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How my parents encouraged discernment and wonder when I was young

“No!” often evokes a negative response. Perhaps it’s a recollection of someone shouting the phrase at you out of seemingly unprovoked anger; or maybe it’s a memory of a once wide-open door slammed shut right in front of you. Regardless, we almost always hate being told no.

Despite the distaste for the word, studies show that authoritative parenting (a parenting method characterized by well-established boundaries and attentiveness to the needs of the child) is by far the most effective practice that parents can implement. As broken and perverse creatures, we aren’t born with the wisdom to determine right from wrong. Rather, as the Psalmist said, we are born into sin and “brought forth in iniquity” (Ps. 51:5). Our very nature is intent upon selfish, harmful actions.

Because of this, my parents raised me to understand that we need to be corrected and told “no” to our erroneous desires at a young age. Moreover, I learned that this means that the occasions when a child does hear the word “yes” are that much more crucial. If we need to hear “no” so frequently to quell our wrong desires, then a “yes” ought to stand out, signaling that what is being approved is indeed good and worthy of pursuit (Phil. 4:8).

Goodness affirmed

Part of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit entails teaching us how to be able to look around at the created world around us and, without diminishing sin, recognize that it is good. After each stage of creation, the Creator stood back and marveled at his work, emphatically expressing his pleasure (Gen. 1-3). Even after the fall and the entry of sin into the world, we ought to do the same.

However, this is not always an easy thing to do. We live in a world that is wrought with the consequences of sin, therefore it is imperative that we keenly discern what aspects of culture we are approving as good. As a young man who is passionately pursuing Christ, I believe that my parents set a precedent for doing this in a cautious, yet profound manner. The three primary ways in which they did so were:  

  1. Inquiring about the content I was consuming: My family would often watch movies together. Afterward my parents would ask my siblings and I a series of questions about the themes we saw displayed—questions such as, “What do you like about (insert character)?” or “What does this teach us about Jesus?” This taught me to do more than simply absorb what I was watching or listening to. Instead, I learned to think more critically, something that would pave the way for making gospel-connections in my own view of pop culture.
  2. Supporting my curiosities: As a boy I was obsessed with animals. Steve Irwin was my uncontested childhood hero and, much to my mother’s chagrin, I attempted to emulate his example by catching every lizard, snake, and frog I could get my hands on. The Creator had captured me with the delight of his creation, and this obsession was accompanied by an insatiable desire to learn about it as much as I could. My parents endorsed this by making frequent trips to the library, recording my favorite shows on the Discovery Channel, and taking me to all kinds of parks and wildlife centers. All of this fostered the growing sense of wonder within me—something I have carried with me to this day.  
  3. Promoting praise-worthy models: My parents put forth a concerted effort to promote profound examples of truth in action to us kids. They provided ample amounts of rich content through an assortment of books, magazines, and music, as well as their validation of the illustrations of objective goodness we encountered. For example, my dad would quote Optimus Prime’s comment that “freedom is the right of all sentient beings,” or my mom would point out how Tim Tebow publicly asserted his faith in Jesus, regardless of the backlash he knew he would receive. They were careful to let me observe the world for myself, but they never failed to enthusiastically support and graciously amend what I perceived to be good in the culture that affected my budding perception of how the world ought to be.

A deeper understanding

As I matured and grew in my understanding of the gospel, these experiences became more concrete. I came to know the elementary principles that mom and dad had affirmed in my childhood as theologically rich truths. These have, in turn, served as a bedrock for making difficult life decisions. It was as if the deep insights that my heart intrinsically held to be true, but could not yet voice, suddenly came to fruition. I finally began to understand what the great author and theologian C.S. Lewis meant when he said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

My parents knew when to say “no” to my sinful desires, but more importantly, they knew when and how to say “yes” to the glimpses of truth that I was encountering in midst of a fallen world. In doing so, they laid the foundation for a thankful son who has grown in his understanding and wonder of the gospel of Jesus Christ. May we all do the same for the generations to come.

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