If we’re being honest, we all struggle from time to time with being genuinely happy for others. Yet as Christian parents, we are called not only to love and celebrate others, but to model this behavior to our children. In this article, Heather Wagner shows us that God can empower us through His Spirit to love our neighbors whether we feel like it or not, and shares practical ways we can teach our children how to be happy for others through digging into the Word, providing practical opportunities, listening well, and growing in grace.
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Some friends of mine took an amazing trip to Israel last summer.
They’d worked hard for years to make it possible, and when the time came for them to hop on that plane, I was happy to see their dream coming true. For the next 12 days, they’d relax, explore, and visit an itinerary full of historical sites. I was looking forward to hearing all about the things they saw and experienced, but as my Instagram feed flooded with pictures of the trip in-progress, a shadow crept into my heart.
Hello there, Envy.
When Jealousy Knocks
I didn’t mind that my friends were enjoying their time in the Holy Land. But I wanted to walk where Jesus walked, too. I wanted to dip my toes in the Jordan River, too. I wanted to taste the cuisine, meet new people, and make memories with my family… too.
Half-way through the 312 pictures a member of their group posted on Facebook, I realized my negative thoughts were taking me in a direction I didn’t want to go. I logged-out of my social media accounts, and uninstalled those apps on my phone.
To work through my feelings and be genuinely happy for my friends, I had to get my heart right and focus on how to be happy for others—with some help from Jesus.
WHY SHOULD I BE HAPPY FOR OTHERS?
In Mark 12:31 Jesus says: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” and one of the ways we walk out that commandment is by acknowledging and celebrating the positive things God sends into the lives of our friends and neighbors.
When we, “Rejoice with those who rejoice…” (Romans 12:15), we’re taking advantage of an opportunity to build others up (Ephesians 4:29), to spur them onto good works (Hebrews 10:24-25), and to refuse to withhold good from those who deserve it (Proverbs 3:27).
Does showing up and celebrating others really matter? Yes, it does.
Celebrating Others Matters
Before the last football game of the season, all the seniors lined up on the sidelines with their families.The guys presented their moms with flowers, took pictures, and walked out to the 50-yard-line. In the middle of the field, one player stood by himself holding a single rose for his mother who didn’t show up.
It breaks my heart to picture him standing embarrassed and alone through what was supposed to be a celebration of years of dedication and hardwork. What happened that night left a wound that took years to heal. I know because I married him. God redeemed that hurt, and gave our kids one of the loudest, proudest daddies on the planet. Have you had an experience in your own life that shaped the way you love others, too?
Although it may feel more natural for us to comfort those who are grieving, we can come alongside others in their joy as well. Being happy for others builds bridges and grows relationships. It fosters joy, sparks hope, and supports the development of authentic community.
TEACH CHILDREN TO BE HAPPY FOR OTHERS: A FIRM FOUNDATION
As Christian parents, we want to see our children become secure enough in their identity in Christ to be big cheerleaders for those inside their sphere of influence. We pray our kids develop such a big view of their Heavenly Father that they’re not threatened or discouraged by the giftings, abilities, or accomplishments of others.
But we also know that being happy for others can be hard.
So we step into this space not as experts on how to be happy for others, but as people who have traveled just a little farther on this path. We speak to our kids gently as parents who can openly admit that we’ve stumbled in our anger, wrestled with our confusion, and cried out to God when someone was recognized or rewarded when we didn’t think they deserved it.
LOVING OTHERS WELL: A WALKABOUT IN THE WORD
As we encourage our children to be happy for other people, it’s helpful to spend time digging deeper into the accounts of the people in the Bible who also struggled with the flesh-driven temptation to run, pout, or rebel when others were blessed by God.
When we read about the gracious way God interacts with them, guides their steps, and redeems their stories, it gives us a better understanding of His character, and serves as a fantastic model for us to follow as we lead our children toward a better understanding of who God is and why He’s worthy of our trust.
Looking to Scripture
It’s comforting when God brings us to the right Scripture at the right time, and we can rely on Him to do the same thing for our children. As they lean into being happy for other people, we can reflect together on these stories, and let them see their feelings clearly reflected on its pages.
Feeling a little jealous? Let’s read about Joseph’s brothers in Genesis.
Angry that someone undeserving is being blessed? Go check out Jonah 4.
Worried your friends are making out better than you? See what Jesus told Peter in John 21:22.
Feeling all the feelings? Meet the older brother of the prodigal son in Luke 15.
When the Father provides a teachable moment to talk with our kids about being happy for other people, we can meet them where they are and move forward with humility and compassion. And while they’re developing the ability to celebrate others, we can help them practice.
GIVING OUR KIDS OPPORTUNITIES TO GROW
As parents, we’re all about providing opportunities for our children.
Whether they want to play an instrument, try out for a team, audition for a play, ace the SATs, or win a hotdog-eating contest, we’ll gladly rearrange our schedules or pick up extra shifts at work to give our kids the tools and practice they need to grow in an area of their interest. When they struggle, we tell them to keep trying because they’ll get better with practice. Since celebrating others doesn’t always come naturally, we can provide opportunities to grow in that way, too.
Is your neighbor involved in theater? Get tickets for opening night.
Are you going to a friend’s baby shower? Invite your kids along to help pick out a gift.
