April 28, 2013

Raising Bubble Babies

by Clint Archer

The fascinating case of young David Vetter, makes for a vivid illustration. Vetter was born in 1971 with a condition ominiously called Severe Combined Immunodeficiency. What that meant was that his little body had no natural ability to fight off any disease. The mildest form of any germ could result in his death. Doctors attempted to protect him by placing him in a sterile plastic environment. The media, with uncharacteristic discreetness, never revealed his name while he was alive, but dubbed him affectionately as “The Bubble Boy.”

VetterVetter’s medical team sought to provide him with as normal a life as possible. The boy was educated, watched TV, and had a playroom area—but all within the confines of the sterile bubble.

In an attempt at curing the child, a bone marrow transplant was done from his sister through intravenous tubes running into the bubble. What pre-screening tests could not reveal was that the donor’s blood contained dormant traces of a virus. With no immune system, the virus rapidly spread and killed David Vetter at age twelve.

That sad story has a parallel in the spiritual world. Many parents treat the souls of their children as if they possessed an incurable immune deficiency. Anxious about infecting their young ones with worldly philosophy, they keep them in a sterile environment. Some parents never allow their children to play with other kids, or venture outside the home. All their education and entertainment comes directly from their parents. This certainly does preserve the children from worldly, unbiblical influences, and is highly appropriate in the very young years [emphasis added after some commenters missed my support of protecting little kids.] But at some point, if the child has any hope of surviving independently outside the home, he or she will need to have been educated about what is out there. In other words, temptation is not only conquered by avoidance, but also by pre-emptive education of how to identify the lure and consequences of the temptation, as in what the father does for his son in Prov 7.

Germs in the Bubble

Bubble

There is a spiritual reality that makes the attempt to insulate our children from sin even more futile. On this end of the spectrum of overprotection, parents have the misconception that the problem with their children lies outside the protective bubble of isolation. But the Bible reveals to us that sin is far more insidious than any biological killer.

The deadly reality is that sin resides in your child’s heart, from birth. The germs are already inside the bubble.

Consider the implications of these sobering verses:

  • Ps 51:5  Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
  • Ps 58:3  The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.
  • Jer 17:9  The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
  • Rom 5:12  Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.

These truths warn us that at the time of our birth we already have a sin nature, inherited from Adam.

When parents come to grips with the fact that their children are sinners from the womb, it brings a perspective of dependence on God for the salvation and protection of their children. Instead of taking the whole burden on themselves, parents can enjoy the freedom of knowing that their children’s problem is not something the parent can fix, but a systemic sinfulness that can only be removed by the world of Jesus, the Savior.

Parent, you cannot break your child; they come broken. Likewise, exposing them to worldly vices will not make them sinful; they come that way already. I’m not saying kick your kid out of the protective bubble to fend for himself or herself. I’m saying, employ a strategy of slow, incremental education of how to deal with sin by relying on the Savior.boy

You cannot repair your child by yourself, but you can take him or her to the Savior for rescue. This is liberating in one sense, but it does not remove all responsibility from parents. This truth simply changes the responsibility of the parent, and realigns it with reality. You cannot save your child, but because Jesus can, your job is to constantly take your child to Jesus in prayer, through teaching, and by example.

Cure Found: Pure Blood

The tragedy of David Vetter is that the very blood being pumped into his body to save his life was infected with that which would take his life. In a spiritual parallel we need to recognize that the only way to replace the sin in us to get a pure substitute to exchange righteousness for unrighteousness.

The blood of Jesus is the only perfectly innocent blood in the Universe. He is the only person to live a perfect life; in Him is no sin whatsoever. So when Jesus gives us His righteousness, and takes our sin upon Him on the cross, our salvation is secure and undefiled (uninfected) and depends entirely on Him (1 Pet 1:4). When you apply that truth to parenting, it gives you confidence to stop raising bubble babies, and to let your kids off the bench and in the game so that they can learn how to participate in God’s story of redemption, instead of just spectating from the sidelines.

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • Very good analogy, Clint. I’m not sure how it is in South Africa, but here in northern Portugal it is almost entirely impossible to put your child in a bubble (or live in one yourself for that matter). Those that I know who have tried have found a great deal of unnecessary heartache and have eventually left the country to return to America where bubble-living is more “accepted” and much easier. I had a few thoughts on the topic not too long ago. You can read them here at my blog.
    http://www.cbcpm.net/pop-the-bubble/

    Thanks again for the good word.

    • Thanks for sharing MA. I also know of children in countries where the public schools are so debauched that the only way to protect children is to homeschool them, but in some of those countries it is illegal to homeschool. Parents are forced to decide between the risk to their children’s spiritual lives or move to a place that protects the parental right to educate their own kids.

