TLP 418: Children and Autonomy | the biggest parenting challenges you will face, Part 3
Discover even more places to enjoy Truth.Love.Parent.
Click the link below to download the PDF.
Welcome back to the “Biggest Parenting Challenges You Will Ever Face” series.
I want to thank drChrista for her iTunes review. She said, “Excellent podcast. This podcast is a blessing. All parents should hear it.”
And we’re thankful that you are some of those parents joining us today to hear this series.
I hope you caught our Special Guest interview that posted last Saturday. I had a great conversation with Arthur C. Woods from “Trusting the God of the Gospel.” You need to watch or listen to that interview and try to win a copy of the curriculum. Just head over to TruthLoveParent.com/giveaways to see what you need to do to win.
And, if you don’t win one, you should consider purchasing it.
And, speaking of purchases, when was the last time you checked out the TLP Store? We have Christ-honoring clothing, beautiful artwork, a free parenting course, housewares, and so much more. Every purchase helps us continue creating this free parenting content.
I hope you’ll look into that as well.
And while you’re there, you can access today’s free episode notes and transcript from our blog, TakingBackTheFamily.com.
By the way, if you’re new the show, I welcome you, and I’m glad you’re here. However, it’s imperative that you listen to the first two parts of this series before you continue. Episodes 414 and 416 will help you fully understand our discussion today as I won’t have time to clarify the prior points.
Alright, it’s time to see the inextricable consequence of using our technology to achieve our security.
Every human being ever born on this planet subconsciously and consciously desires security — that deep-seated drive to be safe and satisfied.
That desire for security inspires them to create, find, and use new technologies that will help them achieve the most up-to-date level of security they desire.
But what’s the natural outcome of this scenario?
Well, if I trust God to provide my security, I’ll use my technology in a way that conforms to His will. Living for Him and pleasing Him will be my highest desire.
But, if I don’t trust God’s plan, I will believe that I alone am responsible to achieve my own security. Therefore, I will pursue the technologies I believe are best and use them as I see fit.
Now, two things may happen in this second scenario. First, I may miserably fail to achieve my desired level of security. Generally speaking, all this accomplishes is to make me more and more obsessive about finding new ways to get what I want.
The most desperate version of this often results in suicide.
When I’ve used all the technology on which I can get my hands, but I’m not only incapable of achieving the safety and satisfaction I desire, I actually reap painful consequences instead, I may be tempted to believe that using just one more piece of technology (a gun, rope, knife, or bottle of medication) may be just what I need to finally be at peace.
Those are two responses people have when they fail to achieve their desired level of security.
On the other hand, let’s say that I’m “successful” in attaining the security I desire . . . . Believe it or not both of these extremes produce the same response in people.
Whether I get what I want or my life tumbles out of my control, when I believe that it’s my sole responsibility to secure my satisfaction, I will develop a very dangerous mentality called “autonomy.”
Merriam-Webster defines autonomy as “the quality or state of being self-governing; self-directing freedom and especially moral independence.”
Autonomy is the idea that I don’t need anyone else. I’m free to pursue my security using whatever means and technology necessary.
Let’s look at the two extremes again.
Do people who haven’t gotten their hands around the satisfaction they desire believe they are autonomous? Well, if they believe their life is so terrible that no one will ever be able to help them turn it around — then yes — their perceived autonomy is preventing them from reaching out for the help they desperately need.
On the other hand, the deluding haze brought about by a modicum of “success” is equally as dangerous. As long as I feel like I’ve accomplished at least some of the satisfaction I desire — or as long as I believe I’m doing better running my life than someone else would — I start to get too big for my britches.
But which of our kids will truly battle with this temptation?
Your children may be very young, but I’ve used very mature illustrations to elucidate my point.
It may be difficult for you to imagine toddlers struggling with autonomy.
And I’m pretty sure had I surveyed today’s listeners before the show by asking which age group is more prone to desire self-autonomy — ages 5-8, 9-12, 13-16, or 17-19, I’m certain nearly 100% of the group would have chosen the 17-19 age group.
And I think it’s safe to say that the average parent of single-digit kids believes that parenting challenges associated with autonomy are something that come later in life.
But that’s categorically untrue.
Yes, it’s accurate that the older and bigger the child, the weightier their sins tend to feel, but what’s not true is that their sin is somehow worse than the sin of younger children, and that they experience temptations that are completely foreign to younger children.
Just to set the record straight, every single one of our children battles with a growing sense of autonomy.
Allow me to present a kindergarten-sized example for your consideration. Your child wants to be able to tie his own shoes. You teach him how. He practices, fails, practices some more, and eventually gets pretty good sending the rabbit around the tree and through the hole.
But — one day — you’re rushing out the door because one of your older children was late getting ready for school. You’ve told your youngest to put on his shoes multiple times as you’ve rushed around the kitchen preparing the necessary lunches, but he still hasn’t gotten around to his shoes.
When everyone else is finally ready to walk out the door, your kindergartener is just now finally plopping himself on the floor, ready to start the unnecessarily long process of donning and lacing his footwear.
