Light flooded through the windows this morning, as we all scurried to get ready for church. I pulled out a brightly colored, floral dress for Ella and a bold, striped, Polo shirt for Elam. We ironed khakis, and waded through the closet searching for matching loafers and white “church” sandals. Josh put on his suit, and then consulted our resident five-year-old stylist as to which tie would look the best. I donned my clothes, and began throwing on some makeup. Everyone’s hair was brushed. As I was putting on lip gloss, Ella asked if she could have some. Handing it over, she looked in the bathroom mirror, circling her lips with the light pink wand, and said, “Mama, do I look pretty?”
In just a few months, this same pretty girl will go to Kindergarten, and Elam will go back to preschool. We often find ourselves reading books, reviewing our letters, sounding out words, and doing simple math equations all in an effort to teach them and show them the importance of learning. We have a Kindergarten work book that Ella loves to use. She writes words, matches similar objects, and answers problem solving questions. When she finishes a page, she’ll often ask me to look over it. Then she’ll ask me, “Mama, am I smart?” I answer both of Ella’s questions with a resounding “Yes”. Yes, you are pretty, and yes you are smart.
I love for my children to look cute. I like bright dresses, hair in bows, and navy blazers on toddlers. I even like to look nice myself. I also believe in studying hard and making good grades. I want my children to learn and grow. I want them to develop broad ideas and keen insights. However, while these things are good things, they are not the most important thing. For me, our children’s character is far more important than how they look, what they wear, and even how much they know.
Our children often see us working hard to make our outward appearances look nice. They also see us working hard to teach them and to impress upon them the importance of studying and good grades. But do they see us spending any time making our inside appearance look nice? Do they see us spending time on our heart? Are we teaching them to be people of integrity and honesty? Are we teaching them about compassion and courage? Are we teaching them to stand up for the one left behind? Are we teaching them to look for the one who is hurting? Are we teaching them that there are more important things than hair and makeup, and even math and science? Ultimately, are we teaching them that nothing is more valuable than another persons’ soul? Not looks, not stuff, not smarts.
So this morning, as we walked into the foyer preparing to leave, I squatted down swapping my little one’s shoes to the correct feet. I looked into my children’s faces and asked, “If there is a child in Sunday School today who is new, or a child that seems sad or has no one to play with, what should you do?” My two-year-old said, “We should go play with them, Mama.” Yes, son. YES!
You see, it’s never too early to begin teaching our children that how they treat others matters. How they treat others should be something that they realize is important, because we spend time talking to them about it, just like we spend time picking out matching clothes and helping with homework. They should realize how we treat others is important because they see us living out our calling of “loving our neighbor” on a daily basis. How they treat others when no one is looking, or when I’m not around to make sure they are doing the right thing, is what I’m most concerned with. How do they respond when they see a child who never has anyone to play with at recess? What do they do when all of their friends begin to make fun of another student because they wear glasses, or wear different clothes, or have different hair? How do our teenagers treat others who are different than they are; the ones who don’t have the nicest truck, or the brand name bag? These are things that are most important to me.
Every day I read a new and horrifying story about bullying. Why is this happening, and why are so few linking arms with the one being tormented, and standing alongside the one being hurt? I want my children to be the ones to link arms with these. I want them to link arms with the outcast. I want them to reach out in friendship to the one who has no friends. I want them to love the one that everyone else seems to think is unlovable because that is what Jesus’ life was all about. He was never part of the “cool” crowd. He was never the most popular, and there is a reason for that. While everyone else was worried about outward appearances, He was with the lepers. While everyone else tried to decide who was the smartest and most able-bodied, He was with the uneducated and the infirm. While everyone else tried to determine who was the greatest, He was with the least of these.
Of course I’m partial, but I think my babies are beautiful. I believe they are plenty smart. But what I want more than anything is to have children that grow into adults that look beyond appearance, that see deeper than intelligence, and recognize another soul in need of hope and love. And when they find that person, my prayer is that they will have compassion enough to care, and courage enough to act.