“You just shouldn’t treat people that way,” the clerk muttered as I stepped up to the desk. I asked if the previous customer had been rude to her. “No,” she replied, “It was a co-worker who chose to assume the worst about me and never considered it might not be true. Not to mention, she was really ugly to me in the process. My feelings were of no concern to her.”
I could feel her pain. I had been through a similar experience recently. Why do people always seem to assign the worst possible motives to others – even if there is no evidence that was indeed their motive? Why do they believe they don’t need the full story before rushing to judgment? Why do they feel justified in whatever they choose to say or do if someone has made them unhappy in some way?
The truth lies in empathy, love and forgiveness – three character traits modeled perfectly by Jesus during his life on earth. Unfortunately, we don’t always model Jesus as closely as we could in those attributes. Let’s be honest, it can feel a little good to unload all of your frustrations about life onto someone who you believe has wronged you. They become symbolic of everyone who has ever hurt you.
Sadly, we pass our poor attitudes and behaviors on to our children We may not actively tell them to forget about empathy, love and forgiveness. If they see us do it frequently, however, they learn that lesson well.
How can we teach our kids to be more like Jesus? In many ways it starts with empathy – the ability to understand how others feel in a situation. It’s what Jesus modeled in the feeding of the 4000 and many other times in his ministry. Teaching your kids to be empathetic begins with all of you remembering and practicing some empathy basics.
Empathy takes intentionality. To be empathetic, you have to be able to consistently take a breath before speaking, acting or judging and try to understand what the other person may be thinking and feeling and why. That doesn’t happen by accident. You and your kids will have to be intentional about making this pausing and reflection a habit.
Empathy can mean asking respectful questions. Sometimes the situation is so complex, we can’t begin to easily put ourselves “in their shoes”. Asking respectful questions can help. “Can you help me understand what happened to help you come to that conclusion?” is usually more productive than just assuming the worst.
Empathy isn’t about judgment. Just because I can understand and have empathy for the brokenness that has encouraged someone to become an addict, doesn’t mean I approve of their choices. It does, however, remind me of the love God wants me to have for them and the passion I should have for helping them be who God wants them to be.
Empathy and sympathy are different. Sympathy can be a bit condescending. It can give others the impression that we have the attitude we are somehow better than the other person. Empathy is trying to understand the other person as well as we possibly can. This understanding can build bridges between people who might be enemies under other circumstances.
Empathy acts in loving ways. Yes, at times that may be “tough love”, but that can also be done in ways that are kind, patient, self-controlled, and all of those attributes found in I Corinthians 13 and the Fruit of the Spirit.
Empathy starts by assuming the best. Most people don’t wake up in the morning plotting ways to ruin your day. People are tired, overwhelmed and make poor choices. That doesn’t mean they are at heart hateful, heartless or anything else your mind wants to immediately label them. Teach your kids to start by assuming the best and see what happens. If you give most people a chance, you will see the good in them. Make it a family habit to look for the good in everyone, rather than acting like professional critics.
Empathy is forgiving – as often as it takes. Forgiveness is not saying you agree with those choices. It is giving them the chance to start fresh with you. How many times? The Bible says 70 times 7…indicating that we just need to start with forgiveness and not wait to be begged into it by the “guilty” party.
Empathy isn’t easy at times. In the next post, I will share some fun things you can do to help your kids become more empathetic.
Popular culture is fascinating. Sometimes the things it supports can be absolutely horrifying. At times, they actually have a good idea. Unfortunately, the secular nature of culture often means this good idea is twisted away from God’s wisdom and can actually cause problems.
Christian kids are susceptible to accepting the world’s view of these seemingly Christian concepts. Unfortunately, when they don’t compare it to God’s complete wisdom on the topic, they accept the diluted or changed wisdom the world is promoting as truth.
The latest example is the emphasis on kindness. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being kind to others. In fact the Bible even tells us to love our enemies.
The problem is how kindness is often interpreted by the secular society in which we live. To many, kindness means we can never share God’s truths with someone because it may hurt their feelings. Once our children believe those sorts of things, they will not grow up to share their faith for fear it isn’t being kind.
There are three key principles Christian parents need to repeatedly teach their children about kindness.
Kind and nice are two different things. Kindness is doing what is in the best interest of the other person. Niceness is more focused on the feelings of the other person – causing the one being nice to avoid saying or doing the things the person may most need.
Being kind is learning to speak truth in loving ways. It may be in the best interest of a friend to know they have garlic breath before walking into a job interview. Telling them is the kind thing to do. Often though, we forget there is also a loving way to share these difficult truths with others.
The ultimate kindness is helping people get to Heaven. Christian young people often believe it is unkind and unloving to tell someone they need to be a Christian to go to Heaven or to hold someone accountable for their sin. Teach your kids that making someone believe they are going to Heaven when they have not become a Christian or are living a life enmeshed in sin, is actually the ultimate unkind act. They are placing someone’s possible hurt feelings over teaching them God’s truths. This should be done in kind, loving ways, but don’t allow your kids to grow up believing withholding God’s truths from others is kind.
The world will probably continue to equate kindness with niceness. Teach your kids about what God considers kindness. It can make a huge difference for everyone your kids encounter during their lifetimes.
You’ve probably seen many articles about kids and social media. Maybe you are worried about even allowing your children access. Or perhaps you think it’s overblown hype that won’t touch your kids because they are different from others their age.
Your teens may want to use social media as a platform for the things that are important to them. Yet, few have adult led conversations about the positive ways they can use social media to serve others and share their faith.
If your teen is getting ready to join social media or has been on it for several years, it’s great to have a family discussion about the many ways they can use their social media platform for God’s glory. It’s also important though to help them think through the ways people often think they are making a positive difference, but may actually be making things worse or drive people away from their interest in God and Christianity.
There are a lot of things you can discuss, but these can help get the conversation started.
Young people today are bombarded by messages that can undermine their faith. They are often over scheduled and stressed. The pressure, along with the very mixed messages from society and their peers, can lead many of them to use ungodly and unsafe ways to try and cope.
Sadly, many young people don’t get enough meaningful attention from parents and other adults to help guide them through the ups and downs of growing up in our world. If young people do have parents who give them enough attention and guidance, they also need other adults to reinforce what their parents have taught them about what God wants for their lives.
Your kids need godly mentors in their lives. It helps them to have another adult who gives them the same advice God wants them to have. If their mentor has expertise in areas – like schools or careers – in which you may not, it also gives you and your kids another resource.
Some churches have a formal mentoring program. The ways they choose and train mentors can vary greatly. Or you may need or want to try on your own to find a godly mentor for your child. In either situation, you need to be aware of the qualities of a person who will make a great mentor for your child.
If you have more than one child, you have probably experienced your share of sibling disagreements. They may seem minor enough now, but the sibling relationship can become so battered, it eventually dissolves. Siblings are going to disagree. How you help them handle their conflicts is critical.
Perhaps even more important is teaching them how to apologize to each other properly for offenses. Apologies are meant to begin repairing relationships, but most apologies do more harm to the relationship than good. If you’ve ever had someone do something hateful towards you and then apologize with, “I’m sorry if I did anything to hurt your feelings,” you understand the problem.