conversation with my son: fairness

The Nikondeha men sharing a meal in Burundi.

My son ‘s antenna is fine tuned to detect any hint of unfairness. He sees more milk in Emma’s cup, more watermelon in her bowl and is convinced she has the bigger slice of pizza. He cries ‘it’s not fair‘ other kids have cell phones, iPods, an x-box and sugar cereals. It’s not fair is his new battle cry.

So standing on the shoulders of all the wise parents who’ve gone before, I doled out the wisdom of the ages one night over a heaping plate of pesto and cherry tomatoes, ‘Life is not fair – and the sooner you realize that we can get to work.’ (The last part came as a surprise to me, but there it was, sitting out there alongside the pasta like a side of hot garlic bread.)

My son gave me a blank stare. I could tell he was not buying what I was selling – yet.

I reminded him of his recent visit to Bubanza with my husband – a community of over 600 families all living on an arid strip of land surviving on less than 40 cents per day. Our love for these families connects us to them and we wanted our son to develop that connection as well. He spoke about his visit for days – what he saw and what he didn’t see (like food or strong houses or any soccer balls or grass.) So I brought up Bubanza over dinner.

“What do you remember about Bubanza?” He quickly began to recall and retell – no food in the thatched huts, kids walking miles in the sun for water, no beds. “Did they have a few pairs of shoes and a change of clothes?” “Did they have toys or balls or marbles?” He shook his head, “No, mama, they did not even have a ball made of rags or rubber bands. No one really wore shoes. I don’t think they had any pillows either.” He got caught up in the remembering, as if transported back to that hot and dusty day walking with his papa.

“Justin, is it fair that they don’t have enough food or water or clothes?” His brown irises dilated and his raised eyebrows revealed a new awareness had dawned. He agreed with me that it’s not fair for these kids to be missing the basics of life. “Is it fair that you have so much more than them?” He looked down at his now empty plate and slowly shook his head back and forth. “So you see, son, it’s not fair.

When we think about fairness, we always have to remember that we are on the upside of fairness, we have more than our fair share. As Justin said next, “It’s kind of like Jezebel and Naboth, we have more than enough to live and others don’t have enough.” His point being that when we whine about it being unfair that other kids have more and better toys or that Emma has more milk, maybe we are wanting more than enough like Jezebel and maybe our cravings deprive others of having enough to live a viable life. Not a bad connection for an eight year old.

But the conversation had only begun. Over yogurt and raspberry parfaits he wanted to know why God did not make everything everywhere fair. (Just when I thought I answered one question relatively well he throws another zinger!) “But that is where our work begins, son, we get to join Jesus in making things fair. God’s dream for the world is true equity (pause to define a new word in his growing theological vocabulary) and we work alongside Him and our friends in Bubanza to make things more fair.”

This is the new battle cry in our home – It’s not fair… and so we join Jesus to make it more fair for our friends. I want him to understand fairness in a bigger context – a global one. I want him to know that God cares about fairness for his friends, that He desperately wants equity for all His kids, for us to all have enough for a viable life. It’s important to me that Justin knows the world is not fair – but also to know that he gets to do something about it.

P.S. Someday we will add another word to his vocabulary: shalom. I hope he will see how shalom and fairness are connected.

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14 thoughts on “conversation with my son: fairness”

  1. Tina/ @teenbug
     ·  Reply

    Oh my goodness… Kelley, you epic Mama you. I’d sign up for every class you teach, every book you sell and every lecture you’d give.

    You know which book topic I’m *most* rooting for, right? 🙂


    • Sarah Bessey
       ·  Reply

      Don’t you distract her now! She’s got her assignments. 😉

  2. Grace Elizabeth
     ·  Reply

    He sounds like me. Always I look at my sister’s slice of pizza. Since I can remember I’ve compared chocolate cake slices with my brothers. Even after going to the Dominican Republic to see unfairness at its rawest I still come back and say its unfair. I’m learning. Fairness and shalom, God is teaching me.

    • kelleynikondeha
       ·  Reply

      Grace, so you are hard-wired for fairness, too! I think the longing for fairness, equity, is so deeply good and right. We just need to see our longing for fairness in a a bigger framework – adults, too! Living between the US and Africa I really have to struggle with Justin’s second question – fairness everywhere for everyone…

  3. Charity Jill
     ·  Reply

    What a profound thing for your son to ponder at that age – the justice of God – I don’t think I ever thought to wrestle with these things until I was in my 20s! What a beautiful thing to begin to learn – and beautifully stated – that “we get to join Jesus in making things fair.”

    • kelleynikondeha
       ·  Reply

      I know I was not thinking about this things at his age, either! But living between two countries every year has pushed him to see more at a younger age and ask more. Good, but what a challenge for me to keep up with his curiosity!

  4. Jody Fernando
     ·  Reply

    What great insight! We have all sorts of these kinds of conversations in our house – I love how you approached this situation, and how you end up at shalom.

  5. Bekka
     ·  Reply

    What a beautiful conversation. And what lovely opportunities your son has had to see the unfairness of the world.

    Taking this one to heart the next time I hear “It’s not fair!” from my wee ones.

  6. Diana Trautwein
     ·  Reply

    Hey, I’ll admit that I’m here because Sarah B loves you – and anyone she loves has got to be good. And man, I LOVE this. Such good teaching – and your son, knowing who Jezebel and Naboth are? And asking such penetrating questions? Fabulous…and so encouraging for this aging grandmother to read. Thank you so much.

    • kelleynikondeha
       ·  Reply

      Thanks, Diane. I love Sarah – was just with her in Vancouver recently celebrating her book deal and savoring her friendship! Glad to be on this journey together – you, me and Sarah B.

  7. idelette
     ·  Reply

    I’m so happy you wrote this into a post … I’m taking lessons for the next round of “It’s not fair!” complaints I get around here.

  8. Kelly @ Love Well
     ·  Reply

    This is so good, so wise. We often talk about fairness to our kids. Their dad (my husband) was a street orphan himself, so he can put fairness in a fair (pardon) amount of perspective. But of course, they haven’t seen that kind of poverty, can’t understand it. “What do you MEAN, you didn’t have clothes or food when you were our age, Dad?” It starts to feel like the starving children in Africa comment.

    I am going to start adding on your piece. We are blessed to play a small role in justice.

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