Have I ever told you the story about when my son unintentionally set fire to our new neighbor’s kitchen? The plot is not difficult to follow: five-year-old-boy. paper plates. stove-top burner on high – and there you pretty much have it.
I can still see my gracious neighbor, flushed, recounting the grisly details. I recall she smelled faintly of smoke, because she had just put out a freaking fire in her house, and I remember wondering if we all would make it out alive. There were just too many ways to burn the house down.
Rewind with me to my sophomore year of high-school, and the day I accidentally set my own house on fire. Again, a simple plot: fifteen-year-old girl. shag carpet. multiple cans of hairspray needed for very big hair. a curling iron left on high – now let your imagination run wild from there, and you get the picture.
I remember standing in the front yard with my mom, watching the smoke curl out from my bedroom window. I felt adult-sized responsibility for the first time, and the terrible burden of not being able to make things right. This mistake was too much. I had actually burned the house down.
Many ages and stages later, I find myself experiencing fire of a different sort. Last week, this letter sparked some very dry cultural tinder, with millions of people passionately weighing in on modesty, our culture, and parenting in 2013. There were cheers, jeers, and many thoughtful questions, and we all witnessed the voracious power of social media.
A few days into the fray, I sat down and read my letter to teenage girls once again. I tried to approach it as someone dropping in to meet me for the first time – someone who had never read a prior Given Breath post – and as someone who didn’t know our family.
And God, in his mercy, helped me to see.
I heard the frustration and the hurt of some readers who felt unfairly judged. They were not wrong to point out the self-righteous tone of my post, the log in my own eye. There was too much assumed on my part, and not nearly enough explained to the world with care.
“Where is the grace?” I asked myself. I realized with dismay that it wasn’t there for the new reader. In fact, I was the older brother in the story of the prodigal son.
Where was the good news? It was absent, and so I was the Pharisee praying loudly, and proudly, in the public square.
Where was the kindness that brings repentance? There was precious little in that particular post, and it pained me.
I know I may have wounded some of you with my words. I have misrepresented my heavenly Father, and squandered his grace, and for this I truly repent.
Please forgive me.
I’ve learned many things through this experience, particularly in regards to social media in our culture. For one, many of us feel like we’re trapped in a forest fire, armed with toy water guns. Will any of us make it out alive?
We might have different perspectives on parenting, but most can attest to the intense heat that is advancing – seemingly unchecked – towards our young people today. Where is the light? Where is our shield? It can feel like our best strategies are about as effective as squirting water pistols into raging flames. It’s not enough and we know it.
And there, friends, lies the good news.
“Fear not, for I have formed you, and I have redeemed you,” our heavenly Father says. “I have called you by name, and you are mine.”
We have a faithful Father who will not ever let us go. We know this, because he let his only Son go to the cross as a ransom for the world. The Father allowed his innocent Son to be consumed in the fire, so that we would be free.
Although it is our sin that is burning down the house, Jesus gave himself up to deliver us from evil. Out of love, he died for us, and now we are forever his. Our names are written on his hands, and God’s own Spirit lives within us. We are not alone.
So lift up your eyes, and don’t be afraid. The fire is not a surprise to God. It is a grace of God to those who trust him. Our heavenly Father will finish – in such a beautiful way – the very good work that he has begun in us, our children, and in the world.
He is with us in the fire, calling us by name, and making all things new.
Peace to you, and joy in this hope.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43)