How can we teach our children to show compassion? How can we foster their natural desire to respond in loving ways to those around them? The task can be tricky, though important. In the rush of our lives we make choices that have consequences.
My husband and I were downtown for a special outing with our two oldest boys. We wanted to eat quickly and arrive on time for the musical we would see that night. After spotting a fast food restaurant, we headed in quickly passing a man seated on the sidewalk outside, holding a cardboard sign. It read: Hungry. Homeless.
Once inside, my boys started asking questions. Why is he hungry? Can we help? What should we do? My husband and I looked at each other and looked at our boys. While we had hurried past this person blind to his plight, my boys had seen so much more. My boys had seen need. And they wanted to try to help.
We had a lot of choices that night. We could have let our fears pull our children close and away from this homeless stranger. We could have taken our boys aside and lectured them on homelessness. We could have explained the myriad of reasons for poverty and how a single small gift to a single man would be addressing just a grain of sand in the beach of need. We could have tossed the responsibility to someone else, pointing out that there are programs, shelters for people like him. None of these did we choose.
Instead, we handed our boys some cash and let them order some food. And just before we went back to share it with the man outside, we grabbed our sons and gave them a word of advice.“Boys, look him in the eye and be kind. He has a need today for food but he also needs our respect.” We wanted our boys to recognize him as an image bearer of God who deserves kindness. Genesis 1:27 says, So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." Our identity and worth is not found in what we possess but from the God who made us all. When we see one another as image bearers, it stirs our hearts to compassion.
God has called us to care for the least of these--it is how God will judge us in the last days (Matthew 25:31-46). I stood back and let my boys go and share with this man. I watched them speak kindly to him and hand him the bags and talk for a minute and then head back to us. The weight of it all brought tears to my eyes. My boys were not yet teens but they were doing God's kingdom work. They were being the hands and feet and voice of Jesus to a person who was struggling that day.
It would have been easy for me to rush past this opportunity. With a thoughtless word or a chastising look I may have crushed the generous spirit within my boys. It would have been easy to focus on our own tight budget and let that guide our choice. But allowing my boys to respond to what God nudged in their hearts empowers them to continue to show compassion to others. It gave this momma a little glimpse into the men my boys might grow to be.
In the midst of our busy days, how can we teach our children compassion? And how can we continue to learn it ourselves?