      • Clint, I’m with you. For us it was something that we had to pray hard about because we homeschooled our kids before moving to Portugal. Since we live in a relatively rural area, the school our kids attend are pretty quiet and safe. Aside from kids getting slapped by teachers and their ears partially torn from their heads from the teacher twisting it too hard, (none of which have happened to our kids), thus far we’ve been able to teach our children about being different and honest and Christ honoring in a difficult environment. They’re not perfect, but they are lent unto the Lord.

  • Andrew Suttles

    Building up a tolerance to sin? Utterly ridiculous!

    • Hey Andrew. You and I agree that building up a tolerance to sin is ridiculous. I’m glad I didn’t say that in the article. At most what I’m saying is that we need to build up an immunity to temptation. But my main point was actually that sin is not something you can prevent infecting your child, we are all born infected. Temptation is something we need to avoid and be protected from, but I’d argue the best defense is to be educated about Satan’s wiles, not stay ignorant of them (2 Cor 2:11). Thanks for the opportunity to clarify.

  • Clint
    – a few reactions:
    1. 1 typo paragraph 4 “All there” should be “All their”.

    2. I get your point, but you may need to develop this further to avoid being misunderstood as it seems Andrew did.

    3. Ultimately, although decent for an informal article or conversation, I think the analogy fails for the very reasons you provided in the article. In fact, if you re-read
    the analogy IMO more accurately, you would conclude thus:

    It is important that we
    keep our kids in a bubble to protect them from deadly germs which they do not
    yet have the strength to handle.

    I think I got your point –
    we can’t COMPLETELY protect our children in the bubble boy sense. But what
    wasn’t clear was that we CAN protect our children from influences and
    temptations in life which their little minds and bodies are not capable of
    protecting themselves against. We can keep our kids from using drugs which they
    would not be able to help but get addicted to. We can protect their eyes from
    images which they do not yet know they ought to look away from.

    Consider also these verses:

    1 Corinthians 15:33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins
    good morals.”

    James 1:14-15 But each person is tempted when he is lured
    and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to
    sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

    Deuteronomy 6:4-9 “Hear,
    O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God
    with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these
    words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them
    diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house,
    and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You
    shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between
    your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your
    gates.

    I think that children are corrupted by evil influences,
    sometimes resulting in a seared conscience. And I don’t know how I can
    reconcile teaching something diligently to my children if I am also exposing
    them to the doctrine of the world too readily.

    I think you would agree with these points. That we ought not
    go to either EXTREME, but children are not inoculated to sin by giving them a
    little bit. Children need to be protected from the lusts of their own hearts,
    their bodies nurtured and cherished and protected like we should do for our
    wives and taught the ways of God and to be ready for the wiles of the devil.

    • Thanks MC. Yeah, we are saying the same thing. My point was that the extreme isolation, though a legitimate tactic to avoid further contamination, is a) not 100% effective due to the indwelling sin that is already there, and b) can be counter-productive if a temptation breaks through the protection and the child is not equipped to resist it b/c they are not saved. In other words, I am simply exhorting us parents to remember that though our efforts at protection are important, they are not sufficient. The sin is already there. Our kids need a new heart, not just a temptation-free environment. Thanks for your help in clarifying.

      • Amen, brother. We are dealing with this right now. My wife and I see our presumed unregenerate almost 13 year old as very susceptible to outside influence, so we are trying to provide certain shelter to protect her (and her brother and sister) from herself. At the same time, we are under no delusion that sheltering her now will ensure a moral lifestyle when she is no longer under our care. I think we’d agree that there are certain influences we never need to be DE-isolated from, for example, we don’t reach a point of spiritual maturity where we are intentionally exposes to pornography, although I think we hope if we came across it we’d react like we would to putting our hand in a fire.

        • I’m totally with you on all that. I amended the post to differentiate between preparation against temptation, versus exposure to sin itself, which we all agree is dumb.

          • Well done, Clint. Had you written that way in the first place you’d have barely garnered comments, so it worked out for your statistics. 🙂

  • Elle Morin

    I like the way you phrased it all and the analogy you made. I remember hearing about David when I was younger. So glad I found your blog.

    • Thanks Elle. Welcome to the Cripplegate!

  • zKatherine

    I’m having a hard time understanding what you consider “too sheltered” children. You said, ” Some parents never allow their children to play with other kids, or venture outside the home. All there [sic] education and entertainment comes directly from their parents.” I don’t think I’ve ever come into contact with a family who didn’t allow their children to play with ANY other kids or EVER leave the home. Are you exaggerating to make a point? As for the education and entertainment coming directly from the parents, is this an attempt to ridicule homeschooling parents? What kinds of entertainment choices should parents NOT be overseeing? Music? Radio stations? T.V. shows? Movies? Youtube videos? Websites? These are quite vague comments that need to be clarified because I’d think most pastors would be *encouraging* parents to be involved in all of the above entertainment choices that their kids are viewing, even and especially into the teen years!

