When I was around 10 years old, I was a little philosopher piecing together life’s meaning in a world without God. I once confidently told my mom the purpose of life was to pursue happiness. I was sure that in a world devoid of any transcendent standards to which I might be held accountable, this was the only sensible answer to life’s meaning. But my mom quickly rebuked her little hedonist and told me life was about more than enjoying yourself. Life is about helping others and making the world a better place, and while happiness is a good thing, it can’t be the ultimate thing. Her words rang true though I couldn’t assemble a solid foundation on which to place these ideas.
My mom is the single greatest influence on my life, and the Lord used her in a vital way to bring me to a saving knowledge of Christ. She laid a framework that made the Christian worldview intelligible and, eventually, compelling to me. I’m certain my story is like countless others where God worked through the discipline and instruction of parents to reach their children.
But one thing makes my situation unique: my mom isn’t a Christian.
For most of my childhood, she’s been an atheist. During my growing up years, she talked about church as punishment. She’d even threaten to take me and my siblings to church when we were misbehaving. Yet in many ways, the manner in which Mom raised us betrayed dependence on a Christian outlook on reality.
We were brought up with an unshakable sense that we lived in a morally charged world—meaning was derived from the world around us, not something we imposed on the world. We heard we weren’t the only significant people but rather part of a larger network of people who are just as important as us. My mom knew the most loving way to raise us was to teach us we weren’t the center of the universe.
Home Didn’t Revolve Around Us Kids
This was perhaps most clearly evident in the decisions my mom made for me growing up. While she cared about what I wanted, she was most concerned with what was best for me. If the two were in conflict, no amount of protesting on my part would change her mind. Our household didn’t revolve around my desires but around the fixed reality of the world I lived in.
I was taught to eat my vegetables, do my homework as soon as I got home from school, and get eight or nine hours of sleep each night. I might not have always appreciated the wisdom of these rules, but even as a kid, I understood at least theoretically that they existed for my good.