“Mommy, why does God let some people be poor?”
That was the question my then-5-year-old daughter asked me as I stood over the stove, stirring freshly prepared spaghetti sauce. Just your regular, easy-to-answer conversation. Or not.
I have to admit I didn’t handle the situation very well. I think I mumbled something about how people could be poor in finances but rich in spirit—because my 5-year-old would totally understand that, right? Then I quickly changed the subject to something more pleasant and less… complicated.
Isn’t that what we naturally want to do for our children: To shield them from what’s broken in this world because it’s really just a matter of time before they become disillusioned by the true state of things? We encase them in emotional bubble wrap and hide their curious eyes from the atrocities that occur around us.
And, yes, some of that protection is wise. Necessary, even.
But sometimes, maybe oftentimes, we should let them see the realities of life on this dysfunctional planet. After all, it’s only when someone is exposed to the truth that she can do something about it.
I realized as I mulled over my conversation with my daughter that, as much as I want to guard her innocence, I want even more for her to become a woman who takes action on behalf of those who can’t advocate for themselves.
So I revisited my initial conversation with my daughter. Several times over, in fact. We talked about poverty and injustice and suffering and slavery. We talked about hurricanes and droughts and wildfires and earthquakes. We talked about how things in this world are not as they should be, and how we are oftentimes the answers to our own prayers.
We asked God to care for those fleeing their homelands, those running for their lives, leaving everything they have behind. But, perhaps, the question should be: How can I adopt a family that’s been resettled in my area to help them get everything they need?
We asked God to help the millions who have to rebuild the homes and lives after devastating storms. But, perhaps, the questions should be: How can I pack my bags and go help them?
We asked God to provide clean drinking water for the multitudes who don’t have access to it today. But, perhaps, the question should be: How can I raise funds to provide clean water for those people?
When we move beyond the simple mindset of caring ABOUT others and adopt a lifestyle of caring FOR others, we become empathizers. When we expose our children to the needs in this world and teach them that they can make a difference in the lives of hurting people, we begin raising empathizers.
Imagine if we each let our kids in on the secret that this world is messy and that life’s not fair.
What if we show them suffering and injustice, but we don’t stop there—because we don’t want to raise a bunch of voyeuristic consumers of tragedy.
What if we expose them to reality and then give them the tools they need to take action and make a difference in the lives of hurting people?
What if we raise up a generation of empathizers?
My family took action as a result of my initial conversation with my daughter. We got creative, worked hard and we raised $15,000 throughout nine months to build a playground for children in an incredibly impoverished village in Romania.
My daughter spearheaded this effort. And, once the funds were raised, we took her overseas to witness her playground become a reality. She watched as children who’ve never had a toy to their names screamed in delight as they experienced a teeter-totter for the very first time. She watched babies swing, eyes wide in wonder. She watched mothers cry tears of joy as they watched their children, the world’s forgotten ones, play without reservation.
She’ll never be the same.
Children do have the capacity to put compassion into action, but they can’t repair what they don’t know to be broken. Let’s show them the brokenness, then watch them pick up the pieces, one by one. It will be remarkable to see.