“Momma, can I help you fold the clothes?” asked my two-year-old daughter. With baskets of laundry to fold, a sink full of dishes, and dinner to make, I fought the temptation to do it myself and said, “Sure you can! Here is a pile just for you.” Taking out the small items such as dishrags and socks, I asked her to put the socks in a pile and fold the dishrags in half, showing her by example. She tried to remember which pile they went into, but often put them in the other. She did her best to fold the dishrags and towels in half, but usually they ended up a messy ball. “What a great job! Thank you!” I encouraged her. After doing this for a while, I asked her to go check on something else in the home, and I quickly folded them again and returned them to their rightful piles. My children all were given the opportunity to help with many of the jobs that mothers often have to accomplish throughout the day, even though they would do them imperfectly. Why? It’s because we wanted to instill in them the virtue of service. It was a priority for us to make it an integral part of their lives, part of their being. Service begins at home. Just as a flower grows, first shoot, stem, bud, and petal then being in full bloom brining forth their beautiful hues and aroma benefiting butterflies and insects that can partake of its sweet nectar, so blossoms the art of service first at home and then to those outside of the family.
Some ideas for service for the very young at home:
- Folding clothes.
- Drying spoons, forks.
- Wiping off their chair after eating.
- Sweeping the floor – don’t worry if it’s a mess when their done. It’s the effort that counts.
- Putting cups or spoons on the table for dinner.
- Going to get a diaper for their brother/sister and throwing it away for you.
- Cleaning up their toys after playing.
- Helping to make dinner or snacks for the family. It could be as simple as stirring the dry or wet ingredients, even if it is messy and doesn’t get mixed at all! Remember it is the art of serving you’re developing, not a TV chef’s assistant.
- Reading their little brother or sister a story when they’re sick or tired, even though they may not read yet. Children have an uncanny way of making up their own stories with just pictures. Doing other things to aid their sisters or brothers when ill.
- Putting something in the trash for you.
- Hand you transplants to put into the garden or when older – to garden.
- Retrieving items for immediate or later use. Could you please go get me _____. Thank you so much for helping Mama!
Children need to be needed. They need to feel a part of the family unit, part of something bigger than themselves. Serving others is a great way to fill this need.
Grandparents can also play a vital part of their learning to share with others. We visited weekly, and the children shared with them their artwork, songs or piano pieces learned, and most of all hugs and kisses, which were, as far of their grandparents were concerned, the most precious gift of service. They brought joy to someone else. This, God says in His word, comes back upon the giving.
Ecclesiastes 11:1 “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.”
The church community was also a valuable tool in developing the art of service in our children. My husband and I would go up to the elderly or handicapped almost weekly and talk with them setting an example for the young ones at our side. We asked them how they were doing, and it soon became second nature for the children to go up to them on their own. The elderly seemed to love the spontaneity of children’s joy and anticipated our children’s visitations. The handicapped also reciprocated with anticipation and joy when they would be approached. We would take it upon ourselves to visit one who was handicapped in our church area on a regular basis, taking them on trips with us. They learned that those with handicaps have needs to be loved even more than others because they are often ignored by those who feel uncomfortable around them. Visiting others is an act of service. God commands us to do this, for it is the purest form of religion.
James 1:27 “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
Here were some ways the children learned to serve in the church community:
- Go up to the elderly and handicapped at services and ask how they are doing.
- Pick up songbooks after services.
- Help put up or take down chairs for services.
- Get involved with singing in the choirs or playing their instruments for church services.
- Stand with us and greet those who come through the door at services.
- Together as a family, we would put together talent shows for the elderly, occasionally taking them to the nursing homes in our area. Once we hosted a pie contest along with their talent show.
- Make homemade cards together for the shut-ins or the sick at church.
- Make after-church snacks together to share with others after church.
- Putting together gift packages for those who could not attend feasts and together handing them out before departing.
- Visiting those in the hospital, where they allowed children.
The community was also a valuable tool in teaching our children the lesson of service. We taught the children that their gifts and talents were given to them not only for their pleasure, but also for service to others, and we gave them opportunities to do so. (James 1:17, I Corinthians 4:7)
Here are some of the things we would do together as a family.
- Go to a local Senior Center and ask who needed a ride to the doctors and take them there together.
- Rake the leaves or shovel the sidewalk of the elderly you know in town who were in need. Again, they won’t do it perfectly. Go behind them and fix the mess. Remember, it’s the art of service we are working on, not perfection.
- Visiting the elderly at the local nursing homes and bringing them a present, like a small potted plant or drawing they created.
- Visit the elderly in their homes in the community.
Encouragement Through Praise:
All of the above are ways in which we taught our children to serve. There are as many ways to serve as there are individuals on this planet. When they do serve, shower them with praise. Tell them how thankful you are that they are developing the art of service and that God is very pleased with the time and effort they put into everything they do for someone else. That is so very important.
2 Corinthians 9:7 “Let each one [give] as he has made up his own mind and purposed in his heart, not reluctantly or sorrowfully or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
The best example is your example. Christ taught His disciples by example. Our children are our disciples. Together we can learn to walk in His footsteps.
As the apostle Paul put it in Acts 20:35 …“In all things I gave you an example, that so laboring ye ought to help the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he himself said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.”