I drive my sixteen-year-old son to school every weekday and we
often always listen to CDs or the radio on the way. This morning my
son wanted to listen to a “Christian” station. Around 7:20 the radio host
opened up the lines to take some calls.
The first caller says, “The way I see it, it doesn’t really matter who won the election because God is still in control.”
The comment seems harmless enough and the host agrees with it wholeheartedly. In fact, the comment feels a little hopeful to many people…hopeful enough to seem good, but today something prompted me to pause and comment on what was said.
I must admit, too many times I have let moments like that go by with my son because I figure…he’s happy…why get all depressed talking about something heavy on the way to school? But today I decide enough is enough. I have to say something. After all, passive good is no better than active evil. In fact, in most cases, it’s worse.
Yes, I have to say something.
Why? Because my son came out of his room at about 6:30 this morning and wanted to know who was elected President while he slept. I told him and we processed it a bit. But now, in the car on the way to school, I was warming up for round two.
See, I stayed up last night for most of the election coverage on television. When it got towards the end, I could see who was going to win. I decided I needed sleep and I retired for the evening. Before that, however, I had spent about three hours with an eye on the muted television screen while intermittently browsing Facebook.
Facebook is sometimes unhelpful in times like these but last night I noticed several patterns that I felt shed light on the situation—and the one pattern that troubled me most was a comment that I saw repeated by too many friends.
It was this: “What am I going to tell my children about this? Policy and politics aside, how could we elect a man like this?”
The question about our children is, in my opinion, one of the most important questions we could ask right now. In fact, I’m hard pressed to think of a question that isn’t more important than this one.
In addition to being a dad to two children, I have the advantage and privilege of working with children. So, after a night like last night, my first thought goes out to the children.
I weep for them. They are the most vulnerable. They will reap what we sow.
Since I know many parents may be struggling how to talk about this with their children, I offer what I said to my son (and what I want to keep saying) in hopes it may be helpful to you. Here goes, paraphrased a bit:
“I have hope because there are people like you in the world. You are our future. Those who are older than you have messed things up for you and for that I am sorry. But I have hope that you and your generation will help make this world a better place.
“Learn from our mistakes and learn from our successes. There’s plenty of both. But do not give in to hate and fear. It is always the right thing to defend the weak. As you get older you will have to do what we often failed to do which was to strip bullies of power. It’s not fair that it will fall to you to do what we did not do but I want you to know you have a chance to do it, all the same.”
I paused a bit and said: “I’m proud of you. I’m glad you’re my son. You are a good person.”
That was before we left the house. When we got in the car I asked him if he wanted to listen to music or news. He said music, of course. But then, when the caller came on the radio I had to say something about the “God is in control” message. I turned the radio down and said:
“Okay. I’m sorry but I have to say this. Nic, what I want you to know is that faith in God does not give us a free pass to just throw up our hands and say, ‘Oh, well. It doesn’t matter anyway. God is in control.’ God gives us a say in how things turn out. We are free to choose and influence the situation. That’s the whole point. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be love. Love that isn’t chosen isn’t love. So, yes, God may be in control but God lets us have a say in things.
“We’re supposed to use that freedom to help others. We are supposed to look out for those who are wronged, for the weak, for those who need help. We’re supposed to offer food, clothing and shelter to those who have no home because of war or other hardship. That’s up to us. God won’t do it for us. We have to do it. We can shape the world. We can make a better future and we need to stand up for what’s right and good. I’m just glad there are many like you who will help do that.”
Now, I know that many of you reading this have younger children and it wouldn’t be apt to say such things to them but the essence can still be the same. I invite you to think how you can use this time to build up the children you know. It is a wonderful opportunity, in fact.
In these coming days, children will need the guidance and nurture of adults to reinforce what is good and true, noble and loving. I advocate that we do not shield children from the diverse forces of oppression in our world, but rather we talk about it with them to remind them that human agency is not negated by confidence in God, nor is faith in God rendered obsolete by merciful action. Rather, talk with them about how confidence in God is a source from which redemptive and compassionate action flows. When we treat others with compassion, we treat them as God treats all of us. Wonder with them what they think God’s part is and what they think our part is in all this. I know from experience they’ll have some wonderful things to say.
Nurture children in compassion. Do not speak down to them. They are not dumb. They possess an intelligence that, in fact, can educate us as adults if we will listen carefully and learn from them. If a troubling scenario arises, ask them what they think would be the right thing to do. You will see: they will know and they will be very thoughtful about it. Often, their response may be different than what you think, so be willing to change your mind and heart, be willing to let yourself be led by children.
Above all, let them know that hope is alive because of them. Don’t say this in a way that makes them feel pressure, but say it in a way that fills their chest with enthusiastic optimism and creativity. There’s little else that is more empowering than to know someone you look up to believes in you, respects you and cheers you on.
Now, I don’t mean to say that, humanly speaking, we can become whatever we want, but with faith in God as a compass, we can go to joyful places we have not been to yet.
Finally, if we mess up, we need to be willing to say sorry, ask forgiveness and then offer whatever we can to make it right. Children learn this when adults model it. Children see very little of this in our public leaders, so the best way they will experience it is from you. Practice humility and gentleness with the children you know.
Our children will learn many things these coming years. It is up to us to do at least one thing right: help them be compassionate, creative and courageous. Help them be thoughtful and mindful of others. They have a voice. Listen to it.
That is what I want to tell my son these days and I invite you to do likewise.