“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” (St. Francis of Assisi)
It is amazing to me what a child will do for a sticker. I scoffed at the idea of sticker charts for far too long, not fully understanding the power of the gold stars. Now I know that my children eagerly drink more water, make beds, and brush teeth if a sticker is involved. The joy and anticipation of a sticker-filled box on the other side of the task is a great motivator in our house.
However, my approach to cultivating a heart of service in my three children is “sticker free.” I want them to experience joy in the act of serving another, not in the act of earning something on the other side of the service. My hope is to cultivate in them hearts that serve because they are passionate about people experiencing God’s gracious love. I want them to get excited about their part in The Big God Story: that God can answer another’s prayer through their acts of service, whether big or small.
There are three different ways we plant the seeds of service in our children.
FIRST, WE BRING THE KIDS ALONG TO SERVE.
When my oldest was a baby, some friends met at a local park once a week to have lunch together, and it so happened that it was a place people experiencing homelessness would gather as well. We began bringing extra food and invited others at the park to join us and enjoy the potluck-style lunch. I showed up each week with Lainey in the baby carrier and a pot of chili or a platter of sandwiches, and as the months passed and our friendships grew, others would hold her for me so I could eat my lunch with both hands free. My desire to serve a group of people living in a park turned into a weekly break for me to enjoy lunch with friends old and new. This community that started with a few men and women bringing extra food to a park turned into opportunities to serve one another. And while my daughter was probably too young to remember, her very presence allowed me to break down barriers as (cute!) babies often do.
SECOND, WE INTENTIONALLY PRACTICE SERVING ONE ANOTHER AT HOME.
The home is an opportune place for a child to exercise acts of service. I don’t want the environment of serving to get associated with a dreaded or required chore. Scripture says God loves a cheerful giver and I believe that translates to our acts of service. My middle daughter loves to set up toy displays all over the house. When I ask her to serve our family by setting the table for dinner, her face lights up as she pulls out the linen napkins and her favorite flower plates with a handmade name card at each spot. I want to remind my kids that serving is often connected to our talents and passions; serving just puts them to work for the sake of others!
LAST, WE TRY TO SAY YES TO OUR CHILDREN’S IDEAS FOR SERVICE.
Where I used to feel responsible to come up with ways my children could serve outside the home, I realized I needed to tap into my children’s natural resource: their imagination. I do my best to say yes to their ideas whenever I can. Because of this posture, we have built a lemonade stand to raise money for schools in Africa, we have served on our church’s hospitality team as greeters, and we have helped teachers set up classrooms prior to the school year starting. We didn’t do these things because I wanted to but because my kids wanted to, and I chose to say yes. Because of that, service now comes full circle as I get to join my kids in serving where their little heartstrings are pulled.
More amazing than what a child will do for a sticker is what a child will do with a heart attuned to God’s voice.