Don’t Serve Solo

Before I became a mom, a friend gave me some advice. “When you’re serving, making sure to bring along your kids.” At the time, it seemed like odd instruction. After all, I would have assumed that, at least when they were young, where I went, my kids would go. Therefore, if I was doing ministry, they would be alongside me, even if there wasn’t much for them to do.

It didn’t take long for me to realize how prescient my friend’s recommendation was. As experienced mothers can tell you, bringing your kids on any activity adds a level of complexity that is hard to appreciate when you aren’t a parent. Signing up to bring meals was no longer about just preparing the dish. It also meant I needed to consider nap schedules, how I would balance kids and food during delivery, and how it would impinge on my children’s planned consumption of dinner. A “quick drop off” was no longer in the realm of possibility. If they were going, the service became an excursion. Many times I was tempted to leave them at home with their dad, until I remembered my friend’s wise words. Because while bringing kids along can make serving more daunting, there are far too many benefits that I don’t want to forgo.

Learning By Doing

One of the most important benefits that my family has incurred is that my children are learning to serve. When we go deliver a meal, they help me take the food to the house. When we set up our house for a fellowship, they pick up their toys and get their hearts prepared to share. I could talk to them until I am blue in the face about the importance of serving others, but when they are serving alongside me, they learn what it means in practical terms. It is not unusual for them to make suggestions about what they could do to bless others. Because they have worked alongside with us from the beginning, their hearts are prone towards service.

Growing Compassion

Not only have my children learned to serve through serving, but they have developed hearts that are concerned about others. Because they know that there are people in need, and that we are working towards responding to that need, they are front-row witnesses to the struggles that others go through. This awareness combined with being a part of serving those we love has caused them to have deeper compassion and empathy than they otherwise might. Oftentimes, they will remind us to pray for hurting friends, or will proactively ask to draw a picture for someone that they know is in need of encouragement. They see hurt, and they see we work to alleviate it, and as result, their hearts are sensitive to those in pain. My hope is that even when we are not around this disposition towards compassion will be evident in their lives.

Family Matters

People will often talk about the importance of teaching your children values, however, as one friend likes to say “more is caught than taught.”  Your kids may listen to what you say, but they will pay attention to what you do. Involving our kids in service has shown them that serving is important to our family. They realize that their mom and dad care about meeting people’s needs and helping people who need a hand. They’ve learned that even when we can’t do everything, we can do something, and for “Team Winter” doing something to help others is one of the ways that we demonstrate Christ’s love. When our kids serve others, even if it is as simple as graciously letting someone play with their toys, we celebrate and commend it. We want our kids to be more concerned with others than they are with themselves, and when we demonstrate that same priority, they know it truly is important.

The Blessing of Family

Most of us know the statistics about children who are raised going to church but quickly leave it when they become adults. Because our children are involved in serving others, and because they are witness to when others serve us, they have developed an appreciation for our church family at a very young age. Often times when we are on our way to drop off a meal or visit someone in the hospital, we will talk about why we are doing it and what a privilege it is to be a part of a church where we help one another. We also talk about the ways that we have been the recipient of others’ service and generosity. I’m confident that this alone is not assurance that my kids will have an appreciation for the family of God, but I’m hopeful that it will contribute to one. My children know that we don’t consider only those who are biologically-related to us as family; our church is our family and it is theirs as well.

Blessed to Be A Blessing

When my children come with me to serve others, more often than not it doesn’t go the way I planned. Recently, we went to bring a friend a meal, and after I asked my daughter to carry in one of the side dishes, it fell in their driveway. She was reticent to pick it up and carry it in the rest of the way but I encouraged her to do so. Because what I want my children to know is that sometimes serving others is messy and sometimes it is inconvenient, but we do it because God has called us to serve. And even when things don’t go the way we anticipated, it is still a blessing to be a part of what He told us to do.

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The Power of Our Promises

Awhile ago I was at swim lessons with my kids. Another mom was instructing her child to leave the playroom and he refused. I heard her say “goodbye” to her child and proceed out the door. The child did not budge. I surmised that he had grown accustomed to the empty threats and that he, along with everyone else in the room, knew that his mom had no intention of actually leaving him there. Her words had no impact on him because he had learned that she didn’t mean what she said.

It was a powerful moment for me. Our children don’t have to be very old to learn whether we intend to do what we say we will do and this situation demonstrated the consequences of being untrustworthy in this regard.  While leaving swim lessons may have seemed insignificant, I shutter to think what other situations of much greater import would be impacted, simply because a parent had neglected to realize the power of her words.

What we say to our kids matters. And it matters not just because we can use our words to affirm and encourage them, it matters because they will either learn to believe what we say, or they won’t.

Trust Me

One of the reasons that it is important that we don’t issue empty threats is because we want our children to trust us. The Bible teaches that we aren’t supposed to provoke our children (Eph. 6:4). Another way to translate this is that we aren’t to exasperate our kids. If our kids can’t believe what we tell them, it will certainly lead them to frustration. If we don’t mean what we say when we want them to leave swim lessons, how will they know that we mean what we say when we tell them not to play in the street? This may seem like a huge jump but for a young child it is hard for them to distinguish the difference. We want to build a relationship of trust with our kids. And if they can’t trust us in the small things, how are they ever go to trust us in the significant issues of life?

Keep Your Commitments –  Big and Small

Another reason that it is important that we watch what we say is because our children look to us for how they should behave. When we tell them that we will play with them “in a minute” and then forget about our commitment 60 seconds later, we are teaching them that it doesn’t matter if we keep our word. If it is o.k. for us to view commitments with ambivalence, they will think it is o.k. if they do as well. Not only do we want our kids to trust us, but we want them to see us a reliable individuals that they can turn to in times of trouble. If we have exhibited a pattern of flaking on them or of making promises that we never fulfill, we shouldn’t be surprised when they do the same.

They See the Father In You

Often times when we talk about God, we refer to Him as the Father. Our children’s understanding of God can be enhanced or diminished by how we behave. If God is their Father and you are also their parent, it goes to reason that how you act is also a representation of how their Heavenly parent also behaves. If we make promises hastily, and then fail to fulfill them, they might be more likely to think that God does that as well. If you we standards, and then fail to enforce them, they might think that God’s rules are subjective too. And if we establish consequences for misbehavior, and do not follow through on them, they might be surprised when they incur divine repercussions for their sin. This isn’t to say that you have to be a perfect parent for your child to know and love God – otherwise no parent’s child would ever do so. But it does elevate the responsibility that we have to choose our words wisely, to follow-through on what we say we will do, and to repent and ask for forgiveness when our actions when we do not represent our Father well. We will not be perfect parents, but we should be striving to ensure that increasingly how we parent our children reflects God’s kindness towards His kids. And we should be mindful that our kids will pay attention to what we say, and even more attention to what we do.

 

 

 

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