If you are following our 12 month plan to teach your children to live more like Jesus, we have already covered Bible reading, prayer and Christian relationships. April is the month to add “training your child to help the hurting with love”. Sounds easy, but it is actually more complex than most people realize.
This is going to sound a little strange, but a lot of times people help those who are hurting with the things that they would want and not necessarily what the other person actually wants or needs to feel better. I think we get tangled up in the whole empathy thing and think it means what we would want done in any given situation is what everyone would want or need.
Jesus knew better. Think back to the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. Since the woman was coming to a well, Jesus could have easily assumed she wanted water and drawn some for her to drink. Jesus knew though that more than physical water she needed forgiveness and to get her life right with God. He was able to supply her with the living water she really needed.
The problem is, we aren’t God and cannot see into people’s hearts. It is much quicker and easier to assume what someone needs and supply it to them. Often we may be exactly right. Many times though, the need goes deeper or has special aspects to it that may not be obvious at first glance. Sometimes what we think will help someone actually makes their situation worse in the long run.
So how do we help our children learn how to serve others with love? There are a few basic steps you can teach them:
- Become more observant of the people around you at any given moment. I read a book by a woman who said whenever she sits next to someone in an airport or other public place, she introduces herself and then asks if they have anything they would like for her to pray about for them. She says it is amazing how many people in this world are carrying heavy burdens and are thankful to have someone offer to help. Your children obviously shouldn’t be talking to strangers, but what if they learned to ask each of their classmates how they were doing? They may be surprised how many children respond with needs.
- Empathize quickly with the hurting person. “Oh, I am so sorry. That must have hurt.” Depending on the situation and your relationship with the person, you might add a hug or an arm around the shoulder. Children are often naturally very good at this when they are young. For some reason, as they get older, this natural empathy fades a little. Encourage your children to step out of their comfort zones and offer comfort to those who are hurting.
- Next, teach your children to ask questions. “What one thing can I do right now to help you?” Obviously, if someone is hurt or has dropped a load of books, jump right in and help. When the situation is more complex or less obvious, you need to know what the other person is thinking. Asking questions is really the only way to know you are helping them with what they need the most. You may not be able to provide them exactly what they need, but you may know someone else who can.
- As your children get older, you can teach them this very complex step. In some cases, what the person thinks they need is also not really what they need. A common example is some homeless people. They will tell you they need cash, but may plan to spend it on something harmful. What they may actually need is warm food or help getting to a shelter where they can receive services. I know a man who will stop and talk to homeless people. He realized most people (even those who try to help) never really have a conversation to listen to their stories. He even gives them a hug before he leaves. (I am sure he helps in other ways too!) He has found a special need and tries to fill it for as many hurting people as he can. Teach your children to gather information and then analyze the situation. What would be the possible long term effects of what they are about to do for the person? If your children begin doing volunteer work with certain groups, they may even receive special training in this area. Many groups have learned over the years which things help people and which actually hurt. They are thrilled to train you in the skills they have learned so you can be more effective in helping others. (One of the best trainings I ever received was at a crisis hotline I volunteered for in college. They helped people with so many types of problems, I learned the basics for helping a lot of hurting people.)
- Teach them to share their faith whenever possible. It is easy to mention prayer, especially when working with hurting people. Even people who will claim to question the existence of God often beg for prayers when they are in trouble. Sharing how God helps us through hard times may just encourage someone to open their Bible or come to Church. We have had more than one person visit our congregation because they had been helped by one of our members or had seen our members helping someone else. It made them want to learn more about God and His people.
Take the month of April and join your children to practice helping hurting people with love. Many of you have spring break this month and may have some extra free time to go out and help others. If you do, I can almost promise you it will become one of your child’s most memorable spring breaks. Please share some of the things your family did this month to practice helping the hurting with love. It may give other families some great ideas of things they can do too.