This is Lessons I am Learning About Raising a Healthy Family – Step Two: Compassionate Parents Raise Compassionate Kids. You can find the first article in this series here – Step One: Find the Pause Button
There is a study that came out recently that concluded that children raised in atheist homes were more compassionate and empathetic leaning than children being raised in religious homes. The grand conclusion is that “religious children are meaner than their secular counterparts”. And while I think the research itself is kinda sketchy and needs more depth – I can see how religious families are more prone to raising intolerant, rule abiding, equality denying, conservative-minded voters then they are about raising compassionate, other-focused, tolerant and expansively loving doers.
We know this to be true: churched people have a difficult time pursuing and extending equality among all people – from women to immigrants to minority groups to same-sex people. It is recorded and obvious in our denominations where women are not given senior leadership, pastoral, or elder roles, immigrants are not openly received or supported in our communities, minorities are held at arms length, and same-sex peoples are treated like pet projects or abominations completely rejected by our governing boards and bodies.
Equality for all is at the heart of compassion. Equality is an extension of the Biblical mandate to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” When you see another person’s humanity with compassion the automatic extension of that compassion is pursing equality for them. The right to live and love and be as you are allowed to live and love and be.
We are not known for our compassion and that is not a campaign of prejudice or persecution against Christianity – it is becoming more and more true for a whole section of Americanized churches.
Our inability to accept the inherent worth in all peoples – no matter how they happen to live and worship and be in this world – can compute into raising kids who are unable to lovingly accept the differences and expansiveness of the people around them.
Unfortunately folks we are not known for our love and neither are our children.
We sound entitled – and we are in turn raising children of Christian privilege. And that should frighten us for the state of the church, the future of our families, and the heart of our country and world.
The hardest part of this study is how religious parents have themselves convinced that they are raising more compassionate, loving children, but that simply is not always the case.
In learning to defend their faith, evangelizing the misguided masses, staying in and maintaining approved lines, in focusing on the fundamentals of the faith, literal Biblical interpretations and knowledge, and perfect church attendance, in maintaining the religious box we often forfeit compassion, understanding, dirty hands, and finding value in those who are not like us.
We are not known for embracing the rejects of society and the rejects of society have learned to avoid us. While these same rejects would have flocked to Jesus.
So I have been wondering how can we raise genuinely compassionate children in a world where Christians are not known for their compassion?
I know that raising compassionate kids starts with me. If there is a type of child you want to raise then you first need to be that type of person.
Compassionate parents raise compassionate kids.
That seems to be a no brainer.
Unfortunately that is not happening…
Let me give you an example and than pick this moment apart from the eyes of many of my conservative-minded church friends & family:
We stood in line at our local Aldi’s. Two Spanish-speaking mothers with their children were pushing two overloaded carts while trying to navigate the checkout line with their brood of children. The mother directly in front of me was wearing a small baby on her and had two other littles running about her legs as she tried to navigate getting all her food unloaded and reloaded into her cart. At the end of all this navigating of people and food products the cashier who was clearly annoyed loudly tried to explain why the mother’s government assistance card was not going to work SHE HAD RUN OUT OF MONEY – her card was empty. Clearly confused and overwhelmed the mother did not know what to do. Her friend tried to explain. They talked back and forth, but it was clear that she did not have enough to purchase everything she had chosen.
While my children and I are watching this happen the line behind us grew. As it grew the people behind us began to grumble and grow restless. Those of us who were close enough to see and hear what was happening were uncomfortable. It was messy.
In my spirit I knew exactly how this was going to play out – but can you guess? Do you know what happened next?
Let’s pause here for a moment and analyze the ways that this could have gone if the way my conservative friends speak and believe had been played out in their daily lives:
- I know a whole bunch of people that would have rudely stated their displeasure and disgust.
- They would have rolled their eyes.
- Someone would have loudly proclaimed that these women needed to learn to speak English.
- Someone would have in a frenzy called for another line or dumped all of her things off to the side and left in a huff.
- Someone somewhere stood silently in that line watching the whole thing unfold – as the cashier took things off the belt or as the women left with no food and hungry children in tow… and later that day and week perhaps she would complain to all her friends and family about those women on welfare who couldn’t pay for their food… what a waste of our taxpayer dollars.
- OR better yet – a woman comes forward to help – but nitpicks every item in that mother’s cart, “Do you need those chips? Is that chocolate necessary? What about that soda?” so that by the time she is done accessing what that mother has chosen for her family – the financial help/assist is a burden on her spirit, a shame-filled moment instead of a blessing.
Here’s what actually happened – I had never been in that Aldi’s before. I was checking it out to see what they had. I had gotten a few things. And our budget does not leave room for extras. We eat out like once every three months or so – that is how tightly we rein in our finances. But as the woman’s face reddened and the line grew silently hostile, and the cashier was about to blow her top,
I took out my debit card, stepped forward, and paid for the woman’s groceries.
I am not telling you this to get your approval or applause.
What we fear in our culture right now – what we hear so much disgruntled mumbling about is the bleeding out of our governmental systems because of the immigrant population or some other poverty group that does not do their part (so much so that some agencies and groups are calling for mandatory drug testing – which has been proven to not work).
We are willing to consider putting a completely racist bozo in the White House (knowing Trump would never offer to pay for that woman – which should as Christian people give us pause about the kind of people we are willing to even consider for president) simply because he feeds fears and says what the people living in the extremes in our country need to hear.
So much for the Land of the Free and the home of the Brave.
I don’t know much about those hard things.
I am over here wanting to live and raise and be the difference.
What I do know is that an immigrant, non-English speaking mother with children stood before me and I made a choice: to help feed her family or to put back the things she could not afford.
I saw her – looked her in the eyes and while she could not understand much of what I was saying she did understand my compassion and act of love.
We met there for one minute in the middle of the Aldi’s checkout line and we understood each other.
And as the cashier turned to me confused and surprised she said, “That was a really nice thing you did.”
I said to her, “We are supposed to love each other.”
My children witnessed that moment. And as we walked across the parking lot I asked them what had happened. They explained everything back to me with details I had missed and then I asked them, “Why did mommy pay?”
And they said, “Because Jesus said we are supposed to love and take care of each other.”
And then I asked, “Where did I learn how to do that?”
And their answer – Grammy and Pappy (which is my mom and dad).
They saw and understood my heart.
And in the process they recognized the heart of Jesus…
Every single day I attempt to point out the broken and hurting and bleeding places in our world.
I am not perfect – I am doing the best that I can with what I know.
I am not raising a voting bloc or perfect little church attendees.
I am reaching for the eternity that has been set in their hearts.
So that eternity flows forth into every fiber of their lives and into the lives of those they encounter.
If you want to raise compassionate kids – choose less religion and more dirty hands and bleeding hearts.