Helping Your Kids Learn to Serve Others

a season brings lessons on how to serve others

I did not consider what we were teaching our kids the Christmas we lived away from family. But there we were, stuck half-way between both sets of parents, and not able to leave the farm for Christmas. We would spend time with family later, but not on Christmas day. I needed something to do to fix the doldrums in myself, so I called a local nursing home and “offered” our services. Somehow I figured that if I went to serve others, I’d be less lonely myself. It worked.

That morning, our kids got new riding toys and we allowed them to ride on the driveway. Benji, our oldest, ended up with a busted lip and bleeding gums from an accident. We brought him to the house, cleaned him up, and decided he was capable to sing at the nursing home because “these old people are lonely and probably won’t have any visitors on Christmas day.”

We piled the kids into our van and headed into town. They were little, but I knew the old folks wouldn’t mind. In fact, I knew they’d be delighted in our kids and their innocence and cuteness. Our boys were 2 1/2, 4, and 5 1/2. Our daughter was six months old. We stood together as a family and sang Christmas songs and other songs. Benji, our oldest, soloed on piano for several songs. During our “program”, our kids swiveled around, stared off through windows, smiled shyly at the older folks, and sang. Afterwards, we took them with us as we shook hands with some, hugged others, and received accolades for our “program.”

Then we came home. And Christmas was Christmas after all.

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Impromptu serving is sometimes best of all

A few months before that Christmas, I drove 40 minutes to help a friend who played piano and sang at a nursing home on a regular basis. Again, Benji played the piano. Little Timmy decided that day he had a song to sing. I handed him the mic and he stood proudly, singing a song he made up as he went along. The song didn’t have any rhyme or reason, but he sang his heart out, and the folks loved it. 

I could have shushed him away but didn’t. I didn’t know what he was going to sing about, but this child of mine who tended to be reserved stepped out into the limelight and sang his heart out. He sang about cows and the tractor and about fishing in the pond because that is what he knew. There were no words about Jesus or God’s love or being kind to others and it certainly wasn’t a “religious” song. It wasn’t a long song, but it certainly wasn’t short, either. The residents had tears in their eyes, watching him and listening to him sing. I watched my son and watched the residents in that nursing home, and I felt like I was standing on holy ground.

“Did I do a good job, Mama?” he asked me when he handed the mic back to me.

“Yes, Timmy, you did a really good job,” I assured him.

Regular opportunities help kids become natural servers

As our children grew older, we participated in regular nursing home events through church. Our kids weren’t fond of helping as they got older, but they went. When they fussed about the odors they’d face in the nursing homes, we reminded them that one day, this could be them. I taught them to spray cologne or perfume on their wrists so they could take a whiff if the odors were too strong. We made them respond to residents whose minds seemed forgotten, and they learned to smile and shake hands. This wasn’t about us doing something to make us feel good. It was about willingness to serve others for Jesus.

There are other ways we initiated service with our kids. Sometimes it was doing something for a neighbor; sometimes we visited shut-ins; other times we dropped off a loaf of fresh-baked bread to someone who had experienced grief. Usually some or all of our kids were with us.

One day I sent two foster boys to visit the neighbors whose kids all lived in other states. The boys were bored and restless. I decided it was time for them to do something for somebody else.

They knew our neighbor, so I told them, “Mr. C is lonely; none of his children live around here. He needs somebody to be his friend. You need to go down there and visit him and see if you can help him have a happy day.”

They went, a little unwillingly, it seems. But they went. They walked across the field and knocked on the door.  Mr. C came to the door.

One of the boys said, Helping Your Kids Learn to Serve Others Share on X[Fortunately, the neighbor was gracious and kind and they came away feeling positive about their visit.]

To serve others is to serve Jesus

A few days ago someone mentioned to me that all of our grown half-dozen are comfortable in front of groups. They are willing to serve others. While some enjoy it more than others, there is no bashfulness when there’s a need. 

“How did that happen?” she asked.

I wasn’t sure, and I’ve spent days mulling this over. Then I remembered that nursing home visit and the impromptu song. I remembered the Christmas I chose to bless others instead of living in misery. And I remembered the times our kids “had” to go help sing at the nursing home when they would rather have stayed home.

There were many Christmas days we piled into our van and drove to the homes of some of Dave’s customers. These folks didn’t have family nearby, and often were lonely. Our kids participated, even when they would rather have stayed home and played games. 

Perhaps the best reason of all is that we tried to model and teach them that serving others is serving Jesus. That sometimes, people need someone with skin on them to feel the love of God.

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This photo is in Ben’s photo album. Benji at the piano, Timmy leaning on the piano bench (the one who sang the solo) and Jason held by me. Sarah Beth is in utero.

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