You — already way too late — crouch down by the youngest to help, but the child doesn’t want your help.
“I can do it by myself!” the child wails.
At that moment you’re facing an autonomy challenge. The child doesn’t believe they need you in order to accomplish the task at hand. The 5-year-old believes his deepest satisfaction will be found in tying his own shoes “like a big boy.” The technology he’s employing to gain his satisfaction are the red and blue laces of his superhero sneakers. And — as he’s been successful in tying his shoes in the past — he can’t abide mom wanting to help him this time. If she helps, he won’t achieve the pleasure he desires. In his own mind, he needs to do it by himself.
Now, consider an even younger example. This time your toddler seems to want you and all of her older siblings to do everything for her. Tie her shoes, brush her hair, feed her . . . I’ve even met younger children who don’t have to speak because their older siblings seem to be able to read her mind and communicate for her.
“This child certainly can’t be struggling with autonomy! She’s so dependent on everyone else!”
Well, that depends. I’ve worked with children whose parents are desperately trying to get her to make age appropriate developmental movement, but the child prefers to have everyone else carry her and read to her and bring things to her. In working with these children, I’ve often discovered that there’s a streak of defiance that cuts through the child’s otherwise passive-looking demeanor. When the parents finally require that the child get their own toy, feed themselves, or tie their shoes on their own, the child melts down.
After time, the parents come to realize that the child was perfectly capable of doing age-appropriate activities, but she simply didn’t want to.
This too is a version of autonomy.
The child believes she doesn’t need to submit to mom and dad’s expectations, and her “technology” involves achieving her own satisfaction by getting everyone else to do the hard work for her.
She believe herself to be a free moral agent who can decide what she does and does not need to do.
Now, I’m not saying that every child who struggles with developmental delays is doing so because they’re giving into the sin of perceived autonomy.
What I am saying is that the vast majority of the kids with whom I’ve worked didn’t have learning disabilities or developmental struggles . . . they had simply gotten comfortable living as a baby with few to no expectations on their lives . . . and they didn’t want that to change.
In fact, I worked with many boys at Victory Academy who were teenage-versions of what I’m describing here. Growing up, dad and mom expected very little of them. Because of this they became very low functioning and incompetent, and when people outside of their family expected them to fulfill their potential, they became defiant — not because they couldn’t, but because they didn’t want to.
All of this to say, the temptation to experience feelings of autonomy are inherent in our human condition regardless of our age.
The more life works the way we want it to, the more we’ll believe we don’t need others to tell us how to make life work.
On the technology episode, I put it this way: “If I reject God’s authority, I’m in charge of my safety and satisfaction. Therefore, I’m going to invent more and more ways to gain more and more safety and satisfaction. The more technology I have, the more in control and powerful I feel. The more powerful I feel, the easier it is to think of myself as being the god of my own life . . . which — of course — further substantiates the idea that I don’t need God’s plan.”
King Agur describes the issue perfectly in Proverbs 30:8-9, “Give me neither poverty nor riches;
Feed me with the food that is my portion, 9 That I not be full and deny You and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or that I not be in want and steal.”
Focus in on the beginning of verse 9: “That I not be full and deny You and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’”
Much of the world views God as a cosmic vending machine or genie. He’s there only to provide for me what I cannot provide on my own.
How can you know if you or your kids have adopted this view of God? You can be certain if your prayer life is stronger when you’re in a time of distress than when life is going well.
Think about it.
If I pray harder than I normally would when it becomes clear that I can’t control the money or the health or the child, then I’m betraying the fact that I don’t really think I need to pray about what I’m able to achieve in my own power. I only need God when I’m not capable of doing the things I want.
And as long as I’m making the money I want and I have the health I want and everyone in my life is behaving as I want . . . I don’t need to rely on God.
There’s this ancient storytelling device that still finds its way into modern entertainment. It’s called deus ex machina and means “god out of the machine.” This device is used when the protagonist of the story has been able to successfully thwart any and all hurdles that have come his way, but finally — near the end of the story or at the highest climax — the hero encounters a challenge too big for him, and when it seems all is lost, a trap door opens and an actor dressed in the garb of the gods appears and vanquishes the challenge as a blessing to the protagonist. From there the protagonist sails through the remainder of the plot and is immortalized as the true hero of the story.
It’s an unoriginal writing device because the author wants a huge climax, but couldn’t think of a realistic way for the hero to do it by himself. This is akin to Captain Marvel showing up at the end of Infinity Wars.
Anyway . . .
When we view God this way — as a mystical being who shows up when we need him most, aka: when we can’t handle it ourselves — we’re believing a lie that is completely antithetical to what we see in Scripture.
Human beings are anything and everything but autonomous. We are definitely dependent on other humans. And we’re completely and utterly dependent on God.
1. We’re dependent on God for our physical life and growth.
Genesis teaches that we would never have existed had it not been for God.
In Psalm 139:13, David proclaims, “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.”
I Corinthians 8:6 says, “There is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.”
