Saturday, November 1, 2014

Parents, Is Success a Dirty Word?

This fall, my oldest son started kindergarten.  As he pulls his homework out of his backpack, I watch him sound out words, sort shapes, and draw pictures with crayons.  He tries his best to complete each task.  I find myself wanting to try my best too.  I want to try my best as a parent to balance challenging him and shielding him from our culture’s anxiety.  I want to provide him with every appropriate resource to excel yet protect his right to simply be a kid.  I realize each of these pressures rub up against how I – and we as a culture – dare to define success.

The fall is therefore a great time to reexamine our approach to it.  The most provocative article I read on success this year was featured in the Opinion section of The New York Times back in January.  The article, What Drives Success?, was co-authored by the Tiger Mom.  Amy Chua’s controversial, matter-of-fact style has made her a parenting icon that people either love or hate, but always have an opinion on.  Because of the article’s popularity, and because it reflects a cultural ethos that some would argue should inform parenting, it’s essential to revisit it from the Christian perspective. 

Financial Success

First, it is clear that Chua defines success as strictly monetary.  Although she admits that “material success cannot be equated with a well-lived life,” those who are successful are top-earners in her article.  Her view is therefore consistent with culture. 

It goes without saying that Christianity would not endorse an end goal of strictly financial success.  Instead of focusing on amassing material wealth, we are to seek and nurture the intangible blessings of this life.  With eyes fixed on Jesus and a drive to further his kingdom, we have the invitation to be a part of something bigger than our own selfish gain.  It is this ability to refocus contrary to culture that actually brings the true fulfillment all desire.

But if we stop there, we miss something.  There can also be an aversion to wealth in Christian circles that proves counterproductive.  Certainly, the sole pursuit of wealth is a hollow enterprise that’s contrary to the gospel.  But we cannot forget how God used the wealthy patriarchs of the Old Testament, or how Jesus commended the servant who wisely invested and skillfully multiplied his talents either.  Financial gain, if obediently accrued and generously given, can undeniably bring glory to the kingdom of God by funding ministries and aiding God’s people.

Ultimately, God cares about the heart.  As Christian parents, our goal is to best equip our children to wisely guard it and answer his call.  Success is therefore a measure of obedience and passion, not financial gain.  Some calls will naturally involve more influence and larger paychecks.  But if we teach our children intentional stewardship and the value of shining God’s light in their respective industries, we are doing our job. 

The “Triple Package”

Second, Chua asserts that there are three traits that together foster success.  The three traits form a winning “Triple Package,” and those who manifest them have this:  “The first is a superiority complex – a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality.  The second appears to be the opposite – insecurity, a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough.  The third is impulse control…”

Certain cultural and even religious groups, like Mormons and Jews, have been better at manifesting the “Triple Package” than others.  It’s therefore interesting to consider how they resonate with Christianity and our parenting goals.  Going in reverse order, the third trait is an easy fit with the Christian faith.  Impulse control and the ability to resist temptation is not only something Jesus modeled, but it is a byproduct of the sanctification process.  We gradually die to the flesh to augment the Spirit.  Applying this scriptural tenant to our vocational obedience to God is natural.

Second, the trait of inferiority has some resonance.  We are mindful of our innate sinfulness and the scandalous grace of Christ.  We serve God not to attain salvation through our own merit, but in utter gratitude for his blessings.  Our life effectively becomes an ongoing doxology.  Teaching our children this principle to fuel their respective ministries is being faithful to the Christian message.

It is the trait of superiority that might leave our head spinning, but perhaps not necessarily so.  After all, we cannot forget that we are God’s chosen people.  This scriptural principle is not license for belittling – it is not that we are superior to others, but that God’s gifts to us are superior to what the world can ever provide.  When we claim the gifts of our faith – an unshakable trust in God, for instance – we can unlock a boldness to risk and be faithful, a confidence that is not conditioned by the circumstances.  It’s a valuable resource that’s sorely lacking in our often frantic, anxious, and short-sighted society.

Looking at my kindergartner, I don’t want him to be afraid of worldly success, but I don’t want it to be his sole driving force either.  I don’t want his life to consist of desperately trying to keep up on society’s hamster wheel, but rather to be an exciting adventure of call and response to God.  Toward that end, we can best guide the heart of our children by honestly examining our own.  We need to look inward and parse our own desires before inadvertently teaching them.  For nurturing a heart that’s focused on God, is emboldened to risk and faithfully utilize every available resource for his kingdom – that’s the kind of success a parent can be proud of


If you liked this post, then check out Tiger Mom and French Musings.  These articles help you examine other global parenting models and find out what you can take away as a Christian parent.

Also, don't forget to sign up for my blog's email list to get a free printable!  The printable is a lovely rendition of five scriptural promises you'll want your children to live by!

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