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What Are We Teaching Children About Desires?

Me and Merida :)

Me and Merida 🙂

Today I want to send out a huge thank you to fellow blogger Kendra for writing this week’s post. Kendra is a talented writer, designer, artist, mama to twins, wife of Brian, and follower of Jesus. You can enjoy more of Kendra’s Writing at Have Mercy. Her blog is well worth exploring.

Over to Kendra ….

There’s this thing I tend to feel proud of. I may be a girl, but I’m not starry-eyed. I didn’t think marriage would be one long honeymoon and never imagined the baby stage would be pure magic. I consider myself a realist. I’ve promised myself my children would not be the youngsters wailing away at American Idol auditions, sharing their imagined gift. And do you know why? Because if they stunk at singing, I wouldn’t tell them they were amazing.

Maybe this stemmed from my childhood. I had a parent who let me know I was too old to be really accomplished at anything I expressed interest in. “You’d have to have started when you were four to get that good.” It was too late and that ship had sailed. This applied to ice-skating, violin, gymnastics, and the flute. So I got over it and focused on what I saw as practical life goals.

Fast forward to adulthood and I mocked Disney songs. I shunned romance novels and preferred movies with intrigue over rom coms. I felt justified and cool–the skeptic who knows better, the kid who’s already “over” Santa. Just waiting for all the glazed over dreamers to catch up.
That kind of thinking got the boot when I read a little book called The Journey of Desire by John Eldredge. In it, Eldredge claims that most Christians have inherited a twisted version of Christianity’s teaching about desire – so twisted, it’s now backwards. Here’s the truth:

“Christianity takes desire seriously, far more seriously than the Stoic or the mere hedonist. Christianity refuses to budge from the fact that man was made for pleasure, that his beginning and his end is a paradise, and the goal of living is to find Life…Christianity recognizes that we have desire gone mad within us. But it does not seek to rectify the problem by killing desire, rather, it seeks the healing of the desire, just as it seeks the healing of every other part of our human being.”

Many of us have heard something more like this: kill desire and take up your duties. The weird thing is Jesus’ story about the prodigal son teaches that the dutiful ones (older brother), don’t experience God’s embrace, while the younger, who’s desires took him down a destructive path, eventually did. A.k.a. the stupid dreamer. The romantic. The princess-crazed little girl and the ninja hero-boy.

What’s happened to me? When did I get hurt so badly, I decided it was too risky to long for something? When did I start looking down my nose at romantics because I believed myself enlightened? And when has enlightenment ever meant giving up? We’re told to be ready to answer the question, “Where did you get this hope you have in you?” (1 Pet. 3:15) but if we’ve killed our desires, or at the very least hidden them, no one will ever ask us this.

So I ask myself, have I killed my desires? Well, no. I’m a romantic in hiding. I have dreams I hesitate to tell anyone–even my husband Brian. I feel saying them out loud will be embarrassing if it doesn’t work out. And painful. Speaking my desires might make the longing ache more and who needs that? It would just be easier to keep these on the down low. But then again, desire’s the only reason we get anywhere, ever, including God’s embrace.

What if I’m the one who’s glazed over? I’ve numbed my desires so long I can’t feel much anymore and hardly know what direction to take myself because I won’t let myself dwell on where I really want to be. As I was thinking this, I remembered encountering some grown-up, unashamed dreamers. They were at Disneyland. I’d gone for my children’s sake, wanting them to enjoy it before disillusion struck. I went along when their faces lit up and tried to allow for the possibility that this was really a special moment for them.

While I was busy encouraging my kids, the specialness snuck up on me and swept me away. It started with the uniformed men lined up on main street, waving at us with ginormous Mickey Mouse hands. “Why would they do that? So silly,” I thought, but I smiled to myself. Then I watched my daughter bow to other girls who were dressed up like princess, addressing them by their make-believe name. I watched their parents’ reactions as they smiled and went along with this unusual show of friendliness. It gave me the feeling that we were all in cahoots and determined to make this a fun day for each other. My smile got bigger.

