This summer I spent a lot of time doing empathy workshops with teens and adults. Every group I work with lists empathy workshops as their number one need in training volunteers. I thought it had to do with empathy issues, but it turns out one of the main problems people who serve others have is the words that volunteers say to the people they are supposed to be serving.
When adults discuss how children and teens speak to each other, the topic of bullying often arises. For children being raised in a Christian home, how they use their words goes way beyond bullying in the positive and negative effects they can have on people. We often forget Jesus tied serving others and sharing his faith together. Serving was a way to point people to God. Serving their felt needs meant they would be able to hear what Jesus had to say, because their pain, hunger or fears had subsided.
You’ve hopefully taught your kids not to overtly bully others or threaten them. I would imagine most of the time they are kind when speaking to their friends. In fact, once they reach the teen years they may have long wonderful conversations with close friends. Have you taught them though to always be kind, loving and supportive with their words with other people? Have you taught them how to use their words to point others to God? Have you taught them that a seemingly innocent (for a kid) comment like “You don’t smell good” can have life long consequences for the person to whom it is said?
I am afraid most of us brush off the “tacky” things our kids say as a natural part of growing up. Yet those words can change the course of someone’s entire life and even whether or not they will accept Jesus as their Savior. Someone told me a prime example this summer. A group of young people and adults were serving an urban ministry for a few days. Some of them actually did tell some of the kids being served that they smelled bad and should take a bath. I have to hope they thought they were being helpful.
What I doubt they ever stopped to consider though was that for many of those children it was the first time they had ever been in a church. Their perception of church, Christians and even God was now at least partially based on that hurtful statement. That thoughtless (I don’t think the group was trying to be ugly.) statement may mean the difference between those kids deciding to learn more about God or not. (I realize they have some personal responsibility, but for now let’s focus on those serving.)
On the other hand, your child can say something that will change another person’s life in positive ways. The prima ballerina Missy Copeland did not begin dancing until she was in middle school. Now for most professional dancers, that is extremely late. In fact, the only reason she began dancing then was because a teacher saw a spark of talent and told her she should take lessons at the local Boys and Girls Club. One simple comment helped create one of the most talented ballerinas in the world. Over the years, I have met many adults who have similar stories about how the words of a Christian they heard as a child or teen put them on a path towards God.
Have a lot of discussions with your kids about what they say. Encourage them to pause a second and think before letting words come out of their mouth. Teach them to think about how the words will feel in the heart and mind of the person to whom they are said. Train them how to use their words to encourage others, reflect God’s love and share their faith. There are lots of ways to work with your kids on this godly skill. I just pray we all do the best we can to raise children who are always mindful of the words they use. It could make a huge difference in our world and in the Church.