If you are aware of anything that has happened in the news lately, the world seems to be more divided and violent than it has in recent years. You may have had some discussions with your students about how God wants us to treat others.
What you may not know is that brain science has revealed what we normally do in an effort to create empathy can actually do the opposite. We spend a lot of time in many empathy activities emphasizing the differences between our students and others.
While that may be interesting and educational, it can also have a negative byproduct. Emphasizing differences can widen the perceived emotional distance between your students and the others about whom you are teaching them. If that distance becomes too great, brain science has shown our brains will dehumanize those people. In Christian language, it removes their souls and allows us to act towards them in unChristian ways and even refuse to share the Gospel with them.
There is a better and more fun way to help your students develop godly empathy for others. It will take a little extra work on your part, but the results could be life changing for your students.
If possible find a group of children nearby, who are the same age as your students. Make the first experience be with another group of Christian kids if possible. Find children who may come from different economic backgrounds or different racial or ethnic backgrounds. Contact your counterpart and see if they are up for a joint activity.
Bring the groups together. Talk about Jonathan and David. Jonathan should have been the crown prince who succeeded King Saul as the next King of Israel. Yet, God had declared David would be the next King. In the customs of the times, Jonathan should have had David murdered to ensure his own rise to power. Instead, Jonathan became David’s best friend. (David later returned the favor with Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth. David should have murdered him according to the customs of the time, but brought him into the castle and treated him as a family member.)
Explain the brain research we discussed earlier to your students. Share scriptures that explain God does not want us to have that emotional distance with others. He wants us to love even our enemies and share the Gospel so they can go to Heaven one day.
Ask students to brainstorm ways they can feel closer to each other. Encourage them to pair up and ask questions to discover things they have in common. Encourage them to share about life in their homes and schools with each other.
You should try and extend the experience by having opportunities for kids from one group to teach the kids from the other group something and then switch roles. Have the groups work together to plan and execute a project that serves others and allows them to teach others about God.
Building emotional bridges and teaching students how to feel and show true godly empathy and love will take some extra effort on your part. The results though can be life changing for the students and your community.