jennifer hanigan

a pinch of this and a dollop of that


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I homeschooled my kiddos. One day during the grade school years we took a midday bike ride down the path near our apartment. That path winds past a grade school, skirting the property just outside the playground fence. It was recess, and we caused bit of a panic. Kids rushed to the fence and shouted, “Get back inside! Get back inside! You’ll be in trouble!”

My boys found it amusing, of course–little rebels on two wheels. I found it sad. Those poor children, with no idea of the freedom that lay just beyond the fence. (My own school years felt very much like prison; I know it’s not like that for everyone.) But really, how could they conceive of a world so different from the one they lived in? School, when you’re a child, is the clock by which you tell time. It anchors your days and months. It directs the seasons.


Somewhere in the heap of parenting and homeschooling books I consumed as my kids were growing, I read of a study done on schoolchildren. The fence around the school playground was removed. Suddenly the children stopped exploring the outer edges of the playground, and instead huddled in the middle. The lack of boundaries frightened them. The moral of the story, of course, was that children need boundaries in order to feel secure and explore their world.

And I agree. But there comes a time when those boundaries are unhealthy, when they confine instead of guide, when they stifle exploration rather than support it. Wise parents move the boundaries outward and open gates as their children grow. In this way, the children gain confidence in their ability to handle the outside world. They learn how to handle tough situations while they still have the safety net of parents to fall back on.

And they learn that their parents are not always right. This is a very uncomfortable thing for parents!

Today’s sermon, at the little church I attend with the rainbow flag posted out front, was on doubt. The pastor stressed that doubt is not a bad thing; in fact, it is a necessary thing. To doubt, to struggle with something, is to learn what you really believe.

Too often, though, doubt is seen as failure. It is seen as disobedience. Too often, evangelicals are the kids inside the playground fence, terrified for the kids on the outside, sure that they’re risking their very lives. Too often, evangelicals are locking the gates on a playground that is far too small for growing believers. Too often, evangelicals are the parents who won’t let their children grow up for fear they’ll turn out ‘wrong’ somehow.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:11

A faith that is only faithful inside the fence is no faith at all. A God that can’t withstand doubt is no God worth following. And, I am beginning to think, a grace that can be confined is a weak grace, indeed.

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