“Look, Mom! He has no hair on top!” my 3 and a half year old states matter-of-factly while pointing to a bald gentleman across the church sanctuary after service. “What, buddy?” I ask and he repeats himself. “Oh!” I laugh a bit, look around to see if anyone else heard and then tell Leo, “Yep, you’re right.” A feeling of embarrassment washes over me, and it’s unsettling.
Looking back, I wish I had responded a little more fully to Leo instead of brushing it off. As I’ve thought of it more, I see how this is just the beginning of these observations of differences and questions from a curious little boy and therefore an invitation to share God’s glorious picture of diversity in his kingdom. How I choose to respond to him in even such an innocent observation of one man’s hair loss is starting to form the environment for future conversations between us.
(And I really shouldn’t have been surprised by this particular comment because one book we’ve been reading on this topic points out all sorts of differences between the people God created – including gender, interests, hair type or hair loss ;), as well as skin color. Leo has always loved finding every bald man pictured in that book… hence his interest in real life.)
Like so much of motherhood, returning to a garden metaphor just feels right. At the young ages of nearly 4 and just turned 1, my boys are mostly just exploring the world around them. And the world around them is heavily influenced by me. They receive the nourishment I give them – whether that’s a balanced diet, plenty of outdoor play, kind words and appropriate discipline, or whether it’s hotdogs all week, too much screen time, a sharp word, raised voice, or lack of follow-through in discipline. They receive what I give and it either helps grow them into strong and caring men of God or it creates a barrier or obstacle in reaching that end goal. Similarly what I introduce to my kids about different cultures and people groups will either help or hurt them (and those around them) as they are growing in Christ.
I want to be “watering” them with the truth of the Gospel in all areas of life, including this one. Right now we are raising our boys in a city in the middle of Kansas…not a very diverse place unless you go looking. And yet for a rural Nebraska girl, this is by far the most diverse place I’ve lived. Knowing that my experiences have been limited and that in this season our boys’ experiences are also limited, I’m trying to be aware of that and take advantage of every opportunity to open their eyes to the beauty of God’s design beyond our white family, primarily white church, and majority white community.
Like I said, I am still in the early phases of even thinking through the opportunities at our disposal, but here is where I am so far:
- Read! We don’t have to leave our living room to begin introducing our kids to characters of diverse ethnic backgrounds. I want to be intentional about the library books we bring home – that the characters don’t all look like my boys. My favorite book right now that is a resource to me and giving me language to share with my boys is God’s Very Good Idea – the one with all the bald men.
- Meet our neighbors. Though our neighborhood is still majority white, we have many neighbors of different ethnic backgrounds who we are praying about getting to know better this spring as we spend more time outside. Leo has already befriended an 8-year-old neighbor boy whose father grew up in Mexico. We are praying for more conversations with him and his family.
- Seek out cultural events in the area. Our city attracts many immigrants and refugees, and over 10% of our student population are internationals. This creates many opportunities for our family, if we make the effort to engage.
- Campus. What an opportunity to bring our kids to campus (at the appropriate times) to engage in ministry with my husband. Whether it is a quick visit during fall launch where we get to meet so many students of diverse backgrounds, or inviting an international student into our home for Thanksgiving, there are some unique opportunities in campus ministry.
- Pray. Above all else in this season, I want to be praying with my children about God’s heart for every people. I want to pray that we see all people as image-bearers of God and treat everyone with dignity and respect. I want to pray for listening ears and a heart of understanding when the opportunity to engage with someone different than me presents itself. And I want to pray for continued opportunities for conversations with my children, that God would be honored through them.
So as I disciple my boys in God’s Word, I will keep watering these seeds about God’s wonderfully diverse and beautiful creation because I want them to love others the way God does. I’m going to make mistakes. I may say awkward things. But I want to lead my boys by example and in humility as we seek to love those around us while sharing our hope in Jesus – no matter how different or similar they are to us – because this matters to God.
Author Trillia Newbell shares the hope of the Gospel this way:
“One day, God will FINISH his very good idea. Jesus will come back and make the world perfect again. And anyone who has asked Jesus to forgive them will live there, with their different languages and skin colors. They will enjoy loving God and loving each other. They will enjoy praising God for making, rescuing and finishing his very good idea.”God’s Very Good Idea