the-big-questionPlease pray for my children, pray that they will do well in their exams.” Every year around the times of the major government exams, I will receive many emails/text messages that are variations of the above. Worried parents want divine help for their children, not just to pass their exams, but to ace them.

Families of the Chinese diaspora worldwide will recognize this scenario. It is an accepted conviction that education is the path for immigrant Chinese to do well in their adopted countries. It is the road to prosperity and social advancement. This is an accepted belief in many other racial and cultural groups as well.

Parents rarely ask for prayers that their children will discover their vocations, or grow up to be mature compassionate human beings, or be part of God’s programme to make the world a better place. These concerns may be assumed or ignored. The real goals here are survival, prosperity, and social advancement. And we wonder why, generation after generation, things remain very much the same. We have not given our children the encouragement and passion to confront the big questions.

Sharon Daloz Parks spent six years as senior research fellow and visiting professor at Harvard Business School. She was also involved in interviewing entering MBA students. In her article. “How Then Shall We Live?” she writes:

“…although some of these twentysomething young adults had come to business school with thoughtful purpose and meaningful commitments that they expected to live out in the world of our commercial institutions, the majority of these bright, talented young adults had been fundamentally cheated. They were already held hostage to assumed lifestyle choices.

No one had initiated them into the great questions of calling and purpose, their lives and their time. No one had asked them to consider: What do I really want the future to look like, for me, for others, for the planet? Why is there a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots? In this (American) society, why do gross patterns of injustice continue to be legitimated by skin colour? Why are anti depressants being prescribed for an increasing number of children? Why is the prison population growing in our society? What are the reasons for climate change? How will we heal the rupture between science and religion? How shall we practice commerce and design governance in the life of the new commons?”

I am sure readers of this column can put together their own list of similar big questions wherever you may be on planet earth.

Parents encourage their children to excel for the best of motives. They know that life in the real world is tough. Immigrant communities in particular understand this. Yet, by not encouraging their children to connect with the big questions of life, parents are not doing justice to the world we have to live in, or to their children.

Christian parents in particular, who should know that life is much more than survival and prosperity, are doing a great disservice to the cause of Christ when we do not encourage our children to pursue the big questions of life.

Unconnected to God’s purposes and vocation, our young adults graduate and work their butts off in the exhausting world of the new economy. Initially the thrill of making their mark in the world, and the rewards of money and status, keep them running. But you can run on vocational empty only for so long. Then you crash. Many burn out in their early thirties or even younger. No wonder “…one third of workers ages 25 to 39 already felt burned out by their jobs” (November 2005 Harris Interactive poll).

In my work I have the opportunity to befriend some of these young adults in their early 30s. Many are in different stages of burnout. This is due partly to their neglect of a healthy work-life rhythm. But a lot of it can be traced to exhausting work which is not linked to the big questions of life. Burnout comes because people work hard but are not sure what it’s all for. They don’t have time to reflect on the big questions nor are they encouraged to do so.

Christianity has the answers. We are called to enter into a relationship with the living God. We are called to give our lives to bless others. Christianity is a journey full of meaning.

Unfortunately many churches give the impression that the big questions only involve what is happening within the walls of the institutional church. Many churches function with a de facto dichotomy between sacred life and secular life. They end up giving little help to believers as they struggle with the great questions of life. We try to plug them into the church machinery but give them little help to connect their daily lives, their Monday to Saturday lives, with the big questions of life, and with God’s answers.

Sometimes the world seem to appreciate the value of the gospel more than those within the church. In a recent article in Newsweek magazine (“Strength From Their Faith”, International Edition, July 24, 2006, pp. 28-29) Sarah Schafer and Jonathan Ansfield note the growing number of political activists in China who are embracing Christianity.

They note that “These democracy and human-rights advocates embrace Christianity because they are activists and not the other way round.” A young Chinese lawyer noted “Christianity’s role in promoting freedom, democracy and respect for human rights around the world. He found that he believed in these principles too and realized that he’d discovered a deep system of values that resonated with his life and work.”

The same article also mentions Yu Jie, a dissident writer who came to Christ through the influence of his wife. Yu “admired Jesus’ philosophy of nonviolent resistance. And he liked the idea of change fueled by love rather than hate.” Yu said: “I had to find a new belief. Democracy is only a political system. Of course I would fight to the end for democracy, but it can’t bring spiritual happiness.”

We live in critical times. The carnage resumes in Sri Lanka and the Middle East. The citizens of countries as disparate as the United States and Malaysia find themselves increasingly divided and with growing tensions accompanying the polarization. Daily we face new signs of global climate change. How can we, with any good conscience, let our children think it is business as usual and let them think that education is only a passport to prosperity and privilege, an endeavour totally unrelated to the big questions of life?

I am just thinking as to what I should do the next time someone asks me to pray for their child’s educational success. I think I will first ask why. Why do they want their child to do well in school? For what purpose? For whose glory?

Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan