by Jim Whiteman, Headmaster, Westside Christian Academy
Shepherding A Child’s Heart, Part 4
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)
“Really, all I want for Christmas is to take whatever money you would normally spend on gifts for me and send it to the church we worked with in the Dominican Republic.” At age sixteen Lisa had recently returned from a mission trip where witnessing the poverty and struggles of another culture was further shaping her world view. Receiving our own culture’s “stuff” to celebrate Christ’s coming was no longer appealing and the significance of the gospel had become clear. Her parents granted Lisa’s request and were personally challenged by her determination to help others.
Beatrice, age 8, asked her principal if she could raise money with classmates to give to World Vision. Billy, age 7, brought in his entire piggy bank to give to a similar project. For her birthday party, Dana, age 10, asked for gifts that could be taken to a local shelter for women and children. Henry, age 14, asks his exhausted mother, “How can I help you?”
There are countless examples, similar to those above, of children of all ages demonstrating compassion and care for others. For some it comes somewhat naturally, for others it does not. For all, the adults around them help shape their young world view and provide the opportunity to become joyful givers and servants rather than takers and commanders.
In my earlier articles on leading our children in their spiritual development, we considered the head (our minds, intellect, and understanding of truth) and the heart (the core of our being and center of our loyalties). So now, let’s briefly reflect on developing hands (what our children DO, including acts of compassion, responsibility and service) within the context of habitat (family and community).
“What do you want for Christmas?” is a question many of us ask our children. It fits right in with so many similar questions we ask: What do you want for your birthday? What do you want for dinner? What color do you want your bedroom? Where would you like to go for vacation? What type of shoes would you like? What can I do for you? You know these inquiries. We are really asking, “How can I make you happy?” This, of course, reflects our American culture which effectively breeds a spirit of entitlement, a sense of believing that I should have what I want. And what do I want? The things our entitled culture tells me I should want.
So, just how do we help move our children from self-centered to others-centered? How do we help them understand that they were created for good works and they are to treat others as more important than themselves? While there are no sure formulas, let’s give consideration to ten ideas:
- It starts with us. As parents, we are the role models, teachers of theology, and practitioners of the faith. When our children study us, and they do, do they notice a lifestyle of joyful caring, compassion and duty? The apostle Paul writes to the believers in Philippi: What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things and the God of peace will be with you.(Phil 4:9). We cannot expect from our children the things we do not strive for ourselves.
- Establish a family culture of good works and compassion. This does not mean we need to travel to other countries or become a foster family. Let’s just start by assisting our neighbors, loving our difficult relatives, volunteering in a local ministry and consistently praying for others as a family. I know one family who ministered together in an assisted living home at least one Sunday per month for several years. Caring in this way just became part of the fabric of the family and their children grew to see outside themselves throughout their teen years.
- Use meal times for purposeful conversations. “How did you help or encourage a classmate or teacher today?” is a good question for discussion. Let the children ask you the same questions. Agree on a family goal for the next week and then check in daily with each other. Pray with your child on the way to school and when you drop her off say: “Go make a difference today!”
- Plan a night of writing notes of encouragement to others. Pray for them.
- Study and memorize the scriptures together regularly and simply strive to apply what it says. Consider studying God’s plan for work, compassion, justice, assisting the poor, speaking up for those that cannot speak for themselves, caring for widows and orphans. Discuss what various passages must then mean for you as a family.
- Take a child with you to visit others in the hospital, drive an elderly friend to the store or check on a neighbor’s house when they are on vacation. Include your child in preparing a meal for someone else. It’s okay to “volunteer” your child to babysit, shovel the neighbor’s drive or help with a project at church – and for no pay.
- Sponsor a child through Compassion International, World Vision or another organization. Make that child part of your own family by praying regularly, corresponding and learning about their country and culture.
- Encourage your children to dream up ways to raise money, goods or awareness with organization which helps others. Get personally involved as the Lord leads.
- As your children get old enough, take a family missions trip instead of a vacation. Why not do this with like-minded families learning to sacrifice for the benefit of others and the gospel.
- This Christmas, help your child scheme up acts of service toward others as a gift and focus less on their own temporary wants.
Jim Whiteman earned his B.S. from Bowling Green State University; Masters Education from Kent State University. He came to WCA as headmaster in 2011 with 18 years of experience as elementary/middle school principal in two area private schools and ten additional years of teaching. Mr. Whiteman also has experience as the chief development officer of a Christian rescue mission. He is very involved in a local ministry for international college students and orphanages in Kenya and India. Life verses include 2 Peter 1:3-9.
This article was originally published in our Excelsior! monthly newsletter.