Giving Kids a View of the World

May 11th, 2011

In the spring of 2010, I traveled to Africa with Compassion International to blog about their relief efforts. I went to change the world. Instead, it rocked mine.

I saw Jesus in the slums. I felt His hand when an orphaned girl grabbed mine. I recognized Him in the dirt-stained face of a widow raising four orphans alone.  I caught a glimpse of His holiness as I watched a handicapped child dance before her Lord.  I had to look away from such undefiled purity.

I walked down a filthy path surrounded by images I can’t describe: depravity, extreme poverty, and gut-wrenching hopelessness. My senses were overwhelmed as silent tears coursed down my cheeks. But the road led me to Jesus. In this desolate place, I saw joy, unspeakable and full of glory.

The irony struck me hard: joy in a place that mirrors hell. I couldn’t help but think of my cushy home in an American suburb. In my country, my town, my own life, where I have everything I need and so much of what I want. But joy is hard to find. I often equate things and circumstances with my level of joy.

Joy is delighting in good things that satisfy. The people I met were joyful because they had found something exceptionally good and satisfying. God had quenched their hunger, satisfied them.

Nothing shakes your world like returning from a third-world country that is riddled with disease and poverty. Nothing makes you question yourself, your motives, and your own sanity more than trying to blend your old worldview with your new.

Nothing makes you want to raise compassionate children like meeting people the world has forgotten.

I have amazing kids. They are sweet and well-behaved (most days), but they are typical American children. They have too much. They want things instantly and easily. They think about themselves first.

They're a lot like their parents.

We have so much, too much. It distracts us from Him. Our abundance and opulence creates a chasm away from God. We fill the void, the quiet moments with shopping trips and the latest fashions instead of with Him.  The very things we fill our lives with rob us of joy and serve as obstacles on our journey towards God.

It’s so easy to get caught up in The American Dream: a life that is better, richer, fuller. After I returned from Africa, I saw the excess in my home, the closets filled with “seasonal” décor, every wall covered, and the pattern of just replacing whatever I tired of. I opened my closet, filled with too much for one person.  It turned my stomach.

I’m in the process of simplifying. I want to show my children that more isn’t better, that bigger isn’t greater. I want their path to God to be free from the entrapment of stuff. I want the stinginess that has consumed my life to be replaced with generosity.  I want my children to be generous.

I knew I had to change the way we lived. I wasn’t motivated by guilt; I was moved with compassion.

On a Saturday, I explained to my kids that we would be giving up the occasional housecleaner who made our life easier. I taught them to clean toilets. “Why are we doing this again?” my daughter asked. I pointed to the faces of the four children we were sponsoring through Compassion International, smiling down from their pictures on our refrigerator.

She wiped a strand of hair from her eyes, nodded and went back to scrubbing. She stopped and said thoughtfully, “Mom, I’d like to fill the front of our refrigerator with pictures of children from all over the world.”

My kids love to play follow the leader. It turns out my children were just waiting for their leaders to show them the world.  They love praying for a new country at dinner every night. They can’t wait to write to the kids we sponsor. They understand the choice to buy second-hand clothes and less stuff, so that we can make our money matter more.

I thought the changes we made in our home would be hard for my kids. I thought there might be resistance. But they love the view and the pictures on our refrigerator.


Kristen Welch is author of the popular blog We Are THAT Family. This article is excerpted from Kristen’s Don’t Make Me Come Up There! Quiet Moments for Busy Moms, now free on Kindle, May 10-12.

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