Maybe you’ve had a moment like this in your home. You give your kids money for something at school, more than enough for whatever ice cream sandwich they’re hoping to buy. You ask them for the change only to find out that on top of the ice cream sandwich, they bought three bags of chips, a sports drink, and three sugar-filled pixie sticks. You face palm, shake your head, and engage your kids in a quick lesson on stewardship of resources.
We figured this was going to be the case one afternoon not so long ago. My middle schooler has a “snack-shack” every Friday at his school. Normally we give him a dollar for bag of chips or candy bar. But on this particular day, we only had a $5 bill. In the back of our heads, I’m sure we figured we would never see any of this money again, but we asked for the change anyway.
Yet when my son said he didn’t have any change, the excuse was unexpected. Two of his friends forgot their money and he bought something for each of them. And we sat stunned (and quite thankful) that our son had not only spotted a need but also cared enough about his friends to do something about it. He didn’t want them to be without a snack just because they forgot their money. This was awesome.
This month, we’re talking a lot about compassion: caring enough to do something about someone else’s need. It’s one thing to see a person in need. We see needs all the time. But what are we doing about the needs we do see—and not because we feel some obligation but rather because we genuinely care about the person in need. Ultimately, we want our kids not only to show compassion, but also to become compassionate people and to have a desire to help others because they have value in God’s eyes.
Compassion is easy to think about at Christmas. After all, at this time of year we celebrate God’s compassion to us. God saw our greatest need and did something about it. He sent his ONLY SON, Jesus, to live, die and come back to life so we can be with God forever. However, extending compassion beyond the holidays and making it a part of your family’s DNA can be difficult.
Kids are not naturally compassionate. It’s not that they don’t care about other. Rather, at this phase they are just more focused on their own needs instead of others’ needs. At first, we need to help them make connections about how they can help others in need, not just at Christmas, but all throughout the year.
Here are some quick ideas:
Model it for them. It’s easy to hear about a need in your church or community, go out and shop, and drip off the items without ever bringing your kids into the process. That might be efficient, but if we want to think about helping our kids become compassionate, we need to invite them into the process so they can see what compassion looks like and experience the joy of meeting someone’s need.
Expose kids to the needs of others. Because your kids don’t always naturally see people’s needs, you can help them become aware of the needs in your community and around the word. Know what’s appropriate to share with your kids, but a great place to start is sharing stories about kids who have needs. Compassion International’s Step Into My Shoes Campaign is a great place to start.
Give them resources to meet those needs. Since this happened with our son, we’ve been more intentional about giving our kids extra money or food along with instructions to look out for people who they could help. Not only are they developing eyes to see the needs of people around them, they are having fun meeting those needs. It’s been great to watch them brainstorm and make suggestions about new ways that our family can help the people we know.
This season, remember that God loved us and showed compassion to us first. Then ask yourself the question: How will we love others? As we keep that question on our minds while interacting with the people in our community, I imagine we’ll start to notice all sorts of ways we can show compassion to the people around us. Take your family on a compassion adventure and try meeting those needs together. As you do this, over time, compassion will become a defining characteristic of your family.