My thirteen-year-old came home from school with a swollen bruise on his face.
“Where did you get that bruise?”
“I got punched today.”
“What?! What happened?”
“Two kids were going at each other. One of the kids was my good friend. I got in between them so my friend could get away, and the other kid punched me in the face.”
“That’s terrible! What did you do?”
“I just looked at him and said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Mom, you know one punch from me and he’d be toast. Later he told me he was sorry. It’s fine now.”
Since kindergarten, this boy of mine has been placing himself between the underdog and the tormentor. I’ve told him multiple times, “The one who usually gets hurt is the one who gets in the middle.”
“Mom, I’m always going to protect my friends and those around me who need protecting.”
He has the size for it, too. He’s thirteen and almost in a size fourteen shoe. A big, strong kid with a keen sense of justice who is growing up to be a big, strong man with a heart to protect.
He’s right…he could have easily clobbered the kid who punched him, but he practiced self-restraint. He is careful specifically because he knows his own strength.
One night, back when the above-mentioned son was in the fourth grade, I was tucking him into bed and he said, “Mom, we practiced an active shooter drill today at school.”
My heart sank. “Oh, ya? How did that go?”
“Well, we were able to find every kid a place to hide but me. I’m too big.”
Now, my heart broke. “So, what are you supposed to do?”
“I stay with the teacher, but I already know what I’m going to do. God gave me this big size and a strong body. I’m going to put myself against the door to our classroom and make sure no bad person gets in.”
My eyes filled with tears I tried not to let him see. “I’m so proud of you for loving your friends that way, but do your mom a favor and hide with your teacher.”
I winked at him. He just smiled.
How is this a bedtime conversation?
There was another mass shooting. I’m not going to pretend I have the answer to this type of violence, but one thing I think we can all agree on, at least I hope we can, is that children shouldn’t have to worry about being gunned down by other children (or adults) at school, or while walking home, or while playing in their yards. People shouldn’ have to fear they could be gunned down at a mall or movie theater or concert. We can argue about the solution, but we must admit we have a problem.
Some say we need to take away the guns, and maybe it will come to that, but that doesn’t fix the hearts. We don’t just have a problem with mass shootings; we have a teen suicide problem; we have a bullying problem; we have a depression problem; we have an addiction problem; we have a loneliness problem; we have a human connection problem.
In one hundred years, we’ve gone from the greatest generation known for their courage, character, and sacrifice to the most depressed, anxious, and entitled generation.
To be honest, I don’t know how to prepare my kids for this world. It is not the same world I grew up in. My world wasn’t perfect, every generation has had to contend with evil, but there remained an innocence to my childhood that was lost for the following generations. At least in the hard of my youth, the suffering and struggles, I had hope because I knew who God was and who I was in God. Today’s generations are hopeless.
Society has stripped all design from every part of creation and handed our kids a meaningless void and purposeless existence. This generation has been told there is no Creator; they are their own highest standard and measure of good and evil.
When you read the book of Judges in the Bible, the phrase everyone did what was right in their own eyes was not a blessing or a sign of progress for humankind; it was a curse. This curse is the current motto of the Western world.
No one will ever have a secure identity until their identity is secure in God, and this generation has an identity problem. Kids don’t know who they are or where to place their value and worth even though more time is given to these ideas than maybe ever before. So, they try to manufacture identities, which has only led to more unrest as one identifying group wars with another identifying group for the greatest relevance and loudest voice.
No, I don’t know how to adequately prepare my children for the stormy seas they are heading into as they become adults, but I do know the anchor I want them to carry into the storm: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind and your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40).
This is the verse I chose for each of my kids when they were dedicated at church. It is the verse I’ve tried to etch into their minds and onto their hearts.
Choose love. Not the world’s love but God’s love. Genuine love. A love that holds tightly to what is good and hates what is evil (Romans 12:9). A love that takes a blow to the face so a friend can be safe.
I don’t know what the answers to gun violence are or the growing rates of teen suicide, the bullying epidemic, the rising rates of depression, or the loss of human connectedness. I don’t know which laws will help and which will ultimately cause more harm. I don’t know which therapies are most effective or which policies and awareness campaigns will bring the best changes.
But, I do know there is only one answer for hard hearts with wicked intentions, for lost hearts overwhelmed with sadness and hopelessness, and for lonely hearts with no idea who they are supposed to be or if their life has any meaning…Jesus.
Only in Him can we find the forgiveness we know we need, the identity we know we lack, the peace we are desperate for, the love we long for, and the purpose for which we were created.
Whatever else we as a society may come to for an answer to the evil and suffering in this world, we must first come to the answer for the evil and suffering in our own hearts, and Jesus is that answer.
I grieve for the families who are coming to terms with the nightmare that just happened in their community in the wake of another shooting. I also grieve for the families of the shooters. They are living through a different kind of nightmare.
As I considered the bruise on my son’s face that he took for a friend, I remembered the One who was bruised for me, my Savior, Jesus Christ. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends, John 15:13. When we love with God’s love, we reflect Christ. I am reminded genuine love is costly.
Whatever else this world needs from one generation to the next, the ultimate answer for every generation is the same: new hearts that love God and love others with genuine love, new hearts that are only born through personal faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work on our behalf, new hearts anchored to a living hope.
Until we have this answer, all the other answers will fall short.
I put a little ointment on my son’s bruise and whispered a prayer to God that as my kids continue to grow up in this chaotic world, they will choose love.