If you’re reading this, odds are you’re rich. You might not believe it, and your bank statements may disagree, but go ahead and plug-in your household income here, and you’ll find that you’re probably richer than 60% of the world — or maybe much more.
I say this because I realize that my little clan is spoiled rotten. Never mind the house in the country, or some savings in the bank — we’ve got 3 good meals a day, and a warm beds to sleep in. These are luxuries that millions of people don’t have.
Unfortunately, we’ve chosen to live in a monoculture that neatly shields us from the pain elsewhere in the world — until it rips through our comfort zone with the picture of a 3 year old little boy, drowned on the shore, the result of his family’s desperate attempt to escape from their war-torn home. The fact is, from our little white conservative township in Ohio, we could completely hide from the anguish of our neighbors.
But that’s not how we want to raise our kids. My son’s tears as he processed the image of that little boy dead on the beach reminded me that I don’t want him to ever stop feeling that pain and empathy. But more than that, I want my kids to understand that the weight of that feeling indicates responsibility. That it’s OK to have a comfortable home, and enjoy the things God has given you, but it’s not OK to horde those things to ourselves, to hide from the hurting.
But despite our relative wealth, and an admittedly sin-burdened desire to use it for others, the most frustrating thing is the impotence. As families in North America, we live in the safest, most comfortable place we can afford, as protection for our children — a nest, to insulate them while they learn and grow. But that isolation removes us from opportunity to help. We work hard at jobs to provide for our families, but those (rarely only) 40 hours every week effectively prevent us from applying our time elsewhere. Our necessary focus on the needs of our children demonstrates to them that we are unable to help meet the needs of the hurting.
I believe this frustrated desire to help applies to most Christians in North America, but we’ve personally worked hard to get and keep ourselves free of financial obligation, and prepare for whatever action we’re called to. Still, this distance between what we desire to do and what we’re able to do given our responsibilities, is highlighted by our church hunt here: do we attend the large church with active, engaging children’s programs, filled with other kids just like our own, where they’ll learn age-appropriate Bible lessons from loving teachers who will genuinely care about their spiritual needs? Or do we spend our Sundays in an urban church, where one harried older lady tries to manage the chaos in children’s church, while the hurt and the lost are ministered to in simpler, more basic ways — and teach our kids to give of themselves every Sunday?
How do we teach them to be in the world, being the hands and feet of Jesus, when we ourselves don’t even know how to balance that with meeting the needs of our own family — and the all-consuming activities which are required to meet those needs? We wouldn’t rob our own children of the spiritual and physical provision they need, just to flail helplessly against the overwhelming and insurmountable need of others. Nor would we want to rob our children of examples of, and opportunity for, love in action.
All I know for sure is that is that we cannot teach them inaction. We cannot demonstrate to them that they are entitled to what has been provided to them. We know that we are not; that everything we have is an undeserved gift. We know that all we are entitled to is the responsibility to share what we have with those who are in need. Ayn Rand wrote (for very different reasons!) “We are those who do not disconnect the values of their minds from the actions of our bodies.” What values we wish to impart to our children must be demonstrated by our actions. Jesus’ brother James said it a different way: “Faith without works is dead.”
We must not teach our children a dead faith — no matter how comfortable that teaching may be. Our prayer right now is that we can find the right actions to apply to our faith, and the right balance of application to both demonstrate to, and nurture, our kids.