The Saddest Game of Pretend Play I’ve Ever Seen

How to fight the influences of evil threatening to corrupt our children through the practice of spiritual adoption.

The cool water swirled around my ankles as I stood at the edge of the lake, toes buried in the wet sand, watching my four children splash in the shallows.

I couldn’t help but overhear snippets of conversations of a group of children – around 8 or 9 years old – as they played a game of pretend a little farther out in the water.

It was the saddest pretend play I’ve ever heard.

There was a mom and a dad, and the rest of the kids seemed to be their children.

Their pretend conversations went like this:

Mother: “I’m pregnant.”
1st Child: “Mother, why did you cheat on Father?”
Mother: “What, I didn’t!”
2nd Child: “Yeah, well, I saw the other guy in the closet.”
Mother: “I don’t even have a closet!”

Father (yelling): “I’m going out and you can’t do anything to stop me!”
Mother (nonchalant): “Fine. Go to the bar and have some alone time.”

1st Child: “Don’t touch me!”
2nd Child: “I’ll touch you if I want!”
3rd Child: “Yeah, you can touch her whenever and wherever you want.”

Child: “He’s gay. My brother is gay.”

As I listened to their voices come and go on the wind, my heart was broken at their stolen innocence.

The Corruption of Society Begins With the Individual

Sometimes, I feel like we (Christians) are quick to label “society” as evil.

It’s convenient to have someone or something to blame when we encounter corruption in the people around us. And it’s even more convenient when we blame a thing that exists as a concept rather than an individual or concrete entity that can push back.

But society isn’t corrupt on its own.

Society is built of families who interact with each other in smaller communities. Families are built of individuals who live and grow and function together.

Individuals who make their own choices.

As I waded through my own shock at hearing these (and worse) conversations between children, contrasting it with the conversations I eavesdrop on when my own young children play pretend, I realized this isn’t something we can conveniently pass off to society.

It comes down to family life.

It comes down to the individual.

What evils are these children exposed to in the choices made by the people in their lives?

From the highly casual way the kids spoke about cheating, homosexuality, and escape drinking, peppered with profanity and foul language, it seems that they have been exposed to an atmosphere of blatant and casual immorality.

How else would 8 and 9 year olds know about these things?

Whether in their own family, in their friends’ families, or through poorly supervised TV and movie content, these immoral behaviors have been modeled for these kids.

“Society” didn’t teach them this.

People taught them this.

Their moms or dads or aunts or uncles or babysitters or whoever – taught them this.

The more individuals who choose to live lives of casual immorality, the more our culture will be swayed in that direction. The behavior of society is comprised of the behaviors of the people who make up that society.

What Evils do We Normalize?

And if you think I’m pointing fingers, taking a holier than thou attitude, or claiming that I’m sinless, let me dispel that misunderstanding.

I haven’t stopped thinking about these kids.

And the more I think about them, and the family lives they’re steeped in, the more I think about my own kids and my own family.

The family is the school of life.

This is how kids learn, where they learn, what they learn.

They see what mom and dad, the extended family, and close family friends are doing. We model the behaviors; they observe them. They imitate our behaviors in their pretend play.

They practice it until it’s not pretend any more. Until they live it. Until it’s ingrained in their very being.

The children at the beach were exposed to normalized evil in their lives.

And it made me ask: What evils do we normalize in our household?

It could be anything as seemingly inconsequential as habitually breaking the speed limit.

It could be the patterns of our speech: making light of foul language or taking God’s name in vain.

It could be something serious that we excuse in ourselves or try to hide, such as pornography or drunkenness.

I got to thinking about the sinfulness in our lives that our children will pick up on. None of us are perfect. We all have something that we struggle with.

As I reflected on my personal sinfulness, I began to imagine my children practicing and role playing these sins. I began to think about them unashamedly pretending to do wrong things “like mommy” or “like daddy.”

It made me feel sick. And ashamed.

But my children don’t play pretend like that.

Their pretend play is mommies and daddies rushing to the hospital, having babies, wrapping them up, and snuggling them. Their pretend play is teaching school, baking cookies, and putting on plays. Their pretend play is fighting dragons and locking bad guys in jail.

That’s not to say their pretend play is perfect, but in it, there’s a definitive line between good and evil.

Not because I don’t have sins (I do) or that I’m better than anyone (I’m not), but because in our household, we treat our sins as evil.

We all sin.

Yes, our children will see that. They will pick up on it. They will probably even imitate and fall into some of our own sinful habits.

But in our family, we treat our sins as problems.

We seek forgiveness rather than making excuses.

We fight to conquer evil rather than normalize it.

And if we see something awry – whether in our own actions, or in the actions or pretend play of our children – we work hard to battle that. We pour every ounce of effort into restoring a right understanding of good and evil, and encouraging the good.

