Friday, September 13, 2019

Teaching Children Sensitivity Towards God's Creation

This is my Father's world;
The birds their carols raise
The morning light, the lily white
Declare their Maker's praise.



We were supposed to re-model our dining room late this spring and into the early summer. We live in a very old farmhouse and many of the rooms need to be refreshed and repaired. I had been waiting to tackle this particular project because of the extensive work that was involved. We needed new windows and a new back door as well as re-insulating the walls and "gutting out" all of the old horsehair plaster that had been there previously. The south side of the room needed to be completely re-insulated and vinyl-sided on the outside of the house where vines had been growing against bare wood. The room is freezing in the winter (and the winter is cold to put it mildly ;-)) here in the upper Midwest. My husband gutted the room with a local Amish boy who helped him. They removed so much debris from the room~~we carted it off to the dump, burned what we could, and vacuumed  from top to bottom. I was increasingly excited about finally finishing this room~~our home is intended to be a place of hospitality and this was the room that I needed to complete before I could really have families over on a regular basis. 

We were planning on having the Amish company that my brother in law works for part time finish the job. The room was completely gutted and ready! And I was excited~~we called them and they agreed to come for the next two days (it was just before their really busy season and they could squeeze us in and spare a few of their men)~~the Amish do things incredibly efficiently and quickly~~we had almost all of the materials and we were ready~~

And then I went outside. 

It was a warm day and I walked around the house where we have a trellis that holds the vines that previously grew against the house. The trellis sits literally almost right next to the house and we have been training the vines onto it for the hummingbirds. 

There was a nest~~right up against the house~~exactly where the old windows would need to be torn out and replaced and the vinyl siding put on. Oh no! I thought and then immediately hoped that there were no birds in it~~The Amish are willing to come tomorrow! I had just about all of the materials at that point~~my husband was going to run to the hardware store for the remainder of things that we needed before they began the job in the morning~~ but a nest! Right where they would need to work~~right there--a nest!

Oh no. My heart sank. I thought and paced; I eventually looked closer at the nest~~a little head popped out. 

A sweet little chipping sparrow . . . nesting in my trellis. I knew that she might be on eggs or babies at that point. And I knew in my heart of hearts, even through my disappointment, that I would put off the much-anticipated project. It wasn't worth it to me~~and it didn't make sense to destroy her home so that I could make mine more attractive~~it was more important to wait--to teach my children--who were with me and watching how I would react to this situation-- mercy and compassion towards God's precious creation than to improve our living space. 

It was more important. 


When we make decisions about how we treat the Lord's creation, we say something to our children. Our actions and our words and interactions will send a very clear message to them about how they should in turn treat God's creation~~either with respect and tenderness and compassion, or with ambivalence or roughness and a lack of caring and concern. 

I believe that it is important to teach a child from the time that that child is very young to be sensitive towards God's creation~~towards birds, animals, even insects. I have a clear memory of sitting on our wooden steps in Rhode Island while my mom gardened nearby. I must have been about 3 years old. A bumblebee landed next to me. My mom read my sisters and I many, many books when we were little, and a great deal of them focused on sweet little friendly creatures such as this bumblebee. Innocently, I reached out my hand to pet the bumblebee that I perceived in my childish heart as friendly. It stung me, and I learned a lesson that bumblebees were not the kind of insect one could pet :-) but I write this as an example to show that children can be taught from a very young age to be sensitive towards God's creation. I thought of that bumblebee as a friend--like Babbity Bumble in Beatrix Potter's classic stories; no thought came to me to harm it or to shoo it away. 

Growing up, my Mom's attitude towards birds, animals, and even bugs helped to shape my thinking in this area; as parents, we have this awesome responsibility and opportunity to influence and to shape our children's thinking as well. 


My Mom spoke in a caring, sensitive way towards birds when they were hurt or attacked by a cat. Sometimes we took them in and tried to restore them to life. We fed the birds in our backyard and she banged pans to keep the hawks away when they came. Our elderly dog was treated with kindness and compassion even as she aged and wasn't able to walk down our steps. We carried her up and down the steps for over a year. Toward the end of her life (she was 17 when she died) we took turns sleeping downstairs with her as she would wake up in the night and become disoriented, getting stuck under the chairs near our kitchen table. We slept downstairs with her in order to free her if she got stuck! We took in rabbits, feeding them when they were orphaned and trying to restore them to life. My mom would tell us to kill a bug in the house quickly (she hated to see anything suffer) or to put it outside if it was a cricket or a harmless beetle. We trapped mice in safe traps and then released them far from the house. I learned through all of these things that God's creation was not something to be trampled over or irritated by, but respected and loved and enjoyed and dealt with in a caring rather than a cruel way. There were times when one would need to spray bugs to keep them away from the house, but it was not something that we took pleasure in. My mom even preferred that flies died quickly! She would tell us to make sure that when we swatted them that they were dead--not, as she would put it, "half dead and half alive!" :-) I learned through my Mom's caring, sensitive example, that creation was given to us by God to protect and to cherish. 

I strongly believe that teaching children this kind of sensitivity towards creation will aid them and enable them in other facets of their lives when they relate to people. In fact, I believe that it is integral. 


