I regularly volunteer to work with children at my church and in a Christian youth program called Awana. At times I wonder why. Children can be absolute brats: rude, not listening to directions, and selfish. At times it gets so frustrating that I have to stop, step back, and remember why I bother “wasting” time with children.
So many things clamor for the attention of a child. At school they find they have to be “cool” or else be mercilessly teased. Television ads convince them their lives aren’t complete until they have the newest toy. Children have many negative influences—at a time of life when their lives are being shaped. They need positive influences. Children need to be taught about honesty, selflessness, kindness, and patience. Growing up does not follow a paved highway—it is a long hike through a dense forest. I can be the guide to help them find their way.
So when I sit in Awana each week, surrounded by adoring 3 and 4 year old children, I take every opportunity to be the best influence I can be for those children. I make a point of being a friend to them. I don’t treat them like children—I treat them as equals.
I have the opportunity to teach these children. They look up to me, and follow my example. They listen because they know I care. Recently I took one little girl aside who kept playing with the lightswitch, despite having been told not to more times than I can count. I explained that following the rules was important because there is a reason for all the rules, even if she didn’t know it. I asked if she had noticed that one of the boys was afraid of the dark and didn’t like it when she shut the lights off. Of course she hadn’t, but because she sees me as a friend she listens to what I say. She hasn’t touched the lightswitch since.
It is easy to set a good example, and teach young children about life. I tell them it is OK to be unique. I show them the beauty of the world and the excitement of learning, discovering, and creating. I believe children are very important. I believe they need good role models. I have the chance to shape the life of a child. After all, who knows? The little children in my Awana class may someday grow up to be presidents and teachers, scientists and doctors. If I can have a hand in making it happen for them, what better use is there for my time? So the next time little Bobby whacks little Billy for taking his toy, I will just smile and remind myself that I am not wasting my time with them—I am helping raise the next generation of leaders.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.