Compassion is caught

Today we have a guest post from Jennifer Slattery.

Do you ever catch yourself saying something, then clamp your mouth shut with the realization you’ve become your mother? Or maybe you’ve glanced behind you to see your child rolling their eyes…just like you…at something that normally gets you annoyed. It’s rather sobering how pervasive a parent’s reach is. I find it quite humbling. And challenging. Each day as I watch our daughter grow I’m reminded of the power of my unspoken words.

Lately my daughter’s talked a lot about her future dream–or perhaps future mission would be more accurate. It’s quite a unique vision, and one that brings tears to my eyes. When she grows up she wants to get her veterinary license and treat the pets of the homeless. She plans to open a private practice to fund her mission. (Now obviously, she’s thirteen, so her plans may change.) This dream unites her two loves–animals and others, in a Christ-centered way.

But here’s the funny thing…I’ve never told her she needs to serve the homeless. I’ve never talked with her about her future ministry, except in terms of living life in full surrender. However, she’s served with us at homeless shelters. She’s helped distribute bagged lunches to those standing on street corners. She’s stood beside me as I’ve talked with them, shaking their soiled hands and taking the time to look them in the eye…. And clearly, those moments have left a lasting impact.

This “on the job training” applies to every area of life. In our home, we all serve together.  Not only because it’s great family time, but because we want our daughter to develop a servant’s heart. We want her to understand church isn’t a place to rest your behind, but instead, where you extend the love of Christ. We are here not to be served, but instead to serve. Only lectures, no matter how logical or eloquent, won’t produce the results we want. Our children learn best by doing. By living life in community and continual surrender and by watching their parents do the same.

You see, compassion is caught as much as it is taught, and our children watch us very closely. When we turn up our noses at the less fortunate and pop off justifications for walking by, they learn to do the same. When we speak words of judgment, they develop an attitude of cynicism.

Their hearts are pliable, easily swayed by every experience.

Jump forward twenty years. How might our world be if we modeled lives of compassion, raising children with compassion who created positive change in their world?

Our family took a mission trip to El Salvador last year. Although missions are important, that wasn’t why we brought our daughter. Our primary goal was to train “others” thinking. During our visit, our daughter experienced what life was like for the impoverished. She spent time among girls her age who live in an orphanage without a mom or dad to tuck them in each night.

The experience changed her. And it is our prayer, our hope, and in many ways our confidence, that her experience will in turn lead her to initiate change.

What can you do today to show your children the world beyond them? You see, our first tendency is to look upon ourselves. As parents, we long to shower our children with blessings and shelter them from every difficulty. But surrounded by abundance, what kind of adults will our children grow up to be? They already know how to look out for themselves. It’s our responsibility to help them turn that focus outward.

I’d love to hear from you. How has serving helped you train your child to be a fully devoted follower of Christ? How has it helped you draw closer to God? How has reaching out to someone else changed your perspective or blessed you in some way? Share your “Reach Out to Live Out” stories with us so we can spur one another toward good deeds. To participate in my “Reach Out to Live Out” campaign, send a photo, video, or story of you reaching out to someone else and tell us what you gained from the experience. To find out more shoot me an email at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail(dot)com, and make sure to visit my devotional blog at http://jenniferslatterylivesoutloud.com

Jennifer Slattery lives in the Midwest with her husband of sixteen years and their fourteen-year-old daughter. She writes for Christ to the World Ministries, Internet Café Devotions, Jewels of Encouragement, and the Christian Pulse and maintains a devotional blog at Jennifer Slattery Lives Out Loud.

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