Nurturing the Burden of Serving
My 8-year old son's world grew larger in a filthy four-foot alleyway space.
We'd spent the afternoon passing out clothing to people who lived on the street in Cleveland. It led us to this spot where he realized that someone slept each night between a dumpster and a brick wall.
The story could have ended here with us feeling bad for how other people have it. Instead, we inverted the moment and talked about how bad we have it.
To clarify, whomever lived in this space did have it bad on some level. My son stood there for a moment, noting the makeshift "mattress" someone had made out of cardboard and random materials. He looked it over and remarked, "So this is like... someone's bedroom?"
"More like someone's whole house," I explained.
"Wow," he replied. "I could never imagine what that must be like."
That's when I remembered some great perspective I'd heard years ago.
It's incredibly easy for Christians to serve others and walk away "feeling bad" for them. Empathy is a powerful thing, but it can also be a powerful distraction. The more we experience a burden for someone else (especially the poor), the easier it is to focus less on our own burdens. Maybe that's one reason why people do it.
Make sure you understand what I meant by that.
The Bible reveals that it is a realistic burden to have resources. God holds us accountable to what we do with what He's given us. While our life can appear to be more comfortable than someone who lives on the streets, there is a greater scope of responsibility on our shoulders than on theirs.
Which isn't always so comfortable.
This is what my son and I spoke about as we walked away from our experience.
It wasn't even just about this moment or street ministry in general. As we headed back to our the suburbs, we talked about what it meant for each of us to share our stuff more freely, give back to God more openly and serve more genuinely.
Every noble idea needs a noble plan, though. Here's one that might transfer into your household:
- Foster an attitude of gratitude: Our culture bombards us with ads meant to make us think that we won't be happy unless we upgrade to the latest version of something. Push back against this as a family by regularly thanking God for how you've been richly blessed by the people and things already in your life. Talk about what it means to pay it forward, whether by serving strangers as you've been served or taking responsible care of whatever/whomever has taken care of you.
- Show them what they're missing: There are needs in your home and community your kids are around but won't see until you show them. It can be as simple as getting a napkin for others when they get one for themselves, or as complex as talking about why there are homeless people in your town. Talk about these opportunities and stories, appropriately editing content based on age. Even little kids who don't understand what "cancer" is can grasp how everyone in your family is pitching in on making dinner for someone you know who's sick.
- Give everyone ownership of something: Everyone can take care of some part of your home, but you'll have to first show them what this means. Let your kids observe and work alongside of you as you joyfully model what needs to be done. Talk about why it's important, whether you're doing laundry or feeding the family pet. Teach them to notice what needs to happen for it to be a job well done.
- Talk it up: Genuinely celebrate what it means to serve others. Saying, "Isn't it great that we get to make someone's life better by doing this?" goes a lot further than complaining at how hard a job is. Recognize how they've helped, even if all they've added is a small contribution in the grand scheme of things.