How comfortable are you taking your kids to the hard places? By hard places, I mean those places where poverty and brokenness are rampant, the places where pain and suffering abound. Perhaps it’s a particular part of town, a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter, the food pantry, a hospital, your local nursing home, or even a mission trip to a difficult part of the world. Truth be told, it’s probably not our first instinct to take them there or to do anything that might put them in harm’s way.

I’m not suggesting that we need to throw caution to the wind and be reckless with our kids. But I am suggesting that there is value in exposing them to the brokenness of the world and letting them get a real look at what it’s like for those who are oppressed or suffering. Their age and maturity will probably dictate a lot about the situations you expose them to. A small child and a teenager can handle different things. But I suspect that our kids can handle, and need to handle, a bit more than we might think. Of course, you want to be careful to do everything you can to protect them. But, there is much value in helping them see the more difficult and hard places of the world. Let me mention just a few reasons why this is helpful for our kids.

  1. It helps them to see the difference between good and evil. We have to remember that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities and against powers” (Eph. 6:12). As Paul reminds, the battle of this world is spiritual in nature. Nothing makes this clearer than the hardest places of this world. Taking our kids there helps them to see it for themselves.
  1. It teaches them gratitude and thankfulness. It is very hard for any person, including kids, to think about their next material possession when they look poverty in the face. Letting children see the difficult and broken things of this world gives them a better sense of gratitude about their own life. It pushes them away from selfishness and often makes them grateful.
  1. It nurtures their concern for other people. Sure children can be selfish, but when exposed to brokenness and poverty, they often respond by thinking about what they can do to help. Seeing poverty and brokenness has the ability to transform the most selfish child into a selfless child. And since this is such a formative time, the long term impact of this is huge.
  1. It causes them to think about the impact of their own lives. Seeing poverty and brokenness causes children to begin thinking about how their own lives might be used to make a difference in such a world. They begin to think about what they want to do when they grow up and how that could be used to help those who suffer.
  1. It increases the likelihood of them praying. So many of the cases of poverty and brokenness are gripping. In many cases, we see the problems and are overwhelmed by them, so much so that we know of nothing else to do other than pray. This might not feel like much at the time, but we must remember that this is a vital part of God using us to make a difference. If this is true for us, wouldn’t it also be true for our children? Letting them see the broken world creates the same burdens in their hearts and gives them a true sense of dependence on God. That’s a pretty good thing!
  1. It follows the example of Christ. Most importantly, by taking them to the hard places, we follow the example of Jesus. I’m struck by something that I didn’t see in the Bible during my first years of being a Christian. As I read back through the gospels again and again, I’m struck by how clear it is that Jesus’ eye is so consistently set on the poor, the outcast, the marginalized, and the sick. He loved them. He cared for them. He helped them. He was burdened for them. I can’t honestly say I’m following Him if the same is not true of me. And, I certainly can’t think that I’m discipling my kids if I’m not doing the same.

As we pray for opportunities to show our kids the hard places, may we all be stretched to see the world the way Christ sees it. And then, let’s learn to respond to it the way He did too!