“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.
Love is a tricky subject. There’s only one word for it in English. It’s easy for your child to think the butterflies caused by the person he or she is dating is the same love your child is looking for in a potential future spouse.
Hopefully, you’ve been talking about dating, love and marriage with your child for years. Or perhaps you haven’t discussed it at all, thinking it would work out well regardless. Your child may be a young teen with a crush on a schoolmate or a young adult hoping to marry in the next few years. Is there anything you can do at this point to help your child through this critical stage? Yes, but you need to be very careful.
It’s important to remember, ultimately this is your child’s life and decision. If you have a healthy relationship with your child though, you can probably do these things to help.
Pray. If you’ve already been praying for your child’s future mate, great! If not, it’s never too late to start. Pray very specific prayers. Pray that your child and their special someone make wise choices. Pray that they keep God at the center of their relationship. Pray God will help them see clearly if it is in His will that they remain together.
Have your child make a list. Detail oriented young people probably already have one. This isn’t to set up expectations anyone will perfectly match the list. If however, there are many areas where the person fails to meet the list, there may be a better match in someone else. (You don’t need to see the list, but be aware some of it may be unrealistic.)
Spend a lot of time with your child’s boyfriend/girlfriend. You need to spend as much quality time together as possible without making things awkward. Get to know them as a person. What are their hopes and dreams? How do they feel about God? How do they treat your child, their parents and others? How do they react under stress? As a somewhat more casual observer, you may be able to see red flags your child has missed. Watch particularly for controlling behavior, someone who tries to separate your child from you unnecessarily and if your child’s friends dislike the other person. It may not mean anything at all, but it indicates a need to look a little more closely.
Learn about the boyfriend/girlfriend’s family. This isn’t about money or status. It’s about how healthy the family environment was. If it’s not great, that doesn’t mean the relationship must end. They just need to be aware they may need more outside help to work through issues that are created by the trauma.
Help them set safe boundaries. The closer they get to engagement and marriage, the more difficult it is for many couples to obey God and avoid pre-marital sex. You don’t need to hire a professional chaperone, but you can casually suggest ways to help them avoid unnecessary temptation. (If your child’s an adult, this must be handled very carefully. You can’t give consequences and rules to adult children.)
Suggest pre-marital counseling before the engagement. My daughter and son-in-law developed this idea. They are from two different countries and wanted to make sure they had discussed everything that might cause an issue when people are from different cultures. It’s great because had they found serious issues, it is much easier to end a dating relationship than an engagement. In fact, you may want to add this to your family list of future expectations (like asking the parents first).
Be loving and supportive. Don’t sweat the small stuff or you will push both of them away and set yourself as the common enemy. Focus only on anything that will put your child in danger spiritually, physically, emotionally or mentally. Everything else is personal taste and you need to accept those choices – even if they don’t match your personal taste.
You can’t control whom your child chooses to love. With love and care however, you can help your child make wise romantic choices. It’s a delicate balance, but with such an important life changing choice, you need to be supportive in godly, parental ways.
Currently, our society is in the midst of the #MeToo movement. Regardless of what you think of the movement and those involved, a harsh reality remains. The messages our world sends about love and particularly sex are the opposite of what God intended for us. Sadly, Christian parents are often just as guilty of teaching ungodly messages to their children as non-Christians. This seems to be particularly common amongst parents of young men.
When I was a young teen, my older girl friends at church would tell me they often got the most pressure to ignore God’s commands for sexual purity from the Christian guys they dated. I thought it was rather strange at the time, but when I started dating, I found much of the same dynamic. As I dated more, I realized part of the reason why this often happened.
Princesses seem to be a natural part of childhood. For hundreds of years and in multiple cultures, there has been some version of the story of Cinderella. In spite of the twists and turns each may take, they all end the same…Cinderella and Prince Charming live happily ever after.
Unfortunately, life isn’t quite as simple and easy as a fairy tale. Even Christians who marry, struggle from time to time in marriage. And many Christians find themselves in the not so happily ever after of divorce.
Yet study after study shows the importance for kids to have parents who are married, living in the same home together, parenting their kids. Healthy marriages should be a top priority for Christians – especially those with children.
One of the best things about the holidays is that your kids get time off from school and many of their activities. Bed times can be a bit later, because they can sleep in a little longer. You have more time at home together.
What does your family do with that extended family time? If you use even some of that time more intentionally, you can have fun with your kids while teaching them some important things God wants them to know.