During this week of remembrance, I have been very aware of how I have no concept of violence or real difficulty in my life. I am safe, secure, and protected in every way. I am also aware, however, that my security and peace comes not from human accomplishments, but from the victory of Jesus on the cross and the way that he has changed the course of history.
My children have also never experienced violence or war growing up in Canada, and I am thankful for the freedom and safety that they also enjoy. Yet, their play and imagination still often reflect an awareness of conflict and difficulty. From dragons chasing the princess to the general fighting of fictitious enemies, there are unending models of ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’, heroes and villains in the way children play and pretend.
Of course, there is value in teaching our children the concepts of good and evil, and as we’ve been discussing in our current teaching series at The Meeting House, there is a very real and active enemy who is working against us in the world. However, while these truths are significant for our children to understand in age appropriate ways, I am not so sure that the concept of “bad guys” is one I want my children to accept as normative.
I recently had a conversation with a few of my nephews about their Lego game of “Cowboys and Indians.” [Sigh.] Granted, the particular Lego set they were playing with had not really set them up for success in this area, but I know each of their parents have taught them about Jesus’ way of love and I wanted to engage them with those ideas as they played together.
We talked together about why they had characterized certain men as ‘bad’ and what made them the enemy. I asked them how they thought Jesus would want them to respond to someone who was set against them and could their play also reflect these values and goals?
My nephews are sweet boys and I could see their little minds working to balance out the truths they know about who Jesus is and the reality of how they wanted to play with the toys in front of them. It brought to the surface for me questions of how we engage our children to consider Jesus’ way of peace and love as relevant to their world and not just ideas that we talk about at church.
How can we show love to our enemies? How can we be ‘for’ those who are seen as outcasts, unwanted, and unvalued in society? How can we pursue peace by engaging with every person as a beloved child of God? And what does this actually look like for our kids as they learn and process the world through playing and make believe?
Maybe it looks like inviting the mean dragon to join our princess tea party; perhaps he’s angry because he’s lonely. Maybe it means asking the question of why we’re fighting bad guys? Are they our enemies? And if they are, how would Jesus ask us to interact with them? Can we show love and change the way we think about the world around us?
Sometimes, I think it definitely also involves setting our children up with toys that encourage a Christ-like attitude as opposed to ones that make violence desirable or expected. I believe that it is possible to encourage our kids to pursue peace and kindness in their imaginary play. And even more than possible, I think it’s necessary in order to help our children learn the way of love and peace that Jesus calls us to walk in.
My hope and prayer for my own children is that they learn to reflect God’s heart of love in play, and then transfer that to their real life relationships as well. I pray that they will be warriors of love, messengers of peace, and living examples of the truth that Jesus has made a new and wonderful way for us to live.