Look around. No, not at your house or workplace. Look around at what's going on all around us on this planet. Some of you might say, "But I don't want to!". I hear ya. This place is loco. When someone says "hurricane", we say "which one?". When someone says "mass shooting", we say "which one?". When someone says "looks like we're going to war", we say "where now?".
Easy. This isn't going to be a political rant. I want to talk about our kids. Some of us are raising kids. Kids that will inherit this crazy place. Kids that will have their own hurricanes and violence to deal with. How are we preparing them for those things? Whether we're aware of it or not, they are being prepared right now. Prepared for responding to trouble and tragedy. With open eyes and ears, they're building character that will determine how they will respond to the struggles around them. Their own and their neighbor's.
While in Palestine, I remember sitting and listening to a middle-age man tell the horror stories he'd experienced under Israeli Occupation. After sharing his tales, he made the point that he was raising his boys to be tough. Tough enough to handle tough times.
I can't pretend to have shared his experience and I don't know what his boys will face in the future. But I interpreted his perspective to be one that encouraged hard-heartedness. Callousness. The reason M&Ms won't melt in your hand. It's that thick candy shell.
I don't think the answer for our kids is to raise them to harden their hearts to endure tough times. I would encourage just the opposite. I want to teach my kids to have greater compassion. Deeper empathy. Selfless love. That's what people who have lost everything in a hurricane need. They need people who are willing to put themselves in their position for a moment, then respond with more than a shake of their head and the shedding of a tear. That moment of empathy needs to grow to fruition. It needs to become something tangible.
Reflect on those who were heroes in the recent aftermath of the hurricanes. You might even have some pictures come to mind from the media. People neck-deep in water with their arms around people who are scared to death. That's the kid I want to raise. I want to see my kid on the news as the guy that did all he could to get people to safety while bullets sprayed down from the hotel window above. I want my kid to be those who spend time with the families who have lost people to tragedy.
Here's the deal. I'm going to have to raise them to be that way. It's on me to raise my kids to have hearts that consider the plight of others and act accordingly. Quick example. Half of my kids currently spend a lot of time in Lego Land. Oh, not the theme park in California. I mean my garage. How many times am I dealing with a kid who is unwilling to share Legos? I'm not talking about going without any Legos so their brother can build something. I'm talking about going with one less piece (leaving them 700 other pieces to work with). Working through those kinds of moments are a small step in the direction of considering others. The idea is to teach them compassion, not enforce communism. They shouldn't share because someone makes them. I want them to want to share. That's not easy to teach!
What are some daily activities where you could be encouraging empathy in your kids? How much do they know about the greatest mass shooting in U.S. History that occurred just last weekend? What are their thoughts about the families left behind in the wake? If you have more mature kids, have they considered what might have been going on in the mind of the killer? It's possible the shooter had a mental illness. What will your child's attitude be toward those who struggle with a mental illness? Are they to be helped or shunned? Brought close or pushed away? That depends on the character we, as parents, help develop right now in our kids.
For my part, I've been involving my kids the last few years in my study of the Israel/Palestine Conflict. They sit and watch videos with me. Some of those are "boring talkie-talkie" videos. Those are for my older kids who can now engage in conversation about the issues. But they've also seen some pretty raw footage of Palestinian civilians being bombed in Gaza. That, admittedly, was a bit of a shocker, but it did wonders for the kids being able to empathize better with the struggle. Words like "bomb" and "civilian casualties" have a deeper meaning for them now. The people of Palestine are more like, well, people to my kids. Not a statistic, problem, or issue. They are real people my kids are learning to care about.
What touches your heart? People in poverty? People with disabilities? People affected by a disaster? People with cancer or Alzheimer's? People suffering injustice? Whatever it may be, can you begin to share your heart with your kids? Start early. Perhaps not with raw footage from bombings in Gaza (Lol), but with an age-appropriate exposure to caring for people. People besides ourselves. Caring about ourselves doesn't really need to be taught, does it? I think it just kind of happens. Raising a child who cares for people besides themselves requires intentionality on our part.
As far as I'm aware, there's no curriculum for this kind of thing. It's not taught in schools, but expected in adulthood. I confess, I feel a bit behind the curve myself and am trying to catch up. I've been intentional about looking for opportunities where I can act. Acting on that glimmer of empathy that occurs when I see the picture of a dead toddler washed up on the beach after fleeing war-torn Syria. Acting to feed the hungry in my own community that I've driven past so many times. My kids are watching. Hopefully, they will develop a character that acts compassionately toward others. Hopefully, they'll develop that much faster than I have.
Dave became the Senior Pastor in April 2015 at TCC after serving as the Director of Children's and Praise Ministries for 9 years. He graduated in 2011 from A.W. Tozer Seminary with a Masters in Christian Leadership. He and his wife, Katie, live in Sequim with their 6 children, 2 dogs, 15 chickens, and 50,000 honeybees.
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