My 9-year old son Aidan and I were driving down the road to the grocery store on a hot Friday summer afternoon. Traffic was backed up in every direction at the intersection. I looked up and saw a well-known homeless man who lives in our community. He is about 60-years old, wears a long beard and layers of dirty clothes. I don’t believe that he has had a shower in months.
Today, he was in the middle of the street median, holding his sleeping bag over his head. Aidan looked at him then back at me, pleading with his big blue eyes, “Mom! Stop! Please give him some money.” My heart melted at my son’s empathy for this man, “Honey, I can’t. He’s in the middle of the median and it’s not safe for me to stop.”
I don’t know this unfortunate man but I have seen him many, many times in the grocery store. He runs in to the deli, grabs a sandwich and runs out of the store. Once the manager chased after him saying, “Stop! If you will just ask, I’ll give it to you.”
I went on to remind Aidan that there are many ways that we can help others. Sometimes we give them money, other times we buy them a meal. When we can’t do either of those, something just as powerful is to pray for them. We don’t always know what they will do with the money. Maybe they will buy themselves a hot meal, but then again, maybe they will go to the liquor store. But as I tell Aidan, it is not our job to judge their hearts. We leave that to God. It’s our job to be compassionate, to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
One of my earliest memories of compassion came from my paternal grandmother who I called Mimi. She was a school music teacher in a small town in Illinois. One day, a student came to school in a short sleeved shirt in the middle of winter. When she asked the child where her coat was, the student told her that she didn’t have one. That was the genesis of her classroom coat closet for those who were in need. Each fall, she would ask friends, co-workers and church members to bring their used coats to the school. Her giving spirit and servant’s heart is something that is in my blood.
Aidan was starting school the next day so I thought it was a perfect time to remind him about the importance of being kind and sensitive to others. I had read a great article about that very thing on Facebook earlier in the week.
That night at home, my husband and I crawled into bed with him. “Aidan, that feeling that you had in your heart today when you saw the homeless man and you wanted me to give him money – that is called compassion. It’s a gift from God. Not everyone has it, or understands what it is.”
Aidan listened carefully. “Daddy and I always tell you to stick up for the little guy at school. It won’t always be easy to do, but you have to listen to that feeling and do something. Sometimes that feeling is in your heart and sometimes it’s in your stomach. If you notice someone upset, lonely, or sad – stop what you are doing and help them. You are a leader. You have compassion.”
I reminded Aidan about the times I was bullied in middle school. I will never forget the first time I was called “big nose” by a boy who was older than me. I remember what I was wearing, where I was, even what I ate that day. I remember running to the bathroom and looking at myself in the mirror and seeing my “big nose” for the first time.
As I told Aidan, it was over 30 years ago, but I have never, ever forgotten that day or how that boy made me feel. I am sure that the boy has long forgotten what he said to me (probably even that same day). I want to drill it over and over into Aidan’s brain that words are powerful so that he always THINK before he speaks.
Bullying and teasing is not tolerated in our house. Instead, we choose compassion. THINK is the acronym we use to remind him how to choose his words: