During the past 12 months at home, my children and I have enjoyed learning about and imagining faraway places through books and documentaries. We like to talk about where my three young sons would like to go, which animals they would see, and the people they would meet. This thought experiment is not far from the truth. I pray my children will have the opportunity to travel the world and meet many people from all walks of life.
As a parent, it’s both thrilling and challenging to consider how my children will engage a future world, one they will inhabit without me by their side. How can I prepare them for the diverse experiences, opportunities, and relationships that lay ahead? In addition to instilling a faith in God, my husband and I are committed to teaching our children to see and value the inherent dignity of every person. We believe this reflects God’s character and His care. And we pray that our children learn to see those in need and respond in love and service for the vulnerable. Here are a few ways we are aiming toward this.
Instill Personal Worth
Before a person can show honor to someone else, they have to live with a sense of personal dignity. Our children must understand that God made them, loves them, and sent his Son to redeem them. It’s important for Christian parents to prioritize this teaching right alongside the biblical teachings of depravity and sin, (Gen. 3; Rom. 5), not emphasizing one more than the other.
We want them to know that no matter what they do, what happens to them, or what other people say about them, their worth is secure in Christ. We desire that they know the unchanging character of God so that they may proclaim it to themselves in times of doubt: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” (Exo. 34) In addition, we want them to live with appropriate expectations of how they should be treated respectfully and kindly by those around them.
How do children learn? How did Jesus teach? Through stories! What an amazing gift God has given us in the medium of stories. Tell stories about when your children came into your family, how you prayed for them, and how you loved them before you met them. Teach about God’s plan for their lives and how he has chosen you to be a family. Demonstrate how valuable they are to you and to the Lord with your words.
Stories are also a great way to build a sense of identity and community. Tell stories about your family, especially the family members who have passed or those who live far away. Talk about what you love about them. What makes each person unique? How did God design them? Share stories about your family in the faith, about those who welcomed you into a new community or who showed love to you when you did not deserve it. Explain how they made you feel, utilizing an emotional vocabulary that your children could use. Help your children to see themselves as a part of these groups—their family and the church—and how the characteristics you’ve discussed should inhabit their lives.
Foster Diverse Relationships
Revelation 7 describes a crowd “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” We should seek to make our present relationships reflect our future ones—full of diversity. Look for opportunities to introduce your children to families and individuals who are culturally different than you. Help your child understand that although differences do exist, we are all made in the image of God intentionally (Gen. 1:27). Do this purposefully, with grace and humility. Otherwise, most of us will drift into monolithic spaces on our own.
Intergenerational relationships are important as well. Your local church is a great place for these relationships to grow. If you have the gift of grandparents and great-grandparents, invest in those relationships. Watch as your children learn to love someone who is 80 years older than they! Let them ask their curious questions and ponder what it means to grow older, while also learning what it means to show respect.
Store up Good Things
In all of these places, in all of these ways, nothing is more important than you, the parent or guardian, leading by example. Your children will watch how you speak and how you act. Pray and ask the Lord to reveal to you any thoughts that do not reflect God’s love and the inherent worth of all people. Luke 6:45 says, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Take time to store up the good things from the Lord and his Word that demonstrate his love for all people (John 3:16). In a world where differences so often stir up division and anger, may we be and raise the people who will take the opportunity to marvel at the multifaceted beauty of God’s creation and demonstrate the gracious and compassionate love of our Savior to those around us.
Jill Waggoner serves the ERLC in the areas of public relations and marketing. A 2005 graduate of Union University, she and her family reside in Lebanon, Tenn., where her husband Brandt serves as lead pastor of Fairview Church. She and Brandt have three boys.