My kids and I were happily strolling down-town stores in the town that I recently lived in. When we walked into the doors of one particular shop, the clerk was clearly upset, screaming, and liberally using f-bombs and other four letter words amidst her one-sided conversation. I was appalled that the woman lacked professionalism, didn’t seem to “see” my young children, and was in no way in a hurry to get off the phone and “serve” the customer that stood before her. My natural instincts kicked in …I grabbed the kids, turned around, and fully intended to walk out.
There I stood facing the doorway. And there I stood facing the gentle question of the Holy Spirit: “What are you more afraid of? Your kids hearing a few dirty words or the state of this woman’s soul?”
I immediately realized I was being a hypocrite. You see, I’ve taught bible studies on engaging the world. I would say that I’m passionate about missional living. Last week, I spent a significant amount of time talking with my children about loving people even when it’s hard. I specifically taught them that “love perseveres…we don’t turn and run away from people just to make it easy on ourselves.” It’s so easy to say those things in the safety of the “classroom”. It looks great on paper. It’s messy in reality. It’s down-right uncomfortable and unpredictable when it violates the shelter I rightfully want to put around my kids.
With three kids in hand and a huffy attitude I wondered, “what am I REALLY teaching my kids?” So I turned back around. The employee made her way out of the store to finish her conversation and then awkwardly came back in the store to assist me. It was time to cut the tension and get it out of the air with a simple “Are you okay?”
I wish I could recount the next few minutes. The unkept woman gushed. Her story involved a 7 year relationship with a passive man who was a momma’s baby, cruel and twisted parents, a car accident, lots of stitches, being raped by someone who claimed he was clergy and having a daughter as a result. I wondered why this woman didn’t have the sense to lower her voice when she said the words “rape” and “sex” around my kids (who were staring intently at us), and then it occurred to me that those matters were normal and familiar to her. That life was all she knew. She hadn’t been around church long enough to know that you when people ask how you’re doing, you say “fine”.
The woman cried. I hugged her. She thanked me for caring. She wasn’t at all the raging lunatic she appeared to be when we first walked into the store. We talked about Jesus. I referred her to the church I once went to when I lived there. I didn’t fully share the Gospel with her because two firemen came in and were intent about getting upstairs and on the roof of the building. It was one of the strangest experiences I’ve had. I don’t know what the firemen were so adamant about, but the kids and I had to walk out of the store, down the sidewalk, and past several men who were staring at the building.
As soon as we were out of earshot, my oldest kid said to me, “I really don’t understand what just went on.”
“What did you hear?”
“That lady was really upset about something. You told her about Jesus.”
Amazing. My kids weren’t the least bit tainted. Their vocabulary wasn’t expanded. I did not have to answer any hard questions or explain new words.
In no way do I think children ought to be exposed to every evil under the sun. I fully intend to protect my children from harm, certain influences, agendas, experiences, people, etc. However, I’m tired of the parental mindset that spends too much time keeping children away from the “bad people”.
Would you believe that I have listened to a multitude of young adults who needed counseling and not a one of them wanted spiritual guidance because they felt neglected, abused, or misunderstood by a stranger? I can only think of one in about a hundred college students who still deal with the hurt from a bully at school. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard “the poor, dirty people are really making my life miserable.” The Christians I know who entered their adult years with unresolved issues had frustrations with someone in the family or in the church. More often than not, their struggle is with their own parents.
It’s a sobering reality. Who will protect my children from me? No one sins against them more than I do—I’m the one who’s around them all the time. The store clerk, my children, and I are not all that different: we are in desperate need of Jesus. Jesus has already taken care of my salvation; I need Him to keep chipping away my self-righteousness. Understanding this is the only way I’m going to see past the stereotypes, take the time to love people, and help my children know the heart of the real Jesus.