About a week ago, I spoke with a woman regarding the number of homeless children in America.
She responded with a hand-washing, “If the women would be responsible…”
It’s easy to point fingers, but like I tried to express to this woman, a scared and lonely child struggling to survive doesn’t care why they are where they are. They care about one thing: Will anyone help me!
Walking away, frustrated and a bit teary at the misconceptions and rush to judgement apparent in the woman’s words, I realized much of her response came from a lack of knowledge. And I can’t help but wonder if we all, including myself, share a bit of this woman’s faulty thinking.
Let me give you an example, one I hope will challenge us all to look a little deeper. You are at the mall with your spouse and children. It’s a Sunday. You’ve just left church and are heading for the food court for burgers and fries, topped with ice-cream. On your way in, you pass a pack of teenagers. They’ve got gaudy jewelry dangling from every edifice, are cloaked in black attire and chained belts, have cigarettes dangling from scowling mouths, and use words that set your ears on fire. So what do you do? You pull your children closer with an obvious frown and move to the farthest door–the one that will add the most distance between you and one of these foul-mouthed, disrespectful teens.
One of them, abused by her father and rejected by her mother, looks up, and sees the disgust on your face, and although she tries to add more bricks around her already encased heart, the dagger slices before the mortar sets. Your look confirmed what she already believed to be true–she’s worthless, scum, unlovable. Ushering in a surge of anger to shield her breaking heart, she sucks harder on her cigarette and tells herself again and again she doesn’t care, about that woman with the fancy clothes and perfect life, about her father and mother, about herself–about anything.
And I’m speaking to myself here. Often when I see troubled teens or rebellious children, my first response is to jump to judgement, instead of love. But the problem is, judgement pushes people away. Love, on the other hand, draws them near. And with the large number of children living in foster care, and an even larger number living in abusive and extremely impoverished homes, the chances are we’ll come across one of these deeply wounded throughout out week. And when we do, it’ll be easy to move aside, or point fingers, or give ourselves a pat on the back knowing our children would never behave in such a way.
But God looks deeper. He looks beyond the sin and anger and displays of hatred to that three-year old crouched beneath a much-too-thin blanket while his world falls apart all around him. And He does more than look. God reaches out, providing a solution in His Son, Jesus Christ. And He’s asking us to join Him–to be conduits of His love by offering a smile that says, “I see you. You don’t disgust or frighten me. You aren’t worthless or to be avoided. In fact, you’re a child of God who’s deeply loved.”
This problem of poverty, abuse, and homelessness isn’t going to go away any time soon, and as my daughter reminded me yesterday while I wept over the children working in sugar plantations in El Salvador, I can’t change the world. But I can share Christ’s love and change faulty thinking. I can lay down the judgement and allow–no, invite–God’s love to flow through me.
And in each attitude change and expression in love, God can use me to sprinkle His life-changing love, grace, and mercy over a hurting world.
Because here’s the thing, those teens we see huddled outside the mall today will soon grow into adults. More than likely, they’ll have children of their own. Without role models in their life, what kind of parents do you think they’ll become? And what kind of children do you think they will raise? Hurting children grow up to raise hurting children who grow up to raise hurting children. It’s a vicious cycle that leaves countless wounded.
But God wants to flip it. Grace-filled children grow up to raise children surrounded by Christ who raise children surrounded by Christ. Love creates an equally powerful and long-lasting cycle, and each day we have the opportunity to create one legacy or the other.
On Wednesday I’ll share two stories to illustrate how we’ve seen this play out in our own lives and in the meantime, I challenge you to do one simply thing: When you encounter others throughout your day–the woman who cuts you off on the freeway or the scowling teen or rebellious child–build a bridge instead of a barrier. Offer a smile instead of a scowl. And take the time to pray for them and their family.
Before you go, I invite you to stop by the Literary Momma where I talk about the importance of laughter in marriage.