Hebrews 1:3 describes Christ this way, “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.”
If we were to become truly autonomous from God, we would cease to exist.
But not only do we need to teach our kids that we are all dependent on God for our physical life and growth . . .
2. We’re dependent on God for our spiritual life and growth.
Romans 8:7-8 is an important passage to which we repeatedly return because we and our other family members must know and believe this — “because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
James 4:4 reads, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
Isaiah 64:6, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.”
Proverbs 15:8 says, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord.”
And the King James rendering of Proverbs 21:4 tells us, “The plowing of the wicked is sin.”
There is absolutely nothing an unbeliever can do to please God. Everything they do is a sin because everything they do stands in defiance to God’s Lordship. They can’t be righteous. They can’t sacrifice. They can’t even plow without being an enemy of God.
But — even once we’re born again — we can do nothing apart from Christ.
In John 15:5, Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
There is no one in this universe who could ever attain any level of spiritual merit without God. There is nothing righteous in me. Everything decent and good and holy about me is a direct act of God’s grace in my life.
In order to combat their delusions of autonomous grandeur, we need to help our kids understand that they would not only cease to exist without God, there is nothing good in them without God. In fact . . .
3. We’re dependent on God in both form and function.
What do I mean by that?
Well, just as a potter shapes the clay with its end purpose in mind, God created us just as we are because we have a purpose to fulfill.
No potter makes a mug to be used as a trash can or a giant clay receptacle to be used as a cup. In the same way, God determined our form in order to facilitate our function. What’s our function? What is the one thing God created us and your whole family to accomplish?
We were created to bring Him glory.
That means that everything about us (our form) was created to fulfill that lofty and divine purpose of celebrating God (our function). Our minds and emotions and bodies were created to glorify God. We have no other purpose other than to worship Him.
Yes, we all have sub-purposes — things God wants us to accomplish in order that we may fulfill our main purpose — but ultimately it makes no sense for a human being to try to be autonomous.
A truly autonomous human being is paradox. It’s a misnomer. It’s an impossibility.
It’s like a car trying to be pencil.
Do you remember when I read, I Corinthians 8:6? “There is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him.”
Just a couple chapters later Paul would tell the Corinthians, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
This is why autonomy is a delusion.
By the way, I’ve included two additional resource for you in the description of today’s episode. Both of them are about our family’s dependance on God. I hope you’ll check them out.
But — back to the delusion of independence — I believe the impossibility of true autonomy actually explains why we want it so badly. Humans hate being dependent on others. We’re skeptical because we see that no one else has it figured out. We’re untrusting because we’ve been failed so often. And — if we happen to believe in a god — we project all of those same attributes on him.
Romans 1 — another passage with which we are very familiar — says, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”
Satan loves to deceive us into thinking that we can make decisions apart from God. That’s what he did to Eve, and that’s what he does to us.
And once he can convince us to view ourselves as being capable enough to protect and care and provide for ourselves, we will believe we no longer need God.
By the way, if you haven’t listened to our “Spiritual Warfare in Your Home” series, I cannot recommend it strongly enough. I’ll link it in the description for you.
So, let’s tie a bow on this one.
Even though our kids face the same temptation to autonomy that all previous generations faced, our kids do have a couple new struggles.
Never before in the history of man has it been so easy to deceive ourselves into thinking we can make it on our own.
People living in third-world countries realize pretty quick how hard life is.
In ages past, even though they still viewed themselves as free moral agents, ancient peoples knew they had to work hard to survive.
But today — at least in first world countries — navigating life is actually pretty easy. The only reason we complain so much about how people hurt our feelings is that we’re not slaving away doing manual living just to stay alive.
Consider the following examples: what do reality shows, social media, and video games teach us?
Reality shows like America’s Got Talent convince us that we could have it all if people just recognized how cool we are.
If we craft our social media experience just right, we feel like stars.
And video games make us the Lords of our own kingdoms, the saviors of our own cities, and the creators of our own worlds.
We sit there with our screens — fully enraptured by the fact that we’re just as rich and beautiful and strong and popular and powerful as we could possibly be.
And — slowly but surely — the idea that we can achieve happiness for ourselves starts to take root at the very core of our being.
Your children’s budding desire for autonomy is something with which you will have to grapple. Don’t be surprised by it.
This whole series is designed to help you see the challenges, understand them, and think biblically about them.
From there, we all still have a lot of work to do, but we’re lightyears ahead of the parents who still think their child’s biggest problem is the mean kids at school or their phones.
Please share this episode on your favorite social media outlets, and reach out to us at Counselor@TruthLoveParent.com if we can help you navigate your unique parenting challenges. You can also call us at (828) 423-0894.
I hope you’ll join us next time as we open God’s Word to discover how to parent our children for life and godliness.
To that end, I’ll be talking with Kristen Clark from Girl Defined Ministries about how dads and moms need to help their children understand God’s definition of womanhood.
Leave a Reply.
Join The TLP Family and receive email updates when we publish new articles and episodes.
Subscribe to Our Podcast