My great grandfather used to say that we spend the first two years of children’s lives serving them and the rest of their lives encouraging them to serve others. We give them everything during the first several months of their lives and then spend what feels like eternity, or at least for me lately, teaching them that life is no longer only about them.
I have always known that being a Christian is counter-cultural. Christianity goes against most of what popular culture “preaches.” For example, the Bible tells us things like–to truly live with Christ we must die to ourselves, and it is better to be last then first. Christianity tells us to be generous with what we have, even when it is not much and to love and pray for people even when they mistreat us.
Of all the Bible’s commands, Jesus said the two greatest come from Matthew 22:37-39: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And, love your neighbor as yourself.” What I am learning in trying to teach my four year old these two commandments and especially the idea of loving others as we love ourselves, is that having a servant’s heart—putting others first—may be one of the most counter-cultural concepts of our time. So many things in our culture revolve around self-love and self-promotion—being the most attractive, the wealthiest, the most successful, etc. Or, in the vernacular of my four year old—being the first, the best, the biggest and getting the most of whatever is being handed out.
This striving to be first in everything is a new thing for him and something I struggle daily to temper because I don’t want it to become something negative in his life. I want him to be outgoing, successful and a self-starter, but not if it is to another’s detriment. I know that young children are naturally egocentric, but as he matures I want to show my son how to value things like selflessness, turning the other cheek and unconditional love, without betraying his own rights and feelings or becoming a “doormat.”
So how do we plant the seeds of a servant’s heart in our children? How do we drown out the deafening “me first culture” and show them the beauty and fulfillment that comes from loving others well—like Jesus did—often when it is inconvenient and sometimes until it hurts. I am still figuring this one out, but there are a few things I am trying so far.
First, I quote scripture to my son that talks about servanthood and have him memorize it—verses like Mark 9:35: “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”
Next, I do what I like to call “narrating life.” If my son or anyone nearby is demonstrating loving others as we love ourselves—in any way—I point it out to him. For example, I may say, “Isaac, look at how that girl let her friend go first on the slide.”
Thirdly, I constantly remind my son of all Jesus did for us. I tell him that Jesus had the best of everything and left it to come to earth and die on the cross for us.
Finally, I try to serve the people around me as much as I can and let my children “watch” and serve with me when possible. This also involves narration—saying things like, “We are buying these school supplies for children who do not have any.”
My great grandfather embodied the two greatest commandments better than most. He was a pastor, missionary and amazing husband and father. He always talked about spiritual things and quoted the Bible, but more than that he poured out his life as a living sacrifice to those around him. He helped the poor, the hungry and those in prison. He was always there for his family members and loved ones and gave generously of his time, money and energy. My grandfather even loved those who mistreated him. He lived Romans 12:1, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” This, more than anything, showed me what it meant to live a life devoted to the most sacred commandments of loving God and loving others. I have come to realize that, for me, what I do is more important than what I say. That my children are watching to see what my heart values and the main evidence of this is how I spend my time. I fall short so many days in trying to be a good example, but I am trying.
How about you? How are you teaching your child to have servant’s heart? Is there someone in your life that loves/loved God and others well? If so, what can you learn from him/her?