Pastoring in a Culture of Independence and Fragility: Reflections from Parenting

It’s a strange thing to raise kids in a culture different from the one you were raised in.

And it’s a strange thing to pastor young adults raised in that foreign culture.

I’m realizing it’s not only foreign to me as an Australian. 

There are elements which are foreign to me as a Christian.


I first noticed the strangeness the week I brought my firstborn home from the hospital and it continued throughout her early years as I got all kinds of parenting advice, encouraging me to make my tiny child independent. Put her in her own room, down the hallway from mine. Let her cry it out. Teach her not to need me. I began to feel like a failure whenever my toddler cried for me. Wondered what was wrong with her. I wanted to be a good parent. I didn’t want to raise a spoiled or “needy” child so I followed the advice. I disciplined her for crying or depending on me. Right up until a moment at 2am when, as a toddler, she wanted to crawl into bed with me and suddenly my desire to comfort her overrode my desire to have a convenient child. I figured, “There are times when I definitely need to say yes or no to her. But in all the gray area in between—whenever I’m asking “Will saying yes spoil her? But will saying no teach her she’s all alone?”—I choose to say yes. Because slightly ego-centric children eventually learn that the world does not revolve around them. But emotionally insecure children will only find more and more ways to believe that the world is not safe for them.

I’d like to quote a bible passage but the funny thing is, the bible doesn’t tell us it’s normal to need one another. Because such advice was unnecessary for most other cultures until now. 

For most people in most times, choosing to be independent was a death wish. In many places it still is. For most people in most times, choosing to be independent was a death wish. In many places it still is. Click To Tweet

The other way that parenting cross-culturally has been uncomfortable for me is in the expectation that it’s my job to be sure nothing ever happens to my kid. That it’s my job to be sure they never feel pain, never take risks, never have disappointments. So for a while I dished out advice to ensure my children avoided everything that could bring discomfort and I mopped up the mess whenever a problem arose and felt like a failure every time my child experienced conflict or discomfort. Right up until the moment when it all came crashing down and I couldn’t mitigate the pain of the world anymore. (I think now that all this was as much about my own fragility, protecting myself from the pain of watching them in pain.) Jesus actually promised us we’d have problems but at the same time seemed unshaken by that reality:

In this world you will have trouble.

But take heart! I have overcome the world.


And now, as a pastor to young adults, I see what those cultural values of independence and comfort have wrought. Many of the young adults I pastor are depressed and lonely and at the same time, anxious about risk and failure. It’s hard work for them to go against years of training in these values of independence and comfort. And it’s made especially challenging by the ways these two habits are interwoven: it will take risk and discomfort to let ourselves depend on one another. And enduring discomfort will be even more difficult if we do so feeling ashamed when we need one another. But scripture assumes that we need one another and that humans are made with the capacity to grow from challenges. Rather than directing us toward independence and safety, Scripture teaches us we were created to be interdependent and resilient. Rather than directing us toward independence and safety, Scripture teaches us we were created to be interdependent and resilient. Click To Tweet

This week an NPR interview struck a chord with me. The author was talking about his new book, The Coddling Of The American Mind, which unpacks a culture of “safetyism.” He says,

Many students seem to be interpreting things not through the lens of is this right or wrong, or even is this offensive or acceptable, but is this dangerous or safe? And this … is what is so damaging … People are anti-fragile. We actually need challenges. We need to sometimes even be afraid in order to overcome our fears.

Everything in the world will tell us “You’re all alone” and “You can’t handle this.”

In a fallen world, it’s tempting to believe these as truth. 

But God has given us what we need to not only survive but grow and thrive—even in a lonely, painful world.

In him, we are never alone. In him every challenge is an invitation into strength.

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