We had some unexpected visitors for dinner last night. My next-door neighbor sliced her hand open and had to go to the emergency room to get some stitches, so her three girls spent the evening at our house. Our girls are all close friends, so the girls all thought it was an unexpected party. When she got home from the ER, my neighbor told me about a woman that she had seen there. The mom had brought her middle child in because he had hit his head. She had two other children with her as well, one in a stroller.
My neighbor and I were talking about how glad we were that we had each other to depend on in situations like this one. However, my neighbor made the point that a couple of years ago, she might have been in the same situation as that mom at the ER tonight, with no one to call for help. That's a tough place to be as a parent. No matter where you live or how close your family lives to you, you need to cultivate friendships where you can call someone in the middle of the night for help. I'm blessed to have several friendships like that and even more blessed that some of them live in my neighborhood.
Friendships like these model the description of friendship found in our verse for this week, John 15:13, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." We're not often called to actually give up our physical lives for our friends, but laying down our lives may mean changing our plans to accommodate an unexpected crisis in a friends' life or even just taking the time to listen when your friend needs a sympathetic ear. Whatever it is, the joy you'll find in laying down your life for a friend is unmatched. And the relationship that forms when you do is much deeper than the superficial level we sometimes mistake for friendship.
Begin teaching this precept to your kids when they begin making friends. Teach them to put others first, and show them the rewards of "laying down" their lives for their friends.
- Give your kids three pieces of paper with the following words written on them, one on each piece of paper: Jesus, Others, Self. Ask your kids to put the papers in order of importance. The correct order is Jesus, Others, Self. If your children get the order correct, ask them to explain why they should put others before themselves. If they did not get the order correct, help them put the words in the correct order and talk about why Jesus and Others should be above ourselves.
- Have your child think about one of their good friends. Ask her what makes that friend a good friend. Make a list of the qualities found in a good friend. Ask your child to think about whether she is an example of those qualities. Talk about situations where her friends might need her to be a good friend. Talk about what she might do in those situations. For example, you might ask her what she would do if someone was mean to her friend and her friend was upset. Or ask her what she would do if she had plans to go to the movies with another friend and her friend was upset because her grandmother had died unexpectedly. The point is to make your child realize that being a good friend sometimes requires us to be inconvenienced to help another person. In those cases, our attitude is everything to our friends.
- When your child puts his friends first, be sure to ask him how it made him feel to help his friend out. Point out that despite the inconvenience to your child's schedule, helping a friend nearly always leads to a more meaningful friendship because that friend knows that he can count on your child. In laying down his life for his friend, your child has been a picture of Jesus to his friend.
Remember that the best way to teach your kids about friendship is to model a good friendship for them. If you don't have close friends for whom you are willing to lay down your life, convincing your children to lay down their lives for their friends will be a difficult task.