We live in a broken, fallen world in which none of us – not even our children – can be free from witnessing sin and evil.

But the difference is in whether we treat sin as the problem that it is – in our own lives, first, and in the lives of our children.

Start Treating Evil as a Problem

We all sin.

If we’re going to raise our children to know the difference between good and evil, we can’t skirt around the reality of sinfulness in our lives.

We have to treat our sins as the problems that they are.

When we do wrong, we need to ask for forgiveness – both publicly and in confession. When our children witness our sins, it hurts them. It damages their formation. It weakens their reception of the good we aim to teach them.

When we sin in front of our family, we need to apologize to our family.

When our sin affects our family, we need to apologize to our family.

I’m sorry for speeding. I’m sorry for yelling, for swearing, for losing my patience. I’m sorry for gambling, for staying out late drinking, for wasting my family time on social media.

We need to take our sins to confession.

Not sneaking off in an ashamed kind of way. But we need to go stand in the confession line together as a family, humbly seeking healing and forgiveness together.

Our kids don’t need to know everything we confess – we don’t want to scandalize them with knowledge of sins they wouldn’t know yet – but they need to see us seeking God in the midst of our sinfulness.

We need to work for improvement in ways that our family can witness. We need to include them in the process.

It’s good for our kids to remind us to follow the speed limit, lower our voice, or watch our language. We need to encourage that, be grateful for it, and respond to it humbly.

It’s good for our spouse to call us out on our sins that weaken our marriage and our family. Again, we need to encourage that, be grateful for it, and respond to it humbly.

We all fall prey to sin, but we can NOT normalize it!

If we model a lifestyle of seeking forgiveness and healing in the midst of our fallen humanity, our kids will learn the difference between right and wrong.

And it doesn’t need to be all about sins – bad, bad, bad, evil, evil, evil, wrong, wrong, wrong – our biggest focus must be on modeling all that’s true, good, and beautiful. Our goal as a family is to provide a safe, happy, healthy, and holy place for our children to grow.

So when sin creeps in (which it inevitably will), we show our children how, through God’s grace, it can be turned around for the good!

Save a Child Through Spiritual Adoption

We can do this in our own families. We have the power to make that difference right now, starting today. We can reform society, beginning with ourselves and our children.

But as I packed up our beach bags, rounded up my four beautiful children, and headed home for the day, I knew I was walking out of the lives of that group of children who weren’t my own – probably never to see them again.

And I wondered: what could I possibly do for them?

What chance do they have to find God? Who will teach them right from wrong if their own families won’t? How will they ever discover his mercy and forgiveness?

I grieved for these children being raised in an atmosphere of moral depravity.

These children whose consciences have already been destroyed before they reached their tenth birthdays.

These beautiful children, whose innocence has been stolen from them by the very people God entrusted it to.

I brought my grieving heart to a beloved and trusted person in my life – a convert who lived through a childhood surrounded by sin, devoid of God.

A convert who found God, left that life of normalized evil, and embraced all that is good.

I asked: How did you ever come out of that darkness?

The truth is God will shine his grace in these children’s lives.

Somehow, someday, he will give them the opportunity to know him. He will call them out of the darkness of normalized sin. He will open their eyes to the reality of good and evil. He will offer to pour his forgiveness and mercy over them.

And I can be there that day, through the power of prayer.

I can spiritually adopt these children as my own.

And I can pray for them, daily, with the same fervor that I pray for my own children.

I can beg God that when the path to grace opens to them, they will respond with open hearts. Their eyes will recognize the truth. They will run to him and find salvation, forgiveness, healing, and the love they deserve as his precious children.

And I want to challenge you to do the same.

If you’ve ever felt sick to your stomach at the corrupt behaviors you’ve seen in children who should be steeped in innocence…

If you’ve ever felt brokenhearted about the way you’ve witness children be unjustly treated, when they should be shown unconditional love…

If you’ve ever felt like giving up on a society that has normalized evil so that even its children no longer recognize right from wrong…

Consider spiritual adoption.

Make these children your own.

Give them the chance that their own families and communities will not give them. Help them overcome the darkness of society and accept the light of truth and grace through the powers of your continuous prayers.

You may not ever see these children again in this life.

I may never see my new spiritual children again in this life.

But in heaven we will see all the good our prayers have done in the lives of these children. We will see how God let us witness their corruption at the influence of evil in their lives, in order for our intercession to bring about change for their good.

And, God-willing, we may meet our spiritual children again, face-to-face in heaven, rejoicing in God’s ability to bring good out of evil.

Please leave a comment: What circumstances inspire you to spiritually adopt children, and pray for their salvation?

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great post

One thought on “The Saddest Game of Pretend Play I’ve Ever Seen

  1. I never thought of it in terms of spiritual adoption but I do pray my husbands our small clients in the juvenile court system. Thanks for giving me a different way to think about it.


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