“I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” Exodus 33:19
Back in September, we walked The Freedom Trail in Boston as a family. The weather was beautiful that day; it seemed like the perfect adventure. Although I used to take my kids into the city all the time when they were little, it had been a few years.
Like in any city, there were homeless people everywhere. I forgot that my kids haven’t been exposed to that in a while. I was unprepared for their extreme reaction. Mason, especially, was devastated by it. At one point, he froze in his tracks, overwhelmed with grief for them.
I pulled my kids aside and explained that people everywhere went without. Wallowing in pity for them achieved nothing but making themselves sad. Taking action to help was a much better response. That is the whole point of compassion: to strike an emotion in us that motivates us to extend mercy.
I said they could make a difference by feeding the hungry. I opened my backpack and pulled out a box of breakfast bars. Zack took one and ran two blocks back to give it to a man begging on the street.
When Zack came back, he was grinning ear to ear. He was practically jumping up and down saying, “I feel so good. The guy started eating it right away. I just feel so good!” When we passed a woman in a wheelchair begging, Mason did the same thing. He had the same reaction as Zack. I was so proud of them.
But no matter how much the boys tried to convince Jocelyn to try it, she was just too scared. I reminded them she was only six years old. They had to let her decide for herself. Yet, just an hour later, I found myself trying to force Jocelyn into giving against her will.
She had been chosen by some street performers to join their little routine. They actually gave her $20 for participating. When they refused to take it back, I told Jocelyn she needed to give it to someone who truly needed it. She flat out refused, saying she wanted to buy herself a toy.
In less than sixty minutes, I went from extreme pride in my sons, to extreme disappointment in my daughter. I wondered where I had gone wrong with her. I thought I was parenting and teaching my kids the same. Apparently not. The more I pushed, the more Jocelyn cried and refused to give the $20 away. I finally had to put the money in my pocket and let it go.
That $20 bill has sat on our kitchen counter for the past two months. Every now and then, I’d ask Jocelyn if she was going to donate it. Each and every time, she’d said no; she wanted it for herself.
So last Wednesday, when my kids were making get well cards for their Auntie Helen, Jocelyn completely shocked me by saying, “I want to put my $20 in Auntie Helen’s card. I think it will cheer her up. I think it will make her feel better.”
That’s when it hit me: we all have to give in our own way, to the cause that strikes a cord in us. Otherwise, we’re not giving from the heart; we’re just giving out of obligation, or peer pressure. That’s not mercy; that’s coercion.
Dictionary.com defines mercy as, “something that gives evidence of divine favor; blessing.” The boys blessed those homeless people with breakfast bars because they gave their whole hearts with them. But the homeless people only evoked fear in Jocelyn because she’s still little. She also couldn’t connect with any charities or missions I suggested because they were too abstract for her.
But Auntie Helen has been sending my kids cards for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter and Halloween, every single year, without fail. She also includes a crisp $2 bill that the kids think are so cool. Jocelyn was moved to compassion when she heard Auntie Helen was sick because she loves her. She wanted to give her the $20 bill, not as money, but as her blessing, her divine favor.
My kids continue to humble and teach me. I need to stop forcing them to act as I act. They are their own people, motivated differently than I am. All I can do is teach them about compassion and mercy, and then step back. I need to trust that I have planted those seeds. Then, like Exodus 33:19 says, it’s up to them to have mercy on whom they will have mercy; to have compassion on whom they will have compassion.
Questions For Reflection:
* Have I taught my kids about compassion and mercy?
* Do I force my kids to show mercy where I think they should?
* Or do I allow them to decide for themselves on whom they will show mercy and compassion?