Bing! Yes, the weekend before, I had been helping clear weeds at my parents' home. I remembered pulling up some plants that looked similar to the poison oak plants I saw online. And now I noticed that I also had a rash beginning on my arms and legs, and starting to spread on my face as well.
All because I was careless about what I exposed myself to on a sunny spring afternoon.
I clearly need to be more careful in the future about what I expose myself to physically. And it got me thinking about how much more careful we need to be with what we expose ourselves, and our children, to in the realm of ideas and the mind.
We expose ourselves to messages and ideas all the time - we hear them from our friends, in our churches, in the books we reed, the social media we follow, the movies we watch, the music we listen to, the magazines we skim, the news programs we take in. Like the variety of plants I encountered in my parents' yard, some ideas are harmless and many others are positive and line up with biblical truth.
But mixed into those are ideas that are toxic, like the poison oak that I came into contact with. We don't always recognize the threat at first, and we also don't always see the impact. Like my experience where I grabbed a dangerous plant without realizing it, and didn't have any reaction at all for several days, it is easy to overlook ideas that are dangerous to our minds and our biblical worldview. We might not see any immediate effect on our beliefs or relationships (with God or others) at first, but over time, deceptive ideas can undermine a biblical worldview, both in us and in our children, eventually leading us to live in the fear of lies instead of the freedom of the truth. This is the idea behind Romans 12:2 - "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."
What can we do about this?
- Recognize the danger. If I had recognized the plants in my parents' yard as poisonous, I would have been a lot more careful! In the same way, we must develop the ability to hear an idea and hold it up to the light of Scripture to test whether it is in line with truth or error. Like poisonous plants, messages based in error can easily blend in to their surroundings. Think about the kinds of messages that assault us daily - messages about where our worth lies, about the best ways to spend our time and money, about whether truth is relative or not, about what defines true beauty or true love. These are all topics that the Bible speaks clearly on, and also ones that the world puts its own spin on.
- Know your, and your kids', level of sensitivity. Now that I know how sensitive I am to this (much more than my husband and my dad, who both did the same work as me and yet had only mild reactions), I will take extra steps to protect myself from exposure in the future. While we all need to be aware of the truth and error of the ideas we entertain, we are each more susceptible to different kinds of error, depending on our background, our personality, etc. Also, consider how a movie that would have no lasting impact on you could cause a different kind of reaction in your child.
- Handle with care. I may not be able to completely avoid coming into contact with poison oak again, but the next time I might, I can protect myself by wearing the right kind of clothing, gloves, shoes, and even by taking medicine ahead of time to ward off a reaction. In the same way, we can carefully handle the messages we do expose ourselves, and our children, by putting on the armor of God that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 6 - our faith in who God is, our confidence in His Word, our reliance on the gospel and on the the sacrifice of Jesus to make us righteous in the sight of God. Rather than just blithely watching a movie, we can look it up on a website like Plugged In to discover what messages are in it, understand what the Bible says about those topics, and be prepared before we walk in. And a regular dose of the teaching of the Bible also prepares and protects us for those unexpected moments of exposure.
- Deal with the reaction. If you notice your child being more disrespectful of authority, or less interested in God's Word, or more critical of themselves after being exposed to a particular movie or TV show or group of friends, address it. Try to figure out what prompted it and talk with your child about it. But recognize that simple topical solutions may not always work, if the toxicity has begun to take deeper root, as mine did. What can address the deep down beliefs that the world's messages form within us? Scripture study and meditation, prayer for and with your children, and new exposure to positive, biblical messages and role models.
It takes effort, preparation, and vigilance to deal with the toxic ideas that populate our daily lives. It would be nice if it weren't necessary, if we could just take a walk on a sunny afternoon without worrying about a reaction on the other side...but that is not the world in which we live, this side of Heaven. Until the Lord returns, we must be vigilant and watch the battleground of our minds, which inevitably takes the shortest path to our heart as well.