How a verse in Jeremiah opened a fruitful conversation about justice with my kids.
As the war has raged on in Ukraine my husband and I have seen an opportunity to teach our kids to pray in different ways- ways that challenge them to think beyond themselves and to even engage with the pain of the world.
Recently I took it a step further and preceded our prayer time with reading Jeremiah 22:3. Actually, my seven-year-old read it for us:
“The Lord proclaims: Do what is just and right; rescue the oppressed from the power of the oppressor. Don’t exploit or mistreat the refugee, the orphan, and the widow. Don’t spill the blood of the innocent in this place.” (Common English Bible)
“What do you guys think ‘oppressed’ means?” I asked.
“Well, probably like your pressing down on something” my daughter responded.
“Totally.” I grabbed a little piece of popcorn off the floor and set it down in front of me. “Oppression means someone who is strong is using their power to hurt and crush someone else.” I picked up my foot and stomped on the popcorn. “Right now, my foot is the oppressor and the popcorn is the oppressed.”
“Oh! Like when Aden’s brother hits my head at school!” my son chimed in.
“Yes, that is something that hurts. But usually we use ‘oppress’ to talk about big hurts. Right now, Russia is an oppressor. And Ukraine is the oppressed. Russia is using their power to hurt Ukraine, and its wrong. It’s something that humans have been doing for thousands of years and something that God makes clear he hates. He wants us to stand up for the oppressed.”
My son jumped up suddenly and ran to his desk. “I’m getting a highlighter!” he shouted. “I need to highlight oppressed, it’s a very important word!”
It’s a very important word.
He got totally got it! He not only understood the definition of the word, but also grasped that it carried weight. He knew he wanted to remember it. Seeing him internalize and respond in that way was achingly beautiful- one of the rawest moments of pride I’ve had as a parent.
My daughter turned to me and said, “I just wish the war wasn’t happening, it’s freaking me out.” Which is her way of saying she wants it to stop- or that she just wanted to stop talking about it. I tried to help her name that emotion and be ok with the discomfort of grief. “It’s not happy to think about the war, but God likes it when we are sad for other people and want to help them. It shows that we are becoming more like him.”
But, sitting with them in their room, I saw how effortlessly soft my kids’ hearts were towards justice and suffering. They weren’t burdened by negative labels like “social gospel” or “liberal agenda,” they could see from the Bible how important it was to God. And they took that importance to heart.
Our response that night was to pray using the language of “oppressed/oppressor” as well as “widows, orphans, innocent, etc.” Earlier in the month we responded by using our fast-food budget to send books to Ukrainian orphans in Poland. As the war and its devastation continues, we will continue to help the kids build their understanding of and compassion for what is happening.
Kids’ hearts are soft towards so many things. Calling them early on to recognize the pain and suffering of the world and how God would have them respond is not a vain effort. I can see it bearing fruit in my family’s life and I rejoice in that. It convicts and compels my own heart as well. Keep learning, keep submitting to humbling experiences, keep engaging.