My family and I just returned from a five day vacation to Disney World. It was amazing. There was great food, fun rides, entertaining shows and clean bathrooms (I found this one to be the most impressive!). It was a place that is self-described as “magical,” and they strive to impress and astound you at every turn. Nightly fireworks shows, electric light parades, and street vendors offering every possible confection, beverage and snack you could imagine. We had an absolute blast. There was really only one thing that gave me pause in this whirlwind of fun: The entitlement and worldliness that was not-so-subtly being pressed upon my children, especially my daughter.
There is apparently a policy for all Disney employees (they’re actually called Cast Members) that when they see a young girl, they are to stop what they’re doing, make eye contact, and address her as “princess.” All day every day, my Katherine was being treated by everyone in the park as though she were the most important thing. Greetings of “Hey there, Princess!” and, “Right this way, princess!” were commonplace. This of course made her feel great, and it was sweet to see so much attention being given to the enjoyment of their guests. Superficially, I really liked it. It felt good that we were getting treated so well, and that everything was so well taken care of. But when I stopped and really processed the reality of the philosophy that was being taught, it gave me great concern. They were teaching her (and the rest of us) that it’s all about us. Our desires, our comforts, our happiness, our enjoyment, and our peace of mind — it is these things that are paramount. We are the center of the universe. While that may be fun and it certainly feeds our selfish desires, it flies in the face of the reality that we find in Scripture:
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.(James 4:1-7)
This struggle is not only found at Disney World. If we look we will find that it is everywhere in our modern American society. Almost every meal we get our kids that isn’t home-cooked comes with a toy. Many places to eat or shop have playgrounds. The grocery store has candy and toys at every checkout lane. These things are screaming to us and our children that keeping them entertained is top priority.
The way I war against this in my family is that I try to initiate conversations with my children about these things as often as possible, and as close to the moment of temptation as possible. So when my kids beg and plead for a toy in the grocery store, I take a minute or two to remind them that this is something they want for themselves, and is ultimately a selfish desire. God provides us with all that we need, and he is faithful to provide us the fulfillment that we seek in these earthly things. It might go something like this:
“Daddy, can we pleeeeeeeease get one of these light-up pens?”
“No, we’re not getting a light-up pen.”
Both of their faces turn sullen. They feel like they should be able to get what they want, but they know not to argue or complain about my decision. So I continue:
“Kids, we have to remember that the Lord will provide for your needs. What you want isn’t always what you need – in fact, it usually isn’t. Sometimes we think that something new and fun will make us happy or give us joy. The truth is, if we get those light-up pens, they will only make you happy for a few minutes, or maybe a few hours. Then you’ll be right back to wanting something else. Only Jesus can give you the joy that your heart is looking for. We have to remember that we cannot try to find our joy in things that were created, but instead we must look for it in the one who created all things. I love you both, and I understand that you want the light-up pen. We’re not getting one today, so please take this chance to let the Holy Spirit give you self-control and peace about this.”
That speech takes a minute or so and that isn’t always convenient in a grocery store line. But putting these moments of entitlement in the light of truth is always worth our time as parents. The alternative is to simply say”‘no,” and let the kids try to work out the truth for themselves. I can assure you that the truth my kids come up with by themselves will be distorted and prideful.
Am I the fun police? Am I anti-Disney? Certainly not. I hope my family can return to Disney World someday and see the things we missed this time around. Sometimes in the grocery store I do get them the light-up pen. What I am advocating here is that we as parents are mindful of these things and speak to our children about them. There’s nothing inherently wrong with dressing up and being treated like a princess for a day. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a Happy Meal (except perhaps for the fat content). There is nothing inherently wrong with getting a toy from the store every once in a while. It is when we allow our children to believe that they, rather than Christ, are at the center of things that we cross the line into disobedience to the Lord’s call on us as parents. We are to raise our children in the knowledge and instruction of the Lord. This is a weighty task and we cannot take it lightly. We must engage our children with the truth of what the Scriptures teach – we need a Savior, and God has sent His Son.
So go to Disney if you have the desire and the means. Get your kid a toy at the grocery store on occasion. When you do, don’t leave out the most important part: Jesus. He is at the center, He is paramount, and He is what is most valuable. I pray that we, parents, would be found faithful to teach our children these things so that Disney, toys and Happy Meals are seen for what they are: short-lived entertainments and momentary distractions. While we can rejoice that God has blessed people with the gifts to create these things, they should not be the source of our desires or where we find meaning – our desires and our meaning are only to be found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.