Finding Compassion at a Stoplight

Written by Tera Michelson

As a parent of three active kids, I spend a lot of time in our minivan. It’s messy, cluttered with straw wrappers and stained with muddy shoe prints and spills. Life happens in that van.

It was a day that started like most of our days. We were strapped into our seatbelts, waiting, waiting and more waiting at the longest stoplight in America. You know the one—it’s just like the tortuous stoplight that is situated between you and your most frequent destination.

Although we lived just a short drive from the preschool, it felt like we were always stopped at this particular red light, often when we were running late. This morning had been a doozy, a cheerios-spilled-down-the-heating-vent and a soiled-diaper-just-as-we-put-on-our-coats kind of morning. We were firing on all cylinders to bust through the doors of the preschool on time.

When the light finally changed to green, the driver in front of us hesitated, then slowly puttered ahead, way below the speed limit and way below my expectations.

I raised my hands to the sky and cried out in frustration, “C’mon, Grandma!”

At these words, my preschooler perked up in her car seat and looked hopefully at the car ahead of us.

“Ooooh, is that Grandma? Does she have a new car? I didn’t know Grandma was coming! Is she coming to school with us?” she asked, her voice quivering with emotion.

She was hoping to catch a glimpse of her favorite person in the world, her Grandmother. Grandma lived several states away and it was a treat to see and spend time with her. The joy was bubbling from my girl at the prospect of seeing her precious Grandma.

She was right—to someone, that driver was most certainly special. She was a friend and neighbor. She may have been an adored wife, mother, or yes, even an actual Grandma. She was a beloved child of God.

My quick and cruel insult became a moment of clarity and mercy when viewed through my daughter’s eyes of compassion. You see, in the name of maturity and experience, we’d rather be known as clever than compassionate. Sweet is out; sarcasm is in. Cruelty steals compassion.

Compassion comes naturally to children. It’s the reason they reach out with their sticky fingers to touch our faces when we cry and bend to gently kiss our boo-boos when we are hurt. Fresh from God, our children lead us to respond with kindness, to offer grace and view and treat the world with tender care.

Our minivan was both church and school that day. Jesus showed up, meeting me at the busy intersection of Frustration and Indifference, reminding me that everyone is precious when we see with the compassionate eyes of God.

The little voice of my compassionate four-year-old taught me that we are all just a twist of perspective away from loving each other the way we were intended to, the way Jesus teaches and leads us.

Listen for the voice of God that is sometimes disguised as the little voices of our children, speaking truth and hope into our lives, inviting us to compassion.

TERA MICHELSON is a writer, photographer, teacher, super-volunteer, mama and wife—not necessarily in that order. When she is not driving a carpool, you will find her baking cupcakes, walking a scruffy dog named Otto or attending a meeting at church or the local school. Tera enjoys thinking and sharing about family faith-building in a complicated world. She lives in a hilly suburb of Cincinnati, OH, with her pastor husband and three teenaged children.

The Values Project is a year-long initiative designed to equip families to raise children who thrive emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Get inspiration, practical ideas, family activities, and parenting tips from our network of seasoned parents and faith leaders, because it takes a village to raise a good human. Each month we’ll explore a different value–like honesty, loyalty, creativity, kindness, and more.

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