Let us form in the heart of the child and the youth the lofty ideal of loving, of preparing oneself to serve and to give oneself to others. Anything else would be an education for selfishness, and we want to escape the selfishness that is precisely the cause of the great malaise of our societies.—Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love
I think most Christians hope the children who are part of our lives will learn to love and serve other people. It may be more difficult to consistently affirm that this matters more to us than having them be popular or successful. But if we want them to grow up loving, then we need to know what this may cost them, and to be prepared to support them.
In her memoir Please Stop Laughing At Me Jodee Blanco tells how she was fairly popular at school until, with her parents’ encouragement, she befriended some special-needs kids who were being bullied. As a result of these friendships Jodee also was taunted, shunned, and sometimes beaten up. Eventually Jodee’s parents took her to a psychiatrist to figure out what was wrong with her, why she wasn’t happy and popular. They expected her to do what was right but weren’t willing to acknowledge the price she had to pay. Her case isn’t that unusual. I’ve heard other kids say that intervening on behalf of people who are being harassed is a sure way of attracting harassment oneself. I’ve heard a lot of adults refuse to acknowledge this.
There is always a price. When we live more simply, trying not to consume more than our share of finite resources, we are distanced from friends who consume more extravagantly. When we acknowledge our faith and try to let it shape our lives we look naïve or foolish to those who are living by a different set of standards.
There is a gift as well as a price. Friendships based on something other than popularity are more likely to lead to real closeness and growth. Living simply and faithfully teaches us strength, competence and integrity and leads us into the joy of God.
We need to acknowledge the value and the price of these gifts to the children in our lives. If we really want them to live faithfully, we also need to follow the call and pay the price ourselves.