Do they need help decorating the fellowship hall for a holiday or event? Volunteer together.
Invite them In
Inviting our children to actively participate in the ways we’re celebrating those in our community, helps build positive experiences around being happy for others. If our kids are young, it allows them to see and feel first-hand the joy and fulfillment that’s found in loving our neighbors in this way, and helps them be happy for people, too.
It’s also great for our older kids.
The Importance of Authentic Celebration
Under normal circumstances, our friends aren’t competing with our teens for a spot on a team, or a seat around the right cafeteria table. Therefore, bringing our teens along as we love our friends and neighbors provides a healthy, non-threatening environment where they’re safe, welcome, and surrounded by people who can genuinely be happy for others’ success and accomplishments.
Maybe they’ll keep to themselves and hide behind their phones, but we could look up and see them serving at the snack table, or playing ball with the littles. Either way, it invites them into a space where celebrating others is authentic and not transactional.
The Gift of Showing Up
In many ways, rejoicing with those who rejoice is about showing up. So we need to let our kids see us showing up and celebrating our people. And when doing so is a bit of a challenge, we can lean into being more open about it.
Such honesty might sound something like:
“You know what? After working a 12-hour shift, I’d rather go to bed than go to a wedding, but I love Will and Rosa, so I’m off to get ready.”
“I don’t particularly like football, but my friends’ sons are playing in the big game. I want to be there to celebrate with them and to cheer for their boys.”
The truth is, sometimes loving people well isn’t easy or convenient. When we’re honest about our struggles in this area, it encourages our kids to be honest about theirs, too.
THE ART OF LISTENING TO OUR CHILDREN WELL
Another way to teach children to be happy for others is by holding space for vulnerable conversations about why doing so can be difficult. Instead of minimizing their feelings, or making our teens feel as though this is just another area in which they’re falling short, we can choose to make our homes safe places for real talk. This takes intention, vulnerability, and time.
For a million different reasons, this isn’t easy. But for a million more, it’s worth it.
There are times when our childrens’ first reaction to someone else’s good news isn’t one they’re proud of having. We get that, and we’ve been there. But it’s up to us to let our kids know that we are not here to play the shame game.
We’re here to listen, to talk, to pray, and to stay.
Truly, sometimes our kids want to talk with us, but they lack the language they need to name the big feelings they’re experiencing. When this happens, the conversation can get a little wobbly.
This could be the moment where your daughter yells, “Oh my gosh. NEVERMIND Mom!” And you find yourself awkwardly sitting in silence for a minute while you seriously consider disengaging and scampering away before you say the wrong thing. Don’t ask me how I know this.
Perhaps you’re thinking that would be the perfect time to take a break and calm things down with some box-breathing exercises, and I would agree with you, friend. But you know what? Sometimes this is where our sons and daughters need us to be brave and go first.
Show Your Imperfections
Our ultra-competitive, scarcity-driven culture puts an insane amount of pressure on our kids and wrecks havoc on their mental health. The day-to-day expectations they carry to perform well academically, shine in extra-curriculars, and solidify their space in the social arena is exhausting. So when they come to us feeling sad or with heavy hearts, sharing our own struggles encourages our children to be open and honest with us, too. Like a lighthouse that leads to safe harbor, our honesty says, “I’m not perfect, and I’m not expecting you to be perfect, either.”
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that we sit down with our children and give them a run-down of all our mistakes, I’m talking about being open to sharing a specific incident that relates to the current struggle they’re facing in this area.
Depending on the child’s age and development, this might sound different.
A few Examples
I’ve struggled with negative thoughts that made it hard for me to celebrate others’ success.
I’ve fallen into flattery instead of letting an honest compliment stand on its own.
Or maybe, I’ve clapped for a friend, or liked a social media post, because it would look bad if I didn’t.
I’ve withheld a genuine compliment because I wasn’t particularly close to an individual.
And I’ve been angry with someone for receiving something I didn’t think they deserved. And then I felt guilty for being mad about it.
Sharing in this way can be a little scary, but it serves as an invitation for our kids to come a little closer and share a little more. Over time, the investment of honesty yields good fruit and helps establish a level of trust in the relationships we’re building with our kids.
GIVE YOURSELF SOME GRACE
Loving others in word and deed isn’t easy for anyone because it requires us to act from a place of humility. When we teach our children to be genuinely happy for their friends and neighbors, we’re asking them to put aside their self-preoccupation and spend their time, resources, and energy on celebrating someone else. That’s a tall order for a young person who’s frontal cortex isn’t fully developed.
So as we walk alongside our children and they learn to rejoice with those who rejoice, we should do so with the utmost gentleness and compassion. It’s hard work, and it’s heartwork, and many of us still struggle in this area on a regular basis.
Lean on the Lord
Thankfully, when God calls us to do something, He equips us for it. In our own strength, it’s impossible. But God can empower us through His Spirit to love our neighbors whether we feel like it or not.
So let’s invite our children to join us in our ongoing commitment to growing in grace, on a journey where God will grow us and refine us for His purposes. When we choose to love others out of our love for God and a desire to be obedient to His plan, great things happen. We won’t do it perfectly, and neither will our kids. Thankfully, He’s not after perfection; He’s after our hearts.
15 SIMPLE WAYS TO ADD JOY TO YOUR DAY IN LESS THAN AN HOUR
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