What is it about kids that makes them think first is best? That everything is a race and that whoever is first is the winner? I don't think this is just my kids. I hope not at least! While I realize that this is completely "normal", it certainly isn't a characteristic I want to foster. It can't be possible to grow into a kind, generous, giving person if you continue to think of yourself first and do whatever it takes to beat the other guys. So how do we help our kids go from this state of me, me, me to a place of serving others?
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10
A servant's heart isn't something we are born with. Not initially. Maybe it's a survival thing - babies HAVE to be demanding to get their needs met so they can survive and thrive. Maybe it's an environmental thing - a kid's first handful of words often includes the ever popular mine as a way of asserting ownership and dominance over anyone else who might dare lay hands on their coveted blankie or stuffed animal. Before you know it the teenage years have hit and Lord knows teenagers can't see 6 inches outside of themselves. It's not their fault, what with all those hormones bouncing around it's really a wonder they can accomplish anything! For some it doesn't get much better in adulthood - I know several grown-ups who have a case of "see it, take it, and I make it mine" (any Elmo in Grouchland watchers out there??) that has carried over from childhood.
Turn my heart towards your statutes and not towards selfish gain. Psalm 119:36
Despite what seems to come naturally, we are called to serve others as a service to God. And that means as parents we are called to teach our kids how to serve as well. How do you do that exactly? I don't have all the answers but I will share what we are doing in our house.
"...But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." Joshua 24:15
Leading by example
You have all heard the old adage, "Do as I do, not as I say!" All of us with kids know all to well that children are far more likely to follow our example than follow our words. That is why it is important that our first method of teaching our kids how to have servant's hearts is to have a heart for serving ourselves. My husband and I make an effort to not only serve when the opportunity arises, but also to create opportunities for our entire family to take part in serving. Even if that means they come along as we bring a meal to a family in need. This simple act creates a teachable moment where we can talk to them about giving what we have even when it doesn't seem like much and how God blesses others through our willingness to give.
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12
Giving opportunities to practice
I think it has been pretty well established that this servant's heart thing doesn't come naturally. That means that it is going to take a lot of intentional practice to help our kids get to a place where it begins to become natural. One way we have recently begun to give our children a way to practice serving is by setting the table. As they begin to take each cup and plate to the table we make sure to remind them to serve everyone at the table before serving themselves. The first few times this is all we said. After several times of doing this we made a point to talk about why we do that. We told our kids that when we are serving, we are putting others before ourselves. This has begun to lay the foundation for when the opportunity to serve someone else naturally presents itself. We can then say, "You know how when we serve dinner we serve everyone at the table before ourselves? This is just like that."
Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6
Pray for them and with them
Let's not forget one of the most powerful tools that we as Christian parents possess - the power of prayer. By praying for our children daily, we are not only remembering to give their lives to God but we are also keeping them in the forefront of our minds. It's much easier to be intentional about something you are praying about. I like to pray that God not only gives my children a servant's heart, but that he gives me the tools to parent them in a way that helps develop that. Not only do we pray for our children but we pray with our children. Often. Yes, we do the typical pray at meal times and bedtimes, but we also make an effort to pray throughout the day and whenever a need arises. In the car on the way to school we pray with our Kindergartener, that his day would go well, that he would choose to be kind to the other students and listen to his teacher. This helps set his day up for success and also teaches him to give everything to God in prayer. So if you see your child struggling with serving others (and you know these struggles will arise because I still have them as a 30 year old!) stop and pray with them. Don't know what to say? It might look something like this,
"Lord, you know Johnny's heart.
You know that he wants to follow you
and that following you means
putting others before ourselves.
Johnny is having a hard time with that right now.
We ask that you help him to
make the choice to serve others
even when it feels really hard.
We know that you can do this and we know that Johnny
can do this with your help.
In Jesus name, Amen."
After modeling this several times you will find that with prompting your child will be able to pray this for themselves. And the hope that is eventually it will become a response that doesn't even involve you anymore.
Pray without ceasing. 1 Thessalonians 5:17
I hope this gives you some ideas on how to help your child develop a servant's heart. As I said before, I am no expert. Just a mom doing the best I can and trying things out as I go. I would love to hear from you all on how you are making serving a priority in your kids (and your own!) lives. We all have something to gain from sharing our knowledge with each other.