Did you know Jesus summed up the entire Old and New Testaments in three points? He said:
- The Lord is one;
- Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength;
- Love your neighbor as yourself.
“There is no commandment greater than these,” Jesus said in Mark 12. They’re a package deal.
If you want to boil down what to teach your children about God as they grow, this is your punch list.
But how does that look in everyday life? Here are a few suggestions to help your kids follow Jesus’ commandment to love their neighbors!
1. LOVE your neighbor
Your neighbor is the “other”—anyone.
It can be a sponsored child across the globe or your actual next-door neighbor. It can be someone in need–and frankly, we’re all in need, whether it be physical goods, love, encouragement, attention or affirmation.
And your neighbor can be the “unlovable,” as writer and mom Jessica Wolstenholm points out. “Even though he was known as a sinful, tax collector, Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus the day he came to town,” she says of the story found in Luke 19:1-10. “Use this story to help your child understand that unkind, unpleasant, unlovable people still want to be known and loved even though they don’t act like it. Jesus gives a wonderful example in this story of reaching out to someone who is unloved by many. He goes out of his way to reach out and Zacchaeus’ heart is changed by his love.”
Action: This week identify someone “in need” and act upon it—perhaps a new mom needs a meal prepared or a family member miles away needs a handwritten card or colored pictured. Or consider bringing coats and cold weather accessories to a nearby shelter.
2. LOVE your family
Everything starts at home.
As a parent of two young children, I know how easy it is to allow the needs and wants of the kids to outweigh the needs of the family as a unit. Part of learning to love your family is creating and maintaining balance. It’s not easy.
Talk to your kids about how we’re a team. What affects one of us affects all of us. Here are some actions suggested by Psychology Today for making your family more “we”-centered than “I”-centered.
- Ask your children to help with real chores.
- Ask for your kids input when weighing decisions; listen to their suggestions and preferences.
- Try not to micromanage your spouse or your kids or the way things are done in the house. Your way is different, not necessarily better.
3. LOVE your friends
Friends are the family you choose.
You don’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends, so choose wisely. Help your child understand the importance of choosing good friends, and how to be a good friend.
I often struggle with what feedback to give my daughter when she comes home talking about a friend in class who “got her in trouble for talking” or who was mean to her on the playground or who left her out of a group. In second grade, everyone is supposed to be “friends.”
My instinct is to tell her to ignore that kid, or don’t be friends with that one or this one. But that’s not going to help her in the long run. ParentFurther.com suggests, “Be clear about what’s acceptable and what’s not, and remember that children are still learning what it means to be a friend.”
Action: Make a list of “acceptable” ways friends behave and ways they don’t. Use this exercise as a way to help your child identify behavior, such as bullying, that should be reported to a teacher or trusted adult.
4. LOVE your enemy
Perhaps the hardest of all is loving those who don’t love us back. Author and mom Lisa Strnad tackled this topic on the What’s In The Bible? blog, and offers these suggestions:
1. Don’t be enslaved by anger.
“If at all possible, do something nice for the person who is your enemy,” she writes. “Show kindness even when they have only shown you hate.”
2. Watch your words.
“Proverbs 15:1 says, ‘A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.’ Speak words of encouragement when possible. If not encouragement, then at the very least don’t speak words of hate or retaliation.”
3. Pray for those who treat us badly.
“I will continue to struggle with choosing to love my enemies, and then praying for those who do harm to me,” she says. “I think it’s okay to struggle at things that don’t come easy to us.”
Action: Help your child identify someone who has been mean to them, and instruct them on how to pray for them.
Loving isn’t always easy, but that’s when it becomes action instead of feeling. In fact John’s gospel says it’s the one way people will know that we’re followers of Jesus: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
That concept may be too abstract for little ones to understand, but they may surprise you.
Any 90s kids here? dc Talk’s “Luv Is a Verb” comes to mind, and TobyMac is still preaching this timeless truth. In a Facebook post last March, he wrote: “We can speak life through not only words, but our actions. Love is a verb. This week, look for opportunity to serve someone. Doesn’t have to be something big, just an act that reflects the love and humility of Christ.”
Modeling behaviors as parents is the best way to pass them onto your kids. When you serve someone in a way that reflects the love of Christ, you’re showing your kids how to love!
Cara Davis is a content consultant and co-founder of the soon-to-launch church’d.com. The former editorial director for Relevant Media Group, her writing has appeared in The Huffington Post and CNN, and she’s been quoted in USA Today and The New York Times. She lives with her husband and two girls in East Nashville where she has co-founded a nonprofit called Community PTO to support the success of local community schools.