This doesn't mean in any way that every person needs to be an "animal lover" or a "tree hugger." I believe that the Lord gives different people different personalities and ways that they relate and interact with creation in general, but I do believe that when we become Christians, Christ transforms our hearts to see everything (and especially in some ways) His creation with new eyes and hearts. He opens to us realms and rivers of sensitivity and caring that we never had eyes to see before we knew Christ~~the kind of sensitivity that stops and helps a turtle across a busy street~~the kind of sensitivity that urges us to pet an animal for a few moments longer than we normally would have~~the kind of sensitivity that reaches out with compassion rather than with detachment when we see a bird or an animal suffering and we try to alleviate that suffering in whatever way we can. 

Lately, and throughout my life as a believer, I've been disheartened by the attitudes shown by other believers towards creation. Often, our attitude mirrors the world~~that God's creation is merely something to be trampled over and treated in many ways, with contempt. Our children, observing our behavior towards creation, will pick up and imitate the attitudes that we hold. If we laugh or take it lightly when an animal or a bird is hurt, this says something to our children and speaks about the state of our heart. If we ignore suffering or wink it away in the world, on any level, this speaks to our children about how they should relate to suffering and treat those who are suffering. 



Teaching children to love and to respect and to care for God's creation in a sensitive way encourages thoughtfulness and understanding in other aspects of following the Lord and in their relationship with Jesus Christ. 

How does it do this

Sensitivity towards the weakest members of God's creation encourages understanding towards the weakest members of humanity--the elderly, the infirm, those going through suffering or trials, those disregarded and labeled by society as "worthless," the mentally retarded, the blind, the lame. It nurtures the kind of sensitive attitude toward suffering and pain in the world that mirrors Christ's acceptance, compassion,  and love towards the "least of these." 

Sensitivity towards God's creation teaches children that it is better to preserve and to protect rather than to tear down and to destroy. When we teach children care and protection towards God's creation, this attitude follows into other facets of their lives. We live in an age where all of the foundations and values that we cherish as a nation are crumbling, and an attitude in Christians of preservation and protection and of fighting for what is good and true is so desperately needed. When children learn from a young age that it is important to cherish and to protect~~and that it is worth it to do so, it enables the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ to be poured out through them to His glory. 



Sensitivity towards God's creation teaches children early in their lives to listen to the Lord's quiet, still voice, and to become less distracted by all of the allurements of this passing world. Taking nature walks, pointing out birds and animals and insects to small children and teaching them their names and behaviors opens a child's mind and heart up to the wonders of God's created world around them. Bringing children up in a "quiet" way rather than in a busy, distracted manner will yield benefits for them in terms of their walk with the Lord later in life. A child who grows up connected to the natural world will have less barriers and distractions preventing them from connecting with the Creator of those things. Take walks with your children; point things out to them; demonstrate a sensitivity toward trees, flowers, birds, etc. and then connect all of these things back to their glorious Creator. children will reap the benefits of those actions as they grow and relate to God. 

Recently, my children and husband and I were at a nearby lake swimming. Many tiger swallowtails were flying over the sand and landing periodically on it near the water. All of a sudden, a group of children, probably around 10 years old, ran across the beach hurling handfuls of sand at the butterflies trying to knock them down and to kill them. My kids stared, wide-eyed at the children; we had been talking about how sweet the butterflies were and here these tiny destroyers--who had probably never been taught to do differently (and this is key) blazed across the beach. 


The children continued hunting the butterflies, even after my husband approached them and asked them to stop. They weren't satisfied until one lay dead in the sand. And then they lost interest. 

How sad that these children took delight and pleasure in killing things rather than protecting, appreciating, and preserving the beautiful things of God's creation. How sad that their parents either encouraged this kind of behavior or never taught them to do differently. 

As believers, we have sanctified hearts that can see things differently. We can teach our children to love, preserve, and to protect rather than to destroy. We can teach them by our example; we can teach them through our words. Jesus Christ gives us the power not to be apathetic, ambivalent, and unconcerned even about the little, seemingly insignificant things in life such as these beautiful butterflies. Their little lives point toward the majesty of a Great Creator. His creation should be appreciated, respected, enjoyed--and on a deeper level, preserved, protected, cherished in that it points back to Him. 

May we learn and may we teach our children to be sensitive towards His creation. Remember that our Savior didn't mind the sparrows and swallows nesting in his house--even in His altars. May we have the same mind--and teach it to our children . . . 



Even the sparrow has found a home,

And the swallow a nest for herself,
Where she may lay her young—
Even Your altars, O Lord of hosts,
My King and my God.

Psalm 84:3 NKJV







3 comments:

  1. This is so beautiful! I love the reminder, especially this: "Teaching children to love and to respect and to care for God's creation in a sensitive way encourages thoughtfulness and understanding in other aspects of following the Lord and in their relationship with Jesus Christ."

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  2. I love this! I love animals and my husband and I even spare the lives of bugs. We have had robin's nest on the lights of our porch. I had a special understanding with one Mama robin. I would open our front screen door just a little and tell her, "Mama, I've got to go out." And she would fly from the nest to a tree, so I could start the hose and get back in the house. Then she would take up her position on the nest. It was sweet. Daddy Robin wasn't quite as friendly. I have rescued bees from the bird bath with a stick, even though I am really afraid of bees. I can't watch them struggle when they fall in as they attempt to get a drink. Thanks so much for sharing this! You are right children need to understand this. All of creation is so beautiful and precious!

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  3. Amen, and amen! I raised our daughters to be sensitive to bugs and critters, and now our oldest does the same with her son. People who are sensitive to helpless critters have a larger capacity for being sensitive towards their fellow travelers.

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