Burning Down the House

Have I ever told you the story about when my son unintentionally set fire to our new neighbor’s kitchen? The plot’s 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 (which was about ten million of you). I tried to read it from the perspective of someone who had never read a prior Given Breath post; as someone who didn’t know me or our family.

And (with sadness) I realized there was far too much assumed on my part. My tone was snarky. There was not nearly enough thought or care (or editing, ugh) spent on that particular post. “Where is the grace?” I asked myself. There was precious little to be found at first blush, and that truly pained me.

Even so, the heat and intensity of reactions to the subject matter confirmed several things I’d been considering of late. For one: Parents today believe they are ill-equipped to guide their children through the expanding minefields of social media. They feel increasingly helpless watching what appears to be a raging forest fire advance on their loved ones. Will any of their people make it out alive?

Most parents think that their best efforts in this arena to be as effective as using water pistols into the raging flames; it’s just a matter of time, they are convinced, before their own house is burning down.

But the fire of this age is not a surprise to God. He has not left us to our own parenting devices.

In fact, God tells us not to fear the fire and intense heat, but to go with him into the fray. He tells us to overcome evil with good; to bless and not curse; to edify and build up; to bring life and light to the dark corners; to give and forgive, and to not lose our hope or joy.

And so we go with God into all the places – online and off – and find unexpected beauty in the ashes. We will not be burned up or consumed in this work, because the work and the world are his. We are his.

Peace to you, and all your people, because the flames and the waves will not overcome you. You are his.


“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)