How do you explain what real love is to a group of children 3-11 years old? This was my dilemma some years ago when I was Primary President in church teaching children. I had a lesson planned, but something just wasn't right. The night before I was supposed to teach, the inspiration came to me. I scrapped the entire lesson and started over.
The children already knew from prior lessons that my father was a very eccentric man. I often used my father's life stories to demonstrate a principle, and they seemed to love hearing about this strange little man. So when I began to tell yet another of my father's stories, they settled in to listen.
My father had an aversion to tissues. He had been raised in the era of handkerchiefs. For Dad, it was a "man thing." It seems only women were supposed to use tissues. When my husband and I were first married, we were gathered as a family at the family cabin. My husband used a tissue and then disposed of it in the wood stove. My father made a comment about men and handkerchiefs. As a newlywed, I felt compelled to defend my husband.
I explained to Dad that for sanitary reasons, I preferred my husband use tissues. I told Dad how awful it was as a teenager washing his white handkerchiefs in the same laundry load as my white underwear. My sister chimed in by telling how awful it was to hang laundry on the clothesline and get "slimed" because it didn't all come out in the wash. I went on to complain about having to pick the leftovers off of the handkerchiefs prior to ironing them. My sister and I really razzed Dad pretty good about the whole thing -- all in good fun. Then I promptly forgot about it.
Fast forward a few years. My father had passed away. Mom and I were talking about how in the end Dad did a few strange things (even for him) because oxygen wasn't getting to his brain. I told Mom that one day I walked into the bathroom to find Dad standing over the toilet picking "buggers" (for lack of a better word) off a handkerchief into the toilet. Wrong thing to say! Mom went into this tirade about how THAT wasn't Dad's lack of oxygen -- that was my fault and my sister's fault! She reminded me of the incident at the cabin, which I had totally forgotten about.
Apparently, Dad thought a lot about what my sister and I told him. He went out and bought dozens of brand new handkerchiefs. You see, he was too set in his ways to use tissue, but he found a solution to the problem. He loved my mother enough that he didn't want her to become the victim of the "slime" my sister and I had portrayed. From that day forward, he saved his handkerchiefs in a canvas bag until they were completely dried. Then he would carefully "debugger" them into the toilet prior to putting them in the laundry.
I completed my lesson by asking the children how much love they had for their family members. Would they go to that much trouble to protect a family member?
As I finished telling the story, the adult teachers in the room looked at me like I had really "lost it". The children, however, got the message. Several of those kids (now adults) have told me how much that lesson meant to them. They really did get the point.
I'm not sure what this says about kids. As my Dad would have said, "First you have to get their attention."