In the next few weeks I will be writing a series of devotionals for parents with applications for children. Today is about raising compassionate kids.
The word compassion is from an old Latin word that literally means “to suffer with.” When we talk about compassion we are talking about joining in with someone’s suffering, whether they are across the table from us or across the globe. Of course, joining in doesn’t necessarily mean “experiencing” suffering together but that we can see the other’s person’s suffering and that we are genuinely moved in our hearts for them.
Suffering and empathy; here are two fairly foreign ideas to our kids. First of all, no one wants to suffer, so why join in on the suffering of others? Second, who cares about others? The truth is compassion is not an innate quality of most people in general, and yet compassion is a centre-piece of Christianity – and we want our kids to grow in both. So how can we accomplish this?
Suffering takes many forms, but it is common to us all. It is true that most people tend to avoid suffering but there are also those who seem to embrace it. If you look at the lives of heroes like Corrie Ten Boom, who willingly put her comfort on the line to help Jews during the second world war; George Mueller who became the director of orphanages in Britain; Jackie Pullinger who left her home country to work in some of the most impoverished areas of Hong Kong; or Mother Teresa who said goodbye to her mother at age 18 to become a nun and never saw her mother alive again; we see testimonies of people who chose a life of suffering.
If we are going to help our children understand the value of suffering we need to expose them to these people who gave up so much and then have them grapple with the “Why.” Why would someone give up comfort and family? Why would they give up careers and holidays and prosperity? Why would they put their lives at risk? These are questions that force our kids to think of others.
And, as parents, we need to demonstrate suffering well. When Winnipeg pastor Harry Lehotsky was diagnosed with terminal cancer I told my mom that I was praying for a miracle because Winnipeg needed a miracle, to which she replied, “Winnipeg also needs to see someone who dies with hope and dignity.” He did die in a way that honoured the Lord of his life, his death was consistent with the way he lived.
Suffering is not bad. It’s not enjoyable but it’s not bad. And if we are going to ever convince our children of this reality in such a way that they would willingly suffer alongside a fellow human being we will need to embody and celebrate the dignity of suffering for them.
I heard a leadership “guru” say once that a great leader understands the door and window principle of leadership; that when there is criticism that is leveled at the organization that the leader is the door at which it stops, but when people praise an organization the leader is the window that allows it to pass through to the team. How many people do the exact opposite? When criticized they pass the blame on to others and when praised, they take it all for themselves. Are you like this?
In our families, we must learn to celebrate others. Celebrating accomplishments, and acknowledging people’s worth in the midst of failure. Jesus did this! He acknowledged and even anticipated that His disciples would one day do greater works that Him (Jn 14:12).
Our kids need to hear us talking positively about others and the excitement of their successes. This will help them to be other’s focused and grow in compassion.
The result of compassion
You might be tempted to think that having compassionate kids is just about raising decent human beings, and there certainly is something to that, but the power of compassion is much greater. As a family take an evening to discover how many times in the Gospels (or just one) Jesus was “moved with compassion.” (Or, depending on your translation, “had pity,” “felt sorry.”) Look at what happened virtually every time Jesus was moved with compassion… miracles followed.
Jesus, while on earth, felt deep compassion for people, He joined in their suffering, and was compelled to supernatural action as a result. This is a powerful motivation for us to pursue compassion as well.
As a family ask Jesus to remind you of times that you experienced His compassion. When did you suffer and how Jesus meet you there? How did you know He was there? And how did knowing that change your compassion for others?
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