But the moment I knew I’d been changed was when I heard a middle-school-age boy singing along with a clip of Aladdin. I thought, “What is happening? When do boys that age sing voluntarily, let alone in public?” Then I started wondering what this song meant to him. Did it tell him there are other creative people in the world? Brave people, who spend their days creating music and scenes and characters to embody their desires?

Maybe Disney tells people there’s a place for them – for their dreamer selves. While they’re there, it’s okay to unwrap their childlike notions and celebrate them. Maybe church schools, if we understood that Jesus doesn’t have a problem with our desires, could do the same.

  • What holds us back as teachers and mentors, from encouraging kids to dream?
  • How can we support kids to try difficult things in the classroom setting?
  • If we understand our deepest desires will not be satisfied until heaven, how do we dialogue about that with little people whose whole earthly life lies ahead of them?
  • How does sharing Jesus’ acceptance of our desires change the picture of Jesus we present to students?
Sharon Harding

About Sharon Harding

I was born in England and immigrated to Canada almost 30 years ago. A graduate of Gloucestershire University (B.Ed.), I have been involved in children’s ministry since I was 16. Over the past 12 years I have written for a variety of Christian Education curriculum resources. I also write a blog at rediscoveredfamilies.com encouraging parents to build strong connections with their children. When I am not working I enjoy painting, reading, and pottering around the Internet.

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3 Responses to What Are We Teaching Children About Desires?

  1. I lost that comment when logged in as facebook – so here goes again.

    kill is a short word – put to death, obliterate, consume, destroy – all used of the wicked in the psalms…
    kill and desire occur in the NT in Paul’s writing – but it is kill through the death of Jesus – not kill in my own strength. kill and desire are in the TNK as well through the sign of circumcision. The connection between one death and the other is made boldly in Colossians 2:11. Abraham and Isaac give what is a common desire to death in the binding of Isaac. The desire for progeny even when it was promised. So teaching the children needs to reveal – albeit slowly – that hope that for us is in Christ Jesus – the same hope that was in the poets of the psalms – the hope that God as teacher will engage us that we might learn from God with the same delight as the psalmists and the same obedience as Jesus.

  2. Kyle Norman

    I want to say that I enjoyed this post. I agree whole heartedly with what the author says about desire, and the need for us to claim (or re-claim) the Christian understanding of desire. A more adult discussion would be around how we tend not to have a well formulated theology of sex beyond ‘this is good/bad, do this/don’t do this”

    However I do disagree with the author on two points. I would see that the Jesus’s story of the prodigle son is not about desire, it is about idenity. Yes the young son goes off on desire for grand living – but in that desire he loses his idenity. The rand point is that he never loses the identity as a son of the father.

    Desire is ok, but when we lose our idenity within desire, then we have gone off course. Which is why I disliked the Disney connection to this post. Disney is all about changing who we are. For Disney Princesses, frequently their identity is understood in relation to the desire of the prince who wants them. In the case of the little mermaid, she gives up her very voice to be seduced by her man. Cinderella only truly becomes Cinderella when her Prince Charming searches for her.

    I think Desire and identity have to go hand in hand. In order to understand and claim desire in the christian context, I think we need to firmly establish that in the bedrock of who we are as followers of Christ, created and redeemed.

  3. Sharon Harding

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment Kyle. I’m intrigued by the idea that desire and identity go hand in hand and will have to think about that some more. I always thought the Parable of the Prodigal Son was about grace! Maybe there are far more facets to the story than I realized.
    I hear what you are saying about Disney Princesses. Still I get the connection to Disney in this post. It was while she was at Disney Land that Kendra had the “Aha moment” that helped her make the connection between what she had read in Eldredge’s book to her own life. At least that’s how I read it! I find it fascinating to see the myriads of ways that God moves to bring about revelation.
    I have to say that I had some interesting conversations with a number of people who would claim that the Church is also all about changing who we are . It’s an unfortunate reputation we have. I also think that the church could learn a lot from some of Disney Land’s approach to their visitors! But that is a conversation for another day. I don’t want to take us off topic.

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