Yesterday, President Obama wrapped up a 47-nation nuclear summit. Given the national attention to the summit, I found myself reflecting on something that occurred in 1979 during my freshman year in college. It was then that Mother Teresa was presented with a Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work amongst the poorest of the world’s poor.
As she received her award, Mother Teresa was asked, “What can we do to promote world peace?” Her answer might surprise you. She didn’t talk about gun control. She didn’t talk about reducing the number of nuclear weapons. She didn’t suggest countries resolve their differences through non-violent means.
Instead, she made this startling statement:
“Go home and love your family.”
At the time Mother Teresa shared this insight, it didn’t make the same impact on me as it does today. Back then I was single. My mother and father had died. I really didn’t have a place to call home since I was living on my own with limited resources. In fact, the following year I spent my sophomore Christmas alone in the dorm on a deserted campus. The idea of going home to “love my family” didn’t fully translate in my situation.
Today, things are different. I’m married and have two young boys. Jean and I are in the midst of communicating our value system. We’re teaching them about faith in Jesus, right and wrong, fair play, dealing with bullies, peacemaking, and respecting others. In short we’re engaged in shaping their worldview. Which is why I now have a greater appreciation for Mother Teresa’s advice.
Although she didn’t spell it out this way, I’m sure what was behind her insight is the fact that when we love our children well, when they know that we are crazy about them, when they experience our encouragement, unconditional love, and a sense of security they, in turn, are in the best possible position to become healthy, creative, constructive and productive members of society.
Conversely, as numerous studies demonstrate, failure to provide children with that kind of parental nurturing places youth at a greater risk for depression, poor performance in school, higher anger-related issues, and dabbling in a host of self-destructive, violent, and anti-social behaviors. In fact, one of the driving factors behind participation in gang activity is a quest for love, acceptance, structure and discipline that was absent in the home.
Clearly, raising children is one of the highest callings to which any of us can aspire. Yes, parenting is tough work. There are days when you may wonder whether it’s all worth the effort. And yet, as Mother Teresa reminds us, one of the best ways to promote peace in the world is to love your family well so that our children will learn to love and care for the world in which they live.
Wouldn’t it be great if her advice went “nuclear”?