    Teaching your children about the temptations, sins, and depravity of this world does NOT mean allowing your kids to indulge in those sins or to make friends with those who participate in those sins! That’s not called “overprotective parenting”, that’s called responsible parenting.

    • Great comments zKatherine. I was exaggerating when I said “never allow their children to play with other kids or venture outside the home” though there may be parents who are that extreme. My point was that parents view the best defense to be isolation, rather than the gospel. Isolation has its place, but the place is not to keep your kid pure; kids are born impure. We need to bring them to Jesus to be saved and purified. How different families choose to do this is a matter of wisdom and conscience.

      As for the education, as a homeschool parent myself I was not poking fun at us. And as much as possible parents should screen and oversee what their kids imbibe through all forms of media (if you kid is reading Twilight, you had better have read it first!) I’m talking about parents who think that if their kid is not exposed to anything “unsterile” that will guarantee their “purity” and spiritual health. I’m not against protecting kids from temptation and worldly philosophy in the young years, but eventually they will sniff it out somewhere. The goal is only partially to avoid temptation, the other goal is to teach how to resist it when it comes.

      I hope that helps clarify.

      • zKatherine

        Yes, that does help clarify. I think you have good points to make regarding remembering that our kids are born into sin and need the salvation and sanctification that only Jesus can provide. But I do think, at least in the United States, Christian parents need more exhortation to *shelter* their kids rather than your encouragement to “let your kids off the bench and in the game.”

        It is my observation that today’s kids coming from Christian homes are *too* worldly and not separated enough from the world. In the U.S., 3/4 of teens coming from Christian homes fall away from their faith after going off to college. What can/should Christian parents be doing during childhood to protect their kids from worldly influences and temptations that draw them away from their faith?

        You said, “if the child has any hope of surviving independently outside the home, he or she will need to have been educated about what is out there. ” I wholeheartedly agree. But when you then draw the conclusion at the end of your blog post that we should let them “get in the game”, that seems to be an encouragement to enter into society’s worldly influences! I do think you should reevaluate what you have written, because though I think I understand the point you’re trying to make, how it is coming across is a bit confusing and perhaps even a bit critical. Those of us who ARE trying their best to shelter their kids from worldly influences, to teach about sin without allowing participation of it (“get in the game”??), and to “live in the world, not of the world” may read your post and take it to mean that we are being “bubble parents”, which is not the point I think you’re trying to make.

        .

        • Point taken. Good insights. I’m all for sheltering the very young. At some point, I know you’ll agree, the birds have to be nudged out the nest. The later the better within reason, sure; but eventually, unless we’re Amish, we need to have prepared our offspring to cope with life in Satan’s playground. Exposure to temptation isn’t the goal; preparation to resist it is.

          • zKatherine

            “Exposure to temptation isn’t the goal: preparation to resist it is.” Absolutely! Most definitely! Our oldest of 4 children is going off to high school next year and this is our prayer that by avoiding (or using for teaching purposes) worldly sins such as most of the tv shows and secular music, etc. in early childhood will help make him more discerning as we loosen the reigns and begin allowing him more independence with his choices of friends and entertainment.

            God bless!

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  • Just thought you should know that I can’t read this on any browser I tried except IE ( so I’ve saved to instapaper for reading on another device later ).

    When I try to zoom, all the elements on the page get bigger, but the text remains the same size ( which is too small for me to see ). Oddly enough, the text actually appears to get smaller, but I’m thinking that’s just an illusion based on the elements getting bigger.

    • Mmmm. Kinda like reading it through a bubble? Interesting.

    • Jenlo

      I also believe as Christians that we have a responsibility to not isolate our children, because we can’t equip them to be used by God in the world to reach others for Christ. I certainly agree that children should not be overexposed when they are not ready, or too immature, but as they learn and grow in the knowledge of God, our mission should be to help them live in the world, but not be of the world.

    • http://thecripplegate.com/if-you-click-on-that-blue-e-read-this/

      Try what is there. Another option would be to subscribe in the top corner of any of our posts, and when ever we have a new post it will be emailed to you. Sorry for your trouble.

  • Clint, great points, brother. As Calvinists, our theology needs to line up with our practice in parenting. But the way, you’re getting really good at being misunderstood. 😉

    • Ha. True. It’s my superpower, if you know what I mean.

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  • Amanda (Taylor) Simwaka

    Great article, Clint! I have always loved the illustrations you come up with. Reminds me of the good ole SCV days. 😉

    While reading I was reminded of these verses:

    John 17:11,15

    “11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the
    world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you
    have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.

    “15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but
    that you keep them from the evil one.”

    Thanks for your helpful posts!

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