He wiggled at the tooth, which after weeks of jiggling and fussing somehow still hung on by the proverbial (and literal) thread. “Mom,” he complained with a wrinkle of eyebrows, “when I stick my tongue under my tooth, there’s a hole.”
“Oh, honey,” I replied with a mirroring furrow. “Let’s not talk about that, especially not at the table.” There had been at least one too many loose-tooth conversations over baked potatoes lately for this weak-stomached mama.
“But mom,” he continued, hands on his hips, “you need to feel my pain!”
We all laughed at this proclamation, and at some point later the tooth finally came loose and was gleefully tucked under a pillow, even though the bearer claims he “already knows the tooth fairy is daddy” (when he remembers, and mommy when he doesn’t!)
Later, as I pondered the day, his words came to mind again. “You need to feel my pain.” What a true statement, coming from a child! He may only be seven, but he’s old enough to know that his pain is lessened when he shares it–and also that the best person to share it with is a listening parent.
Many years ago Henry C. Trumbull wrote a wonderful book titled Hints on Child Training. The chapter on Empathy is one of my favorites. Trumbull writes, “It is unquestionably true that in no way can any parent gain such power over his child for the shaping of the child’s character and habits of life as by having and showing sympathy with that child.” We’ve all had the experience of going through some major difficulty and finding comfort in understanding extended by a friend who has gone through a similar trouble. Our children, too, encounter a broken world in which their plans are discounted, their desires thwarted, and their influence seems small. What a gift, then, to come alongside them with a listening ear and understanding heart.
The highest expression of sympathy, of course, comes from Jesus Himself. To leave all of heaven, enter our world as just such a child with a lack of influence, to come to understand our difficulties and grief–this is the example God Himself has given to us as parents. If Jesus has entered into our world, dare we not follow that example in our homes with our children?
“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” Hebrews 4:15-16
As we do so–as we come to know the hard-won sympathy of Jesus and then turn to model that same sympathy and grace to our children, may we find our families kneeling together before the throne of grace, receiving mercy in our times of need.