An Open Letter to the Next Generation: We Failed You

letterWARNING: If you are the parent of young-adult or teenage children, then this blog posting may make you uncomfortable. You may even get angry. If you don’t take criticism easily, then do NOT read anymore.  I’m going to be asking a lot of hard questions.  Some may not be easy to answer.

I hear a lot of complaining about the next generation from my peers.  Recently, it came up again at a Bible study.  Although I generally agree with some of the complaints, I’d like to say something and ask a few questions – and it might get unpleasant for some of you.

One of the complaints that I’ve heard is that the younger generation doesn’t want to start out at the bottom and work up – like we did.  They see our homes, cars, careers, and vacations, and want to begin their lives with those things.  It is said that they’ve come to expect certain comforts and feel that they should be able to enjoy them like their parents without putting in the time to earn them. It’s been said that they have an ‘entitlement mentality.’

If these expectations are unrealistic, and if they exist in the minds of an undeserving generation, then I believe the fault lies – not with the next generation – but with ours.  That’s right. If our children have arrived to a false sense of what they should expect and what is expected of them, I believe we as their parents are largely to blame.  Why do I say this?  Because we have taught them our values by how we have lived.  It shouldn’t surprise us , therefore, that they want to imitate us.

Let’s look again at the complaint.  We claim that our children seem to begin their young adult lives wanting what we have.  So, we remind them that we started with next to nothing and over time and hard work have accumulated our homes, cars, careers and so on.  Stop right there. If we began with “nothing” but ended up with cars, homes, and other “stuff,” what one thing are we showing to be the product of our life’s work?  That’s right – our ‘stuff.’  Didn’t Jesus tell us that a person’s life “does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses?” (Luke 12:15)  Then, why didn’t we believe Him?

Regardless of what we may have “told” our children, what we did with our lifestyle spoke much louder. We showed them what was important to us. Many of us have built up our estates. We have climbed the corporate ladder.  We have spent our money on the things that bring us comfort and relaxation.  We have “pulled down our barns to build bigger ones” (Luke 12:18)  In other words, we have showed them with our actions the things that have really mattered to us.  Are we going to complain because our children want the same things? If so, then we are hypocrites.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could say that we started with nothing, but “have funnelled great amounts of our wealth into God’s kingdom?” Or, “we kept our simple homes simple.” and “we have maintained a quiet life so we could keep our focus on what God desires.”  Rather than build our own earthly estates, wouldn’t it be nice if we could say that we “have shrewdly taken earthly money to invest in a heavenly place.”

Of course, we probably cannot say that because sacrificing for the Kingdom has not been our guiding focus.   Sacrificing for our own comfort has been our driving force.  Our kids have picked up on that. We have taught them well.

The fact of the matter is, we, the parents of adult or teenage children, have lived out our value system right in front of them.  The things we have pursued, sought after, and saved for, now stand as monuments as to what meant the most to us.

Am I condemning the possession of “things,” and lives of comfort?  Not necessarily.  However, Jesus suggested that to find our hearts, we need to look for where we’ve placed our treasure (Matt 6:21).  Look around at the treasure you’ve accumulated?   That’s where your heart really is.  Have you poured your extra earnings into helping the victims of an earthquake somewhere, or into your annual dream vacation? What would your children say has been your treasure?  Where have they seen you invest yourself?

Job said that he treasured God’s Word more than food (Job 23:12).  Has your love for God’s Word fueled you in the same way?  Have your children ever asked, “Daddy, why aren’t you eating dinner with us?”  Was your answer, “because today I’m fasting so that I can deepen my walk with God?” Or, “Mommy, why are you turning off your favorite TV show,” so, you could answer, “because I just really want to memorize a few more chapters of God’s word?

What would our children think if they went through dad’s workshop or “man cave?”  Would the tour convince them that dad set up a center to help the unfortunate?  What if they went through mom’s closet and counted her skirts and shoes?  Would they be convinced that she had a heart for the poor?  Or, would they conclude that dad and mom were focused on themselves?  If so, how can we complain if that’s what our children do?

Oh, come on, you reply, what’s wrong with spending a little on myself? I work hard.  I deserve some relaxation!

But isn’t that part of our complaint? Aren’t we upset because we believe our children also feel entitled to something?  Maybe it’s us who has the ‘entitlement mentality?’

What about our broken promises and failed marriages?  Do you realize that when a Christian couple divorces that at least one of them must renounce their faith in Christ to do so? Yes, you read that right. Either one party must refuse to repent for his or her sin, or the other must refuse to forgive.  Both of these attitudes are inconsistent with the Christian walk.  One must surrender their Christian faith to do one or the other.  You can’t claim to follow Jesus when you refuse to follow Jesus.  How do you think our broken promises have impacted our children?  How many of them will break their vows because they saw us break ours?

How many sexual partners has our generation brought into our lives before the eyes our children?  Will you be able to justify this before God?  How then can we ever justify this before our children?

We’re on a roll.  Let’s keep going …

So many parents complain today that our children are “plugged in” to their phones and social teens-cellphonesmedia so that they can’t even have a conversation with us at the dinner table?  Yet, are we parents so “plugged in” to our careers that we will miss meal after meal because we have business meetings and work projects that have to be finished?  Did we become so focused on money that we carted our children off to daycare and then took up extra work just to pay for it?  What statement do you think that made to our children?  What emphasis on family did we express with our actions?

But, you may object, I’m just trying to provide for my family and give them the things that I never had!  Really?  What if all they really needed was you?  Ask them what they would have prefered: having their parents at home, or ‘things.’ Which would have demonstrated a greater interest in your family: to have quit a job and downsized to a smaller, more affordable home or to have spent more time working away from home just to keep it?  Remember, your true values are demonstrated by what you do, not by what you say.

Shall we talk next about our love for sports and our hobbies?  Have our own personal interests shown that we prefer the sanctuary of the church over the sanctuary of the sports arena?  When there had been a conflict between worshipping and “the big game,” what did we show was more important to us?  And when a conflict arose between our children’s sports teams and going to church, which won?  Regardless of what you had “believed” to be more important, your actions proved what was in your heart.

When it comes to pointing our children toward a lifelong vocation, many of us have encouraged them to find “a good job.”  By that, we meant a job that pays well, offers great benefits, and is secure.  Instead, why didn’t we steer them to a job that would teach them daily dependence upon the Lord?  The answer to that is because we ourselves would never seek that kind of job. We were never ready to take that chance. Why ask them to?

I fear that our generation got off course. We became distracted by the glimmer of what the world can offer and we began to pursue it. We got caught up in “the American Dream” at the expense of our loved ones.  Jesus said, “what does it profit if we gain the whole world yet lose our souls?” (Mark 8:36)  The tragic reality is that we may have lost more than our own souls.

If we have raised a generation of self-centered children, then it might be because we have been a generation of self-centered parents.





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