If your kids ever wonder, "What does God look like?" send them to me. I've seen His hands.
I've seen them all my life – on an Iowa couple named George and Ruth. Before I could even read, I watched those hands empty bedpans, prepare sponge baths and feed Ruth's elderly mother. During my teen years, after a drunk driver demolished our car with my whole family inside, I watched those hands build a mini-hospital in our livingroom. They made meals, washed sheets, scrubbed dishes and administered medications for months.
In the 61 years of George and Ruth's marriage, those hands regularly delivered meals to shut-ins, scraped plates at church functions and hugged strangers in nursing homes. Today, George is 91 and Ruth is 86, but they don't seem to notice. Those hands still fold bulletins, stuff envelopes for church mailings, and squeeze the shoulders of neighbors in their assisted living apartments.
George and Ruth haven't ended world hunger. They haven't cured AIDS. They just see needs and quietly, tenderly meet them. My grandparents put flesh and bone to God's great love.
Those hands not only changed who I was – they changed who I want to be.
Being "God's Hands"
Have your kids seen God's hands? It's great to talk about Jesus washing feet and feeding crowds, but those accounts are just bedtime stories to children who don't witness servant behavior in their world.
That realization convicts me to examine my definition of "servanthood." See, I'm a doer. I count my day successful if I've marked everything off my checklist. If you're like me, you may even battle a production mentality in the realm of serving. Teaching Sunday school classes or taking someone a meal or writing a check to charity are all good activities. But are we cheerful givers? Or are we just trying to fill a quota? Hoping to impress someone? Attempting to get the church staff off our backs?
I'm not dissing day planners and lists, but my hunch is that Jesus wouldn't use them. He seemed to keep his schedule open for divine appointments. He never avoided a task that was "beneath" Him or considered any person unworthy of His time.
Sure, He got frustrated: He wept for our lack of understanding, but He never gave up on His mission. Whether He was performing a marvelous miracle or holding a child, He did everything with great compassion.
He asked us to do likewise. Take time. Be humble. Keep on. Love.
Simple commands…but hard commands. Commands that don't fit on a checklist.
Like God himself, our kids aren't tracking the number of our activities or judging how "good" those works may seem. They're watching to see if our hands are working in tandem with our hearts.
Earthly Rewards for Servanthood
Growing up in church, I learned that following Christ's example led to heavenly treasures. What I didn't know was how richly God rewards servant behavior here on earth!
Maybe you've experienced those feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction after helping someone…but that's just the beginning. Numerous studies link mental and physical health benefits with servanthood. Other research suggests that kids with a servant mindset have higher GPAs, better reading comprehension, sharper critical thinking and problem solving skills, higher levels of creativity, and a greater understanding of and appreciation for others. Kids who are given opportunities to serve others also tend to make healthier lifestyle choices and develop better social skills than those who don't volunteer.
Even kids as young as five can reap some of these benefits, research suggests. Deborah Spaide, author of Teaching Your Kids to Care: How to Discover and Develop the Spirit of Charity in Your Children says that parents do their children a disservice by sheltering them too much from the world's suffering.
"Kids can only go on for so long, feeling such painful empathy without any opportunity to do anything about it, before they begin to tell themselves to stop feeling anything at all." Spaide says.
She suggests pointing them toward altruism before they become hardened, because serving others "helps kids discover their talents, hone their skills and begin to believe in themselves."
Aspects of Servanthood
It's never too early to being cultivating servantlike traits. If we start by teaching and modeling basic kindness, we lay a foundation for communicating the value of work and charity. Some worthwhile aspects of servanthood to teach include
1. Empathy and compassion: Around the time they start talking, children are capable of empathy. When psychologists studied young children whose parents were physically or emotionally hurt, they observed that the kids either sought to solve the problem or offered comfort and kindness to the parent. It's critical that we nurture this inherent concern for others.
2. Godly work ethic: The Bible frequently warns against idleness, asserting that it leads to ruin. Work is not a punishment from God but a means by which we develop character. People who comprehend the purpose of work – and who find satisfaction in a job well done – are most likely to behave in ways that will improve their world.
3. Volunteering, serving and giving: In God's economy, our time and money are not our own. We are stewards of his earthly kingdom. People who understand and act on this principle set themselves up to receive abundant blessing, in this life and the next!
4. Discernment in Servanthood: Compassion must be tempered by wisdom. Kids need to recognize that even if their motives are pure, other people's may not be. There are ways they can protect themselves while giving their time and money as wisely as possible.
My ultimate goal is to wear God's hands like my grandparents do and to pass that legacy down to my own children. The earlier kids see those hands at work, the greater chance we have of equipping them for a lifetime of compassion and service.