What We Have in Common

June 8, 2017

Shrieking with delight, the teenage girls chased each other around the community splash pad. Drops of water glistened on their faces and soaked their clothing. As one girl passed me, we caught eyes and exchanged smiles, her face lit with joy. Bemused, I watched as they playfully jabbed at each other, words volleying back and forth in a dizzying mix of English and Somali.

Off to the side, I watched my own girls twirl around the splash pad, climbing the spiderwebbed playground toys and spinning round and round. In their faces, I saw the same joy reflected.
Later that day, as Elise and I were sitting together quietly, we had a moment to talk more about the morning. I asked her if she had enjoyed the splash pad, and she waxed eloquent about the other children she played with and how much fun she had.

“Those teenagers sure looked like they were having fun, didn’t they?” I asked. She nodded, then paused to ask what they were wearing on their heads. I matter-of-factly told her that sometimes, people with other religions or cultures have different traditions than we do, and that their head scarf is something that is a tradition for their religion. I asked her if anyone at her school wore a similar headcovering, and she told me that they didn’t but that some of the other moms did.

In her eyes, I saw nothing but acceptance. And it occurred to me, in the midst of our country’s highly-charged political and cultural issues, how much of what my daughter learns about the world is through me.

As a parent, I think it’s one my greatest challenges and privileges. Of all my children, my oldest has the unique ability to believe that everyone is exactly like her. For instance, there’s a little girl with special needs that is one of her favorite kids to play with at church. Unlike some of the other children, Elise doesn’t mind the frequent hugs and touches the little girl bestows; when you see the two of them together, they are usually laughing uproariously or racing around the gym. One day after church, one of the leaders approached me to tell me that Elise doesn’t always understand the idea of giving in when her friend wants the same coloring page she does. Although I promised the leader I would speak to Elise, I found myself struggling to communicate that idea to her after church.

“She doesn’t see any ‘difference,’” my husband whispered to me. And it’s true. Her best friend at school has an aide with her all day who helps her with tasks, and Elise has no idea why. Elise’s strength is the tenderness of her heart; she loves with abandon. She looks at others and sees commonalities, not differences. And I wonder: How, as a mom, am I encouraging that strength? How can I encourage her to engage the complexities of the world with compassion and sensitivity?

But what I've come to realize is this: My children don't need me to have all the answers. They need me to show them that the lens through which they view the world should be the same one Jesus had: Filled with mercy, compassion, and love for God's unique creation. Respect for others and for the world we live in. And, above all, grace that covers.

Because at the end of the day, I want to teach them about the world, yes. But I want them to love God so much more that that consideration outweighs all other considerations.

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