I was eight years old, dressed in whatever costume I’d chosen for that particular Halloween, and my brother and I walked tentatively down the hallways of a local nursing home. I don’t remember much about this experience, but I remember the smells made me want to hold my nose, and I was scared to talk to the older people who grinned wide at the sight of us.
My mom gently prodded us, and so we’d walk forward with a timid “Trick or Treat,” then hold out our bags where the grey haired men and women would drop chocolate goodies in our pillowcases.
It seemed strange to me at the time, but looking back on it now, I get what my mom was doing. She wanted us to see that we could serve and bring joy to others, and it could still be rewarding to us.
My parents never shied away from encouraging my brother and I to serve others. From local service projects where we helped clean up our community or serve meals to people in need, to foreign mission trips with our church, my parents were quick to push us outside the walls of our own home so that we could see the way others lived.
My mom and dad understood they were raising my brother and I in a land of privilege, and because of this they were intentional in how they raised us. They pointed us outward, and made us aware that with the grace of a life of privilege comes responsibility.
I like to lovingly refer to this as the “Spiderman Principle of Living.”
Now that I’m grown, I appreciate even more the effort my parents took to make sure I wasn’t caught up in all that my cushy American life had to offer. It’s hard to live life intentionally. It’s hard because it requires effort, and it would be so much easier to simply sit back, indulge our children, and pretend that the world around us isn’t actually hurting.
Now I’ll confess, I’m not always good at encouraging my children to serve. I get lazy and comfortable in my day-to-day routine, and stepping outside of that requires more effort than I’m often willing to exert. But what’s the alternative?
Maybe you, like me, long to point your children outward, to show them that this world is full of needs, and to empower them to see and understand that they can make a difference. We can never underestimate our children’s ability to make an impact. In fact, children are often the greatest harbingers of change in a world crying out for someone to take notice.
For those of you desiring to take a step toward service with your children, I offer this encouragement:
1.) Watch your child’s natural bent and follow it
Whether shy and timid, or outgoing and gregarious, there are places for your children to meet needs. From local food pantries to nursing homes, lemonade stands to local service projects, getting your children outside their own walls and into the world around them can be fun and pleasant for everyone.
2.) Let your children see the sacrifice
Serving others outside our homes will require sacrifice. As we offer up our time, our skills, our money, and our energy, our kids will observe and see how that affects us. Let them know it’s okay.
Show them that skipping a few meals out and eating more dinners at home gives you more money to give away. Let them see the physical effort of mowing a neighbor’s yard, or taking a meal to a sick friend, or serving at a food pantry.
Bring your children into the process of serving with you, and let them know that it might be difficult, but in the end the satisfaction of knowing you brought joy to someone’s life was worth the sacrifice.
3.) Introduce your children to other kids who are making a difference in the world
A quick Google search will lead you to countless websites and articles featuring young children who are having a big impact. Let your children see this, and show them that just because they’re small doesn’t mean they can’t make the world a better place.
Looking outside the walls of our own homes will beg sacrifice, yes, but the sacrifice doesn’t have to be a major one. You don’t have to leave the country to make an impact. You can change the world right where you are, with your little ones by your side, and in so doing you will raise up a new generation of servant-hearted individuals who are ready and willing to meet the needs of the world.
And isn’t that a beautiful thought, indeed.