My daughter Emma likes to pretend that she can read. She’ll often flip through the pages of a memorized book and “read” to her younger brother. I was caught off guard the other day, though, when she picked a textbook (I think she thought it was a Bible) and began “reading” this story to me:
“Once upon a time there was a woman who had done bad things. So the mean people made a circle around her and were going to throw rocks at her. But Jesus stopped them. He said, ‘Haven’t you done bad things too? Then you can’t throw rocks at this woman’. The End”
I was stunned… where had she heard this Biblical account of the adulterous woman before? It’s not a typical choice for preschool Sunday School classes!! Then I suddenly remembered that I was the one who had told her that story a few months back.
Our family has continued to be involved with a young, homeless friend (I wrote about her a while back here). This friend, Samantha*, has weathered many highs and lows over the past few months. Addiction, life on the streets, a shattered home life, and various other barriers have kept her from being able to realize her God given potential and worth. Both of my kids (ages 4 and 2) know Samantha well, and she is very caring and compassionate toward them. However, Emma is a pretty observant 4 year old, and it wasn’t long before she would ask me more pressing questions about Samantha. Why doesn’t she have anywhere to live? Why does she look like that? Why isn’t she allowed to stay at our house anymore? She also began to resent the time that I spent with Samantha, not understanding why she had to join us all the time… “Why can’t it just be our family?!”
One day, we were driving home discussing a phone call I had received from Samantha. Emma could tell that it had upset me, so we were talking about it.
Emma: Did Samantha do something bad?
Me: Well, she didn’t make a good decision.
Emma: Well, I think she’s bad! She shouldn’t be able to come over anymore!
Me: That’s not the way it works, Emma. We all make bad decisions sometimes, but God forgives us and gives us another chance; so we can do that for Samantha, too.
(I then told her… in preschool terms… the story of the adulterous woman above and what it means to “judge” someone as bad/good.)
I had all but forgotten about that conversation in the car until Emma “read” the story to me last week. I asked her if she remembered the reason why I told her that story. She did. In crystal clear detail she explained, “we need to keep helping Samantha even if we don’t want to because she has had a hard life and that’s why she makes bad decisions.”
At this point, my eyes were filled with tears. I continue to be hopeful that Samantha’s life will change… But honestly, there have been times when I’ve wondered if it’s worth it. All the hours, the “inconvenience” to my family or finances, the constant up and down… it’s hard! But this conversation with Emma brought me to tears because it reminded me about why we have tried to make service to others part of our family’s DNA.
When we serve, we’re sanctified. Sure, the person we’re helping may benefit, but each member of our family also gets a little closer to the heart of God with each “inconvenience” that we deal with on behalf of the marginalized.
My kids are learning that the world doesn’t revolve around them, that loving others is the best way to show that you love Jesus, and that sometimes loving others is Hard Work. My husband and I are still trying to navigate what this all looks like, but we’re thankful for the many families that have modeled this type of “missional parenting” to us.
I hope that when Emma remembers her childhood, she remembers a loving and warm family environment, lots of fun… but also a Jesus-centered family that put others’ needs above their own. That’s the goal, at least!
*not her real name
P.S. We’re thinking about hosting a “Service-minded Families” training at Kingdom Causes sometime soon. It would be a few hours of learning together how to make service a family priority (for all stages of life, kids ages, etc). If this is something you are interested in learning more about for your family… comment here, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 562-804-2189. Thanks!