"Evelyn, don't keep your eyes crossed like that. If you do they will stay that way."
I am in the kitchen cleaning up after lunch on a lazy Saturday afternoon when I hear my seven-year old son issue this admonition to his younger sister.
"Eldan, what did you just say?"
"I told Evelyn not to keep her eyes crossed or they will get stuck that way."
"Where did you hear that?"
"Everyone at school says it."
Oh boy. Here we go.
I knew this day would eventually come, but I will have to admit--I didn't necessarily expect it this soon in the parenting process and I definitely didn't expect it to come in the form of such an inane old wives-fable. (I guess I am a bit naive.) Now that it's here, however, I can see the advantages. He's young and impressionable. He hasn't yet passed the "my dad is my hero" stage of his elementary years. He will probably give me more of a fair hearing now than at any given time in the next 20 years. Plus, it's such an innocuous topic that it may provide the perfect case study for him to consider his personal ontological leanings.
So...as I continue putting the clean pots in the cupboard and the dirty ones in the dishwasher, I decide to engage...
"Just because everybody says it doesn't mean it's true."
"Yeah, but you're the only one I know of who says it isn't true."
"Well, it doesn't really matter what people say. Do you have any proof? Have you ever met anyone who kept their eyes crossed and they stayed that way?"
"So you don't really know if it's true, do you?"
"But everyone says it is."
"So? You can't believe things just because lots of people say it. Lots of people might be wrong. You have to look for proof. Bring me some proof that keeping your eyes crossed will freeze them that way and then we'll talk. Without the proof, you have to admit that it might not be true."
"Yeah, but it might be true."
"Yeah, but it might be false, too."
And so it begins...
In a way, I am really excited. The process is beginning. (In truth, it has been underway since they day they were born.) This is the way we are going to raise our children. I want them to question. I want them to challenge. I want them to examine the issues (whether it is crossed eyes or same-sex marriage) and to base their decisions and beliefs on the fact that they are convinced in mind and conscience that something is true. I don't want them to take what any human says--whether it is a preacher, teacher, politician, or parent--at face value. Of course, there will be times (probably many) when they will have to temporarily submit their opinions and choices to me, my wife, or some other authority figure in the interest of honor and obedience, but I don't want either of those interests to become so overpowering that it causes them to lose their God-given ability and responsibility to think for themselves. This lunch-time discussion was just the first of what I hope will be many opportunities I have to challenge my children's status-quo and push them to think. Like they say--it isn't illegal yet.
But, in a way, I am also scared. The process has begun in earnest. The process of raising a child to become an adult--a responsible, thoughtful, opinionated, conviction-driven, truth-seeking adult. By encouraging my kids to question, consider, and challenge, I realize that I am also creating a situation in which they might reach different conclusions than I. These differing conclusions may come in areas of very little significance such as crossed-eyes or reading in the dark. They may also come in areas of incalculable significance such as their view of God and themselves. I know that I may have begun the process of raising a rebel who will reject the moral absolutes that we have been trying to calmly and consistently inculcate into their fiber from day one. I know. I know. Questions can be dangerous. Debate can be dangerous. I know--and it scares me a little bit. Okay, it scares me a lot of bit.
But my fear of my children reaching different conclusions than I cannot be allowed to overcome my desire (and the need) for them to reach conclusions--on their own. In the end, I don't want them to agree with me because I say so. I don't want them to believe what I believe because I believe it. I want them to believe because they believe it. I am fully aware that the process of reaching their own answers may lead them through some dangerous waters, but I have full confidence in the power of God and His truth to help them find their way.
So, for now, I'll just keep putting the dishes away and issuing my challenges...
"Show me some proof, Eldan. It might not be true."
"Yeah, but it might be."
Oh, boy! Here we go!
God help us...