At bedtime one night, my three-year-old daughter said out of the blue, “Mommy, I have to tell you sumpin. Everyone in the world is connected. Did you know that Mommy?”
It stopped me in my tracks. This wasn’t the only time one of my small daughters had taught me about kindness and love for God’s people when I wasn’t even thinking about it.
When my oldest daughter (now seven) was three, a little exchange happened between us. Upon leaving for a walk, I notice some coins stuffed in her back pocket.
Me: “Why are you taking money with you to the park?”
LB: “I’m just taking it in case we see someone who is sick or doesn’t have food to eat. Then I can get it for them.”.
Around that same time, she made a little book one day with construction paper. She asked me to write some words in the book for her and dictated them to me:
We love you.
We love you so much, Jesus.
If you don’t love someone, that’s not kind to Jesus.
Oh, magical three-year-olds. Our little ones’ hearts are malleable, and truth is written on them early and easily. Their hearts are also big and untarnished by the world, a place that can be heartbreakingly unfair and unkind. Just this morning, one of my daughters’ friends lost her stepmom to cancer. It’s a place where awful things happen like diseases and car accidents and hurricanes. But it’s also a place where, every single day, we have the ability and choice to lighten the load with love, joy, hope. I recently heard a quote that spoke deeply to me:
“It’s not our job to toughen up our children to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”
(from Two Thousand Kisses A Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R. Knost)
It’s a subtlety that makes all the difference. Instead of focusing on preparing our children for an outside, evil world, we focus on the ways we raise them internally – in their souls and in our homes – to be lights in that world. Offense rather than the defense. Proactivity rather than resignation.
If I told my young daughters that they needed to toughen up to face a cruel world, they would probably deflate, feeling like the world in all its heaviness was already stacked against them. What’s the point? How can someone be motivated to make a difference when it doesn’t seem like there’s possibility to actually change things? But equipping them with ways to actually shine and love and serve in the midst of a “cruel and heartless” world is actually empowering, not deflating.
The Scriptures make it clear what our role is here…
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16, NIV)
“Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” (John 8:12, NIV)
Here are a few thoughts I’d like to share, as I ponder myself how I can raise my children this way, to carry the light, love and kindness of Jesus into the world…
It starts at home. This might be obvious, but if I want my children to help make the world less cruel and heartless, then I need the culture of our home environment to be one of peace, connection, and joy, not hostility and punishment. The air they breathe at home is what will carry them into adulthood. I also need to give my children space and time to find their place in the world, their true God-given talents, and how they can contribute. The gift of time is so important. Busyness and a constant flurry of activity get in the way of God’s voice and by pushing through boredom (without looking at a screen!) kids have the chance to exercise their imaginations and put their own gifts and callings to work. Nothing is too insignificant – every small act of love and care fights against a cruel world and makes it a little more beautiful…even cradling a baby bird that fell out of its nest or planting a flower garden to share with others, or making pasta for a neighbor going through a hard time.
Listen to their ideas. Some of the best life-changing ideas in this world have come from children. Their hearts are big and not held back by things that are seemingly impossible. We cannot be afraid to let our children attempt bigger things to make the world less cruel and more kind. Maybe it’s standing up to a bully on the playground. Or befriending that child in class who everyone else ignores. Maybe it’s a child with a big idea like Katie Stagliano, who at age 9 turned a tiny cabbage into a cabbage that grew to 40 pounds and helped feed over 275 people at a local soup kitchen. This grew into an organization today called Katie’s Krops, which establishes vegetable gardens of all sizes and donates harvests to help feed people in need. A little child shall lead them.
Be the light. As a believer, I need to be proactive in doing my part to be a light in the world, to spread Jesus’ love in the place or “lane” I’ve been given. This includes my home and everyone who enters it, but I also have to actively share with my children how others all over the world are living and being treated.
In a recent Facebook post, L.R. Knost said, “I regularly discuss current events with my little people. They know about the Dreamers and the fight to save DACA, about the refugee crisis, about the travel ban, about the history of slavery in the US, about systemic racism, about the wall, and so much more. I don’t shield them from knowing about the hard things in this world, though I’ll protect them with my last breath from being hurt by them. But with knowledge and understanding comes the power to change things. And that is my greatest hope for my children, that they will change the world instead of being changed by the world.”
In our home, onesies and diapers are already gone for good, but we still have puzzle pieces and crayons and toys to pick up off the floor before going to bed. Soon enough, the days of when we had small children will all be one big, beautiful memory, their childhoods already created. How will I have stewarded the time we had with them in our homes? Will I have used this time wisely to raise them into people who carry Jesus’ light with them wherever they go?
I hope so. Everyone in the world is connected. It starts with me, with us, right here.