For the last few weeks, George Floyd’s voice saying “I can’t breathe” has been playing on loop in my head. It haunts me. I hear the pain and fear in his words. Then this week I drove through my small town and heard a group of black and Latinx teenagers peacefully protesting Floyd’s death by chanting these same words. My heart broke in new ways. When we listen – really listen – to the hurts and experiences of one another, we can respond with the compassion and advocacy of Christ. Being able to take the perspectives of others grows over time. Depending on your child’s age and stage of development, this activity may be an introduction to active listening or may move him/her/them along the continuum.
Begin the time with your children by playing a modified version of 20 Questions. Pick a person familiar to your children (like a relative or a friend) and assume his/her/their persona. Have the kids ask you questions about yourself and answer them as if you are that person. You may even want to use a voice or gestures similar to that person. Continue until the children guess whose persona you have taken on. When you’ve finished the game, talk about how the kids figured out who you were pretending to be. Be sure to draw out the idea that they had to listen carefully and notice the particular words that you used to understand who you were imitating.
Next, read aloud one or more of these passages from the Bible. Each story features God listening to people and responding with compassion and/or advocacy. Choose whichever stories you think will resonate the most with your children.
- Exodus 17:1-7. While wandering in the wilderness with Moses, the Israelites complain that they have no water to drink. God hears their protests and provides water despite the way they go about asking for it.
- Mark 10:46-52. A blind man named Bartimaeus approaches Jesus as he is leaving Jericho and asks Jesus to have mercy on him. The disciples try to silence Bartimaeus, but Jesus listens to him and responds to his request by healing him.
- Luke 24:15-27. On the road to Emmaus, the risen Jesus walks alongside two of his disciples, listening patiently as they grapple with the meaning of his death. He then reveals himself to them, revealing the healing and hopeful message of his resurrection.
After reading one or more of these stories, discuss with your children how God listened to the people sharing their hurts. Then talk about how God responded to their stories. Note the compassion and action that was taken to help heal those hurts.
If you’d like to extend the lesson to help your children connect God’s active listening and response to the hurts of God’s people, consider implementing one of these activities:
- Search online for videos of people in your community or state talking about something that is hurting them right now. (It may take a bit of time to find a video that is age appropriate and you may need to provide some context for your children.) Watch the video with your children asking them to listen carefully to what the people are telling us. Discuss what they heard and how it makes them feel. Then talk about ways your family can respond with compassion and healing.
- Research online and in-person events happening in your area highlighting struggles people are facing. Attend one with your children and talk about what they see and hear within the context of the Bible stories you shared with them.
JOELLE BRUMMIT-YALE is the director of children’s and youth ministries at Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. When not at the church, she can usually be found at home with her son and husband caring for their many animals and developing their family homestead.