What toys you play with at your school?

This is an advanced copy of a post soon to be published on Enthused! the blog of the Candler School of Theology

The other night, my three year-old son, Carter, and I were playing with puzzles. I asked him if he had fun at school that day, my standard question for his 3K program. He said yes, elaborating to talk of the puzzles, the yard games, and the friends with whom he had played. His face then turned inquisitive and he said to me in his preschooler English, “Daddy, what toys you play with at your school?”

My answer: books. Carter lit up. He loves books! His twin sized mattress has a space carved out for his small body to sleep; it’s otherwise covered by books scattered across the bedsheets. Carter understands that dad is in school, too, that dad is learning just like he is, even if he has little conception of the ethnographic research methods and practical theology of my current studies. He demonstrates an empathy for my labor as a student, for he knows something himself of what it means to be a learner.

That kind of empathic learning has characterized our current season of life as a family of four. We are all students, a commonality that has proven instructive in our ability to understand each other. Carter understands when I have to go read for school because we ask him to practice singing his ABCs for his homework. Our third-grader Jackson, understands what it means for his mom to have to go to the guest room for a few hours to work on her graduate studies because he spends time each night working on multiplication tables and studying the Age of Exploration. There’s a powerful mutuality, an empathy, among the four of us that has emerged during this season of schooling.

I first saw the light of empathy come through in Jackson as I picked him up from school one day. In my little car, I had my iPad resting on top of the gearshift and parking brake as I crept along in the carpool line. As he entered the car, he noticed the iPad and pile of text on the page. I was reading for class, and as I explained to Jackson that I was doing my own version of homework, his eyes demonstrated the connection of empathy; he understood what it is to walk in my shoes.

Empathy is just that, seeking to understand life as experienced by another. To suffer with someone suffering, to struggle with someone struggling, to face fear and danger together with another; to experience life as our neighbor experiences life. In a marriage, if we can understand the world through the eyes of our spouse, we deepen the relationship because then we understand why our spouse gets offended when we say a particular thing, or why she needs lots of compliments, or why he is so hard on himself. Instead of deciding we already understand someone, we approach the other with an attitude of not understanding, trying to get into their skin, walk a mile in their shoes, to really understand what life is like for them and what makes them tick.

When Jesus asks us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31), I think of that love as empathy. We might think of the golden rule as going from us to them: I do this for me so I should do it for them. But empathy asks that the golden rule be considered in the other direction: them to us. What’s it like for them to live life and how would I treat myself if I was going through the same thing? Whatever the answer is to that question, that’s the way to treat that person.

Such is what I see in my children. They understand what its like for my wife and I to be in school: the demands, the pressures on our time, the stress. In that understanding, they grant us grace when stress gets the better of us, they offer space when we have to take time apart, and they seek to deepen their understandings by asking questions like “what toys you play with at your school?”

In doing so, they have inspired Dana and I to increase our empathy for when their learning causes them stress, or takes up more time than expected, or otherwise proves burdensome. Our empathy has increased for we are in the midst of the same demands, pressures, and challenges. We’re all having to ask ourselves the golden rule understood as them to us in order navigate all being in school together. But such a challenge has proven to be a gift. In this season of much schooling, of much hustle and bustle, we are grateful for the challenge and for the witness of our children, for in understanding what life is like in each others’ shoes, we find we are walking the journey of life more closely together.

Brief Family Biography
The Goshorn family currently resides in Eastman, Georgia, a small town of about 4500 an hour southeast of Macon. Ted serves as pastor of Eastman First United Methodist Church (eastmanfirst.com), Dana teaches fifth grade math at Bleckley County Elementary School, Jackson attends third grade at the same school, and Carter goes to 3K at Lolly’s Pre-K and Child Care Center. Dana is pursuing a Master of Education degree from Columbus State University in Teacher Leadership. Ted is enrolled at Candler pursuing the Doctor of Ministry degree with a focus on Biblical Interpretation and Proclamation. Together, they love hikes of all kinds, the Nintendo Switch, and pizza. Ted is a sometimes blogger at tedgoshorn.com.

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