of resentful obligation.

If sharing is likened by God to sacrifice, then it must be willing. It must be cheerful. Or it is not sharing.

If sharing is likened by God to sacrifice, it must involve loss. Loss implies ownership and entitlement...and subsequent surrender. Sharing, it then follows, can only be done by the property owner. There is no such thing as compulsory sharing.

So, we have our work cut out for us. Teaching our children to share is not as easy as it seems because, while obedience can and should be mandated, sharing never can. Never. Teaching our children to share must include instruction about private property, respect for other people, and the heart of sacrifice. The rest is up to the Holy Spirit.

If we fail to teach sharing in the context of private property, we will raise little self-absorbed tyrants.
And little self-absorbed tyrants grow up to be big self-absorbed tyrants.