MARYVILLE, TN (BP) – My oldest son just turned 5, and at this age he is a joy. He understands the world in new ways every day and is asking tough, thoughtful questions. As a parent, I sense my goals are changing. My days with him are no longer defined by gaining ounces, learning words or "going" in the potty. (Can I get an amen?!) But I feel like my back is leaning on a door with the weight of the world behind it.
In God's providence, my children have never known hunger and have hardly faced pain or loss. Yet, Judson is beginning to understand what it means when Daddy preaches a funeral, when we buy groceries for other families or send money to feed the hungry on the other side of the world. If I'm honest, the temptation I have in parenting is the same one I have in my life -- to avoid suffering, at all costs. Yet, as Christians, we know that we should glory in tribulations (Romans 5:3-4). Jesus even promises trials (John 16:33). Therefore, in age-appropriate ways, I'm seeking to lay a foundation for my children that includes the reality of hardship and suffering. Here are a few suggestions of some discussions that we are having in our home:
The world is big, and God loves it all
In any way you can, think globally. Talk about where your coffee came from. Get a book from the library about another country. In an ever-increasing scope, open your child's eyes wide to this amazing world God has created (John 3:16).
The world is full of people who have needs and face difficulties
We have no excuse for not knowing about global realities. Pray for the victims of the most recent disaster, such as those in the devastation of Hurricane Matthew's path. Thank God for the "good guys" who protect us here and abroad. Introduce the idea that hard things have purpose (Romans 8:28), and God is still in control in difficult circumstances (Mark 4:39-40).
God has placed us here and now for a reason
God has an amazing plan for our lives and that centers on proclaiming God's love to others (Matthew 5:16, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4). My child is now old enough to help with a backpack ministry at a local school, sending home healthy snacks for at-risk children. Seek to understand the needs of your community, and introduce them to your children.
God has given us everything we have
We should be a thankful people and happy with the things we have (Philippians 4:12). Talk about God's grace. Talk about stewardship. Ask their little minds, "How can we use our money to love others?" We give to Global Hunger Relief to support the hunger projects of International Mission Board missionaries and North American Mission Board ministries around the world. Together, we've watched the videos about where our money goes and talked about the babies who don't have mommies. Those moments are precious to me.
God has given the church as a gift to us and to others
My husband and I seek to be intentional about having people in our home. I know this can be hard to do when you feel like you live with wild animals instead of small humans. I'm always encouraged by thinking about how loved and welcomed I have felt as the guest of others. Opening your home opens your children's lives in controlled ways and can be a lot of fun.
Everyone needs to hear the Good News of Jesus
Talk about the saving grace of Jesus Christ here and abroad. If you have the opportunity to go to another country, go! If you can't, think about creative ways your family can support those who are going. Take your kids next door to your very own neighbors who need the Gospel and seek to meet their needs. Connecting the ideas of physical needs to spiritual needs cannot be missed (Matthew 28:16-20).
As I introduce the idea of the suffering of others to my children, I know that someday these truths will become personal. Tim Keller wrote, "No matter what precautions we take, no matter how well we have put together a good life, no matter how hard we have worked to be healthy, wealthy, comfortable with friends and family, and successful with our career -- something will inevitably ruin it." I want to begin to prepare them for that day now.
Seeing and trusting God's purpose through difficulty is one of the greatest joys and freedoms of the Christian life. I pray for the day that my children know and embrace this truth in their own hearts.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jill Waggoner serves as deputy press secretary for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and lead brand strategist for Global Hunger Relief, cooperative Southern Baptist hunger initiative. She is a pastor's wife and mom to two boys in Maryville, Tenn. This column first appeared at Flourish (www.namb.net/flourish), an online community for ministers' wives sponsored by the North American Mission Board.