If your kids ever wonder, “What does God look like?” send them to me. I’ve seen His hands. I’ve seen them all my life – on an Iowa couple named George and Ruth. Before I could even read, I watched those hands empty bedpans, prepare sponge baths and feed Ruth’s elderly mother. During my teen years, after a drunk driver demolished our car with my whole family inside, I watched those hands build a mini-hospital in our livingroom. They made meals, washed sheets, scrubbed dishes and administered medications for months.
George and Ruth haven’t ended world hunger. They haven’t cured AIDS. They just see needs and quietly, tenderly meet them. My grandparents put flesh and bone to God’s great love.
Those hands not only changed who I was – they changed who I want to be.
Have your kids seen God’s hands? It’s great to talk about Jesus washing feet and feeding crowds, but those accounts are just bedtime stories to children who don’t witness servant behavior in their world.
That realization convicts me to examine my definition of “servanthood.” See, I’m a doer. I count my day successful if I’ve marked everything off my checklist. If you’re like me, you may even battle a production mentality in the realm of serving. Teaching Sunday school classes or taking someone a meal or writing a check to charity are all good activities. But are we cheerful givers? Or are we just trying to fill a quota? Hoping to impress someone? Attempting to get the church staff off our backs?
I’m not dissing day planners and lists, but my hunch is that Jesus wouldn’t use them. He seemed to keep his schedule open for divine appointments. He never avoided a task that was “beneath” Him or considered any person unworthy of His time.
Sure, He got frustrated: He wept for our lack of understanding, but He never gave up on His mission. Whether He was performing a marvelous miracle or holding a child, He did everything with great compassion.
He asked us to do likewise. Take time. Be humble. Keep on. Love.
Simple commands…but hard commands. Commands that don’t fit on a checklist.
Like God himself, our kids aren’t tracking the number of our activities or judging how “good” those works may seem. They’re watching to see if our hands are working in tandem with our hearts.
Growing up in church, I learned that following Christ’s example led to heavenly treasures. What I didn’t know was how richly God rewards servant behavior here on earth!
Maybe you’ve experienced those feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction after helping someone…but that’s just the beginning. Numerous studies link mental and physical health benefits with servanthood. Other research suggests that kids with a servant mindset have higher GPAs, better reading comprehension, sharper critical thinking and problem solving skills, higher levels of creativity, and a greater understanding of and appreciation for others. Kids who are given opportunities to serve others also tend to make healthier lifestyle choices and develop better social skills than those who don’t volunteer.
Even kids as young as five can reap some of these benefits, research suggests. Deborah Spaide, author of Teaching Your Kids to Care: How to Discover and Develop the Spirit of Charity in Your Children says that parents do their children a disservice by sheltering them too much from the world’s suffering.
“Kids can only go on for so long, feeling such painful empathy without any opportunity to do anything about it, before they begin to tell themselves to stop feeling anything at all.” Spaide says.
She suggests pointing them toward altruism before they become hardened, because serving others “helps kids discover their talents, hone their skills and begin to believe in themselves.”
It’s never too early to being cultivating servantlike traits. If we start by teaching and modeling basic kindness, we lay a foundation for communicating the value of work and charity. Some worthwhile aspects of servanthood to teach include
by Carolyn MacInnes