My childhood was awesome. I spent a substantial part of my childhood in rural Indiana, with a large backyard and a wild pack of older brothers. My most vivid childhood memories involve the joy of being small—hiding in our ramshackle fortresses during Nerf gun fights, wandering through cornfield mazes behind our house, crawling into cabinets during hide-and-seek. Perhaps some of my favorite memories include our “water wars”. We would break into teams, and arm ourselves with Super Soakers and water balloons. It was the perfect cure for an impossibly hot summer day, and gave my mother some relief as we entertained and exhausted ourselves.
These were the memories I longed for most when I became an adult. My brothers and I had grown up, gone to college, and started our own lives when I first felt this tremendous heartache for what we had lost. Our childhood was gone and it was never going to come back. One day as I sat with my morning coffee and reminisced, I began to cry. I called my oldest brother and lamented, “We’re never going to have another water war!” I paused and recognized how silly I sounded as I, a grown woman, cried over the absence of Super Soakers. But then my brother consoled me. “I know,” he said, “Isn’t it horrible? I have grieved the loss of our childhood, too. I think it’s normal. Everyone grieves the loss of their own innocence—especially in this crazy and sometimes dangerous world we’re in. We should just be thankful for the childhood we had.”
I have revisited that conversation many times in recent years, particularly in the wake of recent events. As the outpouring of our hate and fear surprises us once again and violence has claimed more innocent lives, I pause to reflect on the loss of childhood—not the loss of yours or mine, but rather the unjust and untimely loss of childhood for many in our country. You see, my childhood was safe and fun, and has been forever preserved in idealized memories. The only combat I ever witnessed was in a water war. It is quite sobering, and even indicting, to consider how many children in our country have lost their innocence as a result of violence. My mother warned me not to fall from our tree house in our backyard; some mothers were just trying to figure out how to warn their children about walking on the sidewalk, putting their hands up, or even breathing.
This week I am thinking of all the children who had a parent ripped from them at the hands of violence. There are black children longing for their dad, while they wonder if they will be next. There are children of law enforcers whose worst fears have been realized. These kids will not recall a simple childhood. Instead, they will grow up knowing hate in the most visceral way. They will remember their childhoods being wrecked by racism. They will grow up knowing a country that failed them every time racism was ignored.
So what can we do? First, we can grieve with these children, even from afar. We can recognize the injustice they have experienced, and we can render our hearts to them. But what else can we do? I believe Christians are in a unique position to help shape future generations. Not only is the instruction of children a resounding theme throughout the Old Testament, but also Jesus welcomed and prioritized children. We are called to carefully tend to the younger generations. Presently, many of our children are absorbing messages of fear and anger. If nobody intervenes, these children could easily grow up to repeat history. We must tend to our children while they are young, acclimating them to diverse communities, and rightfully scolding the acts of violence we have witnessed. Take hold of these teachable moments so that our children do not succumb to our sins.
Instructing our children against racism may require quite a bit of work on our part. In order to teach our children, we will have to hold ourselves accountable. We will have to lead by example. We must demonstrate for our children what it looks like for people of all colors and backgrounds to love one another. We will have to demonstrate lives of humility, service, and empathy. We must teach our children to lay their lives down for one another. We must demonstrate patient listening, wholehearted understanding, and non-violent engagement.
How can we teach them these things when we ourselves continue to engage in fruitless arguments? How will we teach them non-violence when we continuously uphold our own personal safety over all other lives? How will we teach them empathy when we allow our televisions to spew hateful trash into our homes every day? This one is for the kids, so that they have a chance to become what we could not. Let us help them become a generation of peace. Let us equip them to end this madness.