“But Mom! Those are mine! I bought them with my own money.”
I stood square toward my daughter and looked into her eyes. “Yes, and this is an opportunity to show generosity. Let her use them.”
“But what?” I spoke gently. “Tell me what’s more important—those paints, or loving your sister?”
It was another common I-want / she-wants standoff in my house. This time, the object of contention was a set of acrylic paints belonging to my elder child, which her little sister was depleting with my permission.
“Sweetheart,” I said, “I will buy you more paints. You have everything to gain here, and nothing to lose.”
Except an opportunity to be like Jesus.
Ugh. Kindness. Why is it so hard? In that moment, my firstborn wanted her stuff, her rights, her control over who owns and can therefore use the 50-cent bottles of Walmart acrylics. As the mom, it was my job to point out the selfishness in her heart and give her a chance to make a better choice. Love or anger? Pride or humility? “Me, me, me” or putting others first?
Truth is, I don’t always make the right choice myself.
Inherent in every believer is a core of sinful tendencies that make it difficult to choose love. We know this; we read about it in the Bible and battle it within our own hearts day in and day out. It shows up in little ways—small decisions whether or not to bless another soul. Even our best intentions and grandest gestures can still be marred by selfishness and probably always will be this side of heaven.
That’s why we need to remember one key truth. Where does love come from? Not from us. Not initially.
“We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
Love is born of God. He gave it to us first, empowering us then to pass it on to other people. Love shows up as kindness, generosity, empathy and compassion. It takes an interest in what matters to others. It gladly shares the paints and doesn’t expect anything in return.
So how can we teach our kids to grasp this kind of love for others?
The same way we learn ourselves.
“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4–5)
When my daughter stood before me with her arms crossed over her chest and a glare in her eyes, I realized she didn’t need more lecturing. My words can only go so far—into her ears and out of her head. What she needed in that moment was more Jesus.
“I can see you want to be angry right now,” I told my precious girl. “Sin is caught up in your heart. Please go to your room and talk to Jesus. Ask Him how He wants you to handle this situation. Then come out when you’re ready.”
Half and hour later, she emerged with a smile on her face and a gentleness toward her sister that could only have been the work of God. I’m so grateful He was able to teach her something I couldn’t do on my own.
When we’re desperate to teach our kids about kindness, I’ve found it helps to demonstrate by example. Not only by modeling kindness ourselves but especially by making Jesus our priority—remaining in the vine—and guiding our children to do the same. Sometimes the best work we do as parents is not actually ours to do at all. Point them to the One who can fill them with His love, and they will again be equipped to spill it over onto others.
That sounds like a good strategy for us all, amen?
Do you want to explore more biblical insight on how to love your people well? My new book, Generous Love: Discover the Joy of Living “Others First” provides the inspiration, practical tips and ideas you need to see the opportunities around you, to reach out, to live generously, and to love others bravely and selflessly. It’s available now through all major booksellers.