My kids and I were driving past the grocery store a few days ago when my youngest daughter asked, “Mommy, why is that guy standing there?”
She was looking at the homeless man on the corner by the stop sign. I don’t think she’d ever noticed a homeless person before, maybe because she was never tall enough to see out the window, maybe because she just now realized there are other people in the world besides her.
Either way, I gave her the explanation I’d previously perfected with my older daughter, knowing the direction the conversation would go.
“He doesn’t have a home, honey.”
“Well, he might not have enough money to buy a home.”
“Maybe he’s too sick to go to work. Or maybe he can’t find a job. Or maybe he has made some bad choices and now he doesn’t know how to fix them. It’s really hard to be an adult and get a home.”
“Oh.” She was quiet for barely a moment. “He can come live with us! We have a home, and we can share with him!”
I had thought this through before. That’s exactly what my older daughter said when we’d had the same conversation three or four years earlier. I knew that I could either take the opportunity to teach her about stranger danger and healthy boundaries, or I could take the opportunity to teach her about giving and nonjudgementalism.
I chose the second option. “That’s really kind of you, baby. It would be very helpful for us to share our home with him. Sharing is good for our hearts.”
“Let’s go pick him up!”
I knew this was coming, too, so I said, “Let’s pray about it, first. If God tells us to invite him to live with us, we will go back to him. If God tells us not to let him live with us, we will pray for him to find another way to get a home.”
She was happy to go home and pray for the man. So that’s what we did. And I meant what I said about following whatever God told us. I knew he would say no to inviting the homeless man in because of other things he’s guiding us to right now, but I still wanted my little girl to understand what steps we can take when we see someone who is in need.
I know what some of you are thinking. I can’t teach her to endlessly give away her resources until there’s nothing left for her. I can’t teach her that every person is safe to invite into your home. I need to teach her about stranger danger, and healthy boundaries, and intelligent giving.
Those things are all true.
But here’s the deal.
It’s a whole lot easier for me to teach them how to be more careful as they grow older than it is for me to teach them how to be more giving.
I already have to break up fights every other hour about someone wanting a toy that the other has, or someone not wanting to share their snack, or someone getting more snuggles with mom than the other. Imagine how those habits would unfold as they grew older if they were never honed.
They would become adults who didn’t want to share their money, time, heart, or resources.
With their spouses. With their friends. With their neighbors. With their kids.
Greed is a deeply rooted character trait that takes a long time to overcome. It requires a complete transformation of heart, plus a lot of years of self-discipline.
Everyone struggles with greed at some point or another, but not everyone is ruled by it. Not everyone justifies their actions by excusing their greed.
Now, imagine if my kids were raised to give until it hurts. Sounds a little scary, right?
There’s no doubt that it will end up with some heartache at some point or another. There will be people who take advantage of them. They will probably even doubt whether or not giving is even worth it when no one ever appreciates it.
But that little voice in the back of their minds will eventually come back that says, “… and we can share with him.”
At the end of the night, they’ll be able to sleep soundly knowing they’ve worked hard to make the world a better place with whatever they have.
They’ll be the adults who invite people over for dinner when they’re hungry, who share their money with those who can’t pay their electric bill, who choose to do foster care or adoption, who aren’t afraid of immigration, who travel the world to do missions work, or who adopt 27 dogs because they can’t turn any of them away.
Those are problems I’m okay with them having. I’m alright with raising kids who give a little too much.
What I’m not okay with is raising kids who keep a little too much for themselves. Who stop to think about whether or not they really need to give a *whole* ten percent to the church, and then shave a little off the top. Who see someone hurting and then turn away.
Who say, “Someone else can do it. Someone else can pray about it and see if they should be the one to help.”
I’d much rather raise a “Yes, let me help!” kid than a “Please pick someone else to help!” kid.
That’s why I’ll never discourage my kids when they keep asking to invite homeless people to live with us.