“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.
For a few years public and private schools required students to participate in acts of service. The thinking was that it would raise up a generation of young adults who gave selflessly of themselves to help others.
For some young people, it may have worked. Many however, just put in their required hours and moved on with their lives. God asks us as His people to serve Him, in part by helping others. The story of the Good Samaritan is a Christian classic. How can you raise kids who serve as part of their Christian identity instead of merely replicating what schools have done with mixed results?
The difference is in the heart of first you – the parents – and then how that is passed on to your children. The key is to make being children of God a part of your family’s core identity. Serving others should be more a part of your family DNA than the secular things that define your family identity.
There are some things you can do to make serving others a natural part of how your children interact with others:
Serve others regularly. If your family only helps others once or twice a year, it’s more of something you do to fill time – not part of your family’s DNA.
Start when your kids are toddlers. It’s amazing how much even the tiniest of children can do to help others. If your kids are well behaved, most groups will welcome them to work along side you as you serve others.
Don’t wait for formal programs. Look for opportunities to serve neighbors, friends and family. You want to teach your kids how to see the opportunities God gives us to serve others each day – not just when someone organizes a big service project.
Help your kids find ways to serve using the gifts God has given them. Don’t worry too much about those spiritual gifts in Corinthians. For now, focus on the talent gifts God has given them. Help them discover and develop the gifts God has given them. Then help them find creative ways to serve others using those gifts. Making a direct connection between the gifts God has given them and serving others will connect a lot of what your kids are learning about God to their actual life.
Don’t forget the faith piece. As things happen while you are serving, refer back to scriptures that discuss those issues. Find ways to share your faith as you serve those who aren’t Christians. Find ways to encourage the faith of the Christians you serve. The ministry of Jesus is a great example of connecting serving others and sharing the good news of the Gospel. Teach your kids how to do the same with those they serve.
Don’t forget to have fun. Yes, serving others and sharing our faith is serious business. That doesn’t mean it can’t also be fun. The fun doesn’t all have to be silly, laughing fun (although we still talk about the time our then four year old accidentally had her hair painted by her Nana as we were serving an inner city ministry). There is also fun to be found in using your gifts, seeing the relief or joy on the faces of others, learning new things, seeing new places and having new experiences.
Taking the time to regularly serve together as a family – making sure to bring God into the process – will help serving become part of your kids’ core identity. With hearts that belong to God, they will be well on their way to becoming productive Christian adults.
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.
Done well, service projects can help your kids grow, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. They can help your children start to really understand how all of those pieces of their faith fit together to form a Christian life.
Spring is a wonderful time to have fun teaching your kids about God. His beautiful creation is blooming all around us. Trees and plants that looked dead, come to life with new greenery. The birds are louder as they call for mates or chirp warnings for nest builders.
Spring is also a great time to start a garden with your kids. The great news is you don’t even have to own land to garden with your children. There are a lot of great websites and books about container gardening and raising food from plants you grow in your house. (I found Indoor Edible Garden at Costco and it’s on Amazon for just a little more.)
As you plant seeds or tiny plants, care for them and wait for them to grow food, there are also lessons you can teach your kids about what God wants them to know. They don’t have to be formal lessons. Casual conversations as you plan and work often resonate better with children anyway.
So what are some of the lessons you can teach your kids while growing things?