by Nancy Tichy, Author for KidZ at Heart International
The teacher shared with her class of twelve year olds a story from their church’s outreach ministry in a Tibetan country. Just owning a yak, she related, can lift a whole family out of poverty. She went on to explain that during the weeks before Thanksgiving the kids could bring money to go towards a $500 goal – the cost of one yak. She encouraged them to find creative ways to earn the money they would contribute rather than asking adults to give to the project. The following Sunday, Cherise brought a check made out to the church for $500! She explained that she was not content just to give towards the purchase of a yak, she wanted to provide the whole amount.
This is a true account from a friend’s church, and I never learned how Cherise managed to come up with that much money on her own. Perhaps she had a college savings account and her parents agreed she could draw on that. Perhaps she was just a ‘thrifty kind’ of kid who liked to save gift money and earnings, rather than spend them. I don’t know.
I do know, however, that Cherise understood what it was to act compassionately to help meet lifesaving needs. A bit unusual, perhaps, considering the amount of money she gave, but not uncommon among today’s kids. This prompts me to ask, “How do we cultivate compassion in the hearts of children?”
In some cases we’re just aware that a certain child in our home or in our class is compassionate by nature. It’s an innate part of their character which we can clearly identify – and encourage – as we observe their reactions to needy situations.
In other cases we can challenge kids with real life needs and ask that they consider prayerfully what God would have them do in response. We can lay a foundation for this by generating lively discussion. We might use questions like, “What’s the difference between pity and compassion? In the story of the Good Samaritan, what prompted this man to come to the aid of the victim he discovered along the road-side?“ We might even try competition and give rewards.
Encouraging character traits, using discussion and interaction, challenges and competition – these are some practices for growing compassionate kids. How about demonstrating to our children that we can be content with what we have, enabling us to shift from what makes us happy to the joy generosity brings?
If, indeed, we learn contentment by practicing gratitude, might we also learn compassion by practicing generosity? Contentment with our current situation – compassion for those needier than ourselves.
As we move swiftly to the times when we gather with others and celebrate Thanksgiving Day, let’s be aware that we not only count our blessings and thank our Heavenly Father for his generosity, we also share our blessings in ways that bless others and build into our kids’ worldview the joy of a compassionate lifestyle.
The LORD is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. Psalm 145:8