I married when I was eighteen, and four days later my husband and I hopped on a plane headed for Honduras, Central America, to work as missionaries on the small island of Roatan. My parents and two brothers were not far behind us, all of us together stepping out in faith to serve God and others the best way we knew how. In the days leading up to the missionary journey my mom and dad planned a beautiful wedding for my husband and me, and they also systematically sold or gave away EVERYTHING they owned. I was still living at home, and I saw my room empty, a little at a time, one trinket and garment at a time. Cars, furniture, dishes, appliances, tools, all of it…gone. When everything was done my family was driven to the airport by a close family member with everything they owned packed in six suitcases. I stored my wedding gifts, but everything else was gone. Slade and I had two packed suitcases to our name.
I cannot exactly describe the impact that this emptying had on me. When I read the stories of the saints who gave away all they owned I can sort of relate. Of course, my journey did not continue in this way, but I do know what it feels like to own practically nothing. I also know what it feels like to give away a life, to leave a certain kind of life for one that is completely different all because you want to serve God or someone else. It’s not as romantic as you may think.
I remember those early years of marriage, and sometimes now when I set in my beautiful home filled with pretty things I cry. I cry because I know the joy of giving far outweighs receiving, and I wonder if my knowing makes me more responsible. What I have seen with my eyes, people who are joyful in severe poverty, people who love God living in a cardboard shack on the edge of the dump, uneducated people who love their children and keep dirt floors impeccably clean and worship even though they cannot read and wash there clothes by the sea and share even though they have nothing and struggle with preventible illnesses and walk to church and try to give strangers the pictures off their walls just because they mentioned it was pretty. See, my crying is not because these people I saw were suffering, it is because they were joyful.
In America our excess makes us sad. However, the Church provides for the spiritual bliss of both the rich and poor. Almsgiving connects these two peoples in a very genuine and real way. One gives and the other receives only to discover that the giver receives and the receiver gives. It is a wonderfully kind and loving relationship that is made possible through almsgiving.
So, how do we open this world up to our children? I have come up with three bullet points that I think will make it possible to narrow down what my husband and I try to live with our children. Please remember that we are all sinners, and the things I share are the deep beliefs and convictions of my heart. That does not mean that we live this out perfectly, it only means we are trying and failing and trying again…over and over and over.
Three ways I teach heartfelt almsgiving to my children:
- Radical Sharing
- Daily Chores
- Counting Our Blessings
From the start a child enters the world as a part of a whole. He is a part of a family, a part of a community, a part of the world. Children are not autonomous, they do not have the ability to act freely or care for themselves. They arrive with needs, and they must be cared for. A child literally could not survive without the giving of others, they are dependent. In this way a child is always in a humble position, and it is in this way that I think children should remain in their place. It is the same position we are all in with God. We are completely dependent on his care and therefore we should approach God in humility and repentance, this is the Orthodox way. Children are not to be disrespected, neglected, or treated unkindly. Exactly the opposite; they should always be loved and love sacrificially. However, in this modern secular world the example of Christ and His love for us is not the model. What we have today is child worship, along with a strangely mixed cocktail of neglect, abuse, overindulgence, and hate. Yes, I said it..hate. This world is becoming less and less friendly toward children, all the while claiming to put children first. Its a weird dichotomy that I have not figured out. But, enough of my soap boxing. Back to sharing.
It is with this belief that I approach sharing. If something belongs to my children it is because my husband and I gave it to them, or some other person gave it to them. For example, why is it wrong for children to share bedrooms and toys, as if this giving will harm the child’s identity or self-awareness or boundaries. This kind of thinking is not Christian. The bedroom and toy do not belong to the child, they do not inherently own the bedroom or toy. These things are blessings, gifts, luxuries that took the sacrifice of another to provide. To share them is the very heart of almsgiving. If a person realizes that ALL he/she has belongs to God and is only given to them by God, the art of almsgiving becomes and remains joyful. However, if the mantra is, “Mine, Mine, Mine” the joy of giving is clouded and diminished.
Through sharing children learn to let go of their iron fist grip on “stuff.” It is difficult to teach a child to share, and even more so as they grow older, especially if as a youngster they were spoiled and overindulged. Sharing is the first step to learning how to give. What can children share? Everything. Toys, space, bedrooms, clothes, food, pets, attention, and much more. Older children can share as well. Their privacy needs increase, and I always keep that in mind. But, the teen years can become a nightmare if the the child is excluded from sharing. The monster can and will raise its head, the one who desires independence and autonomy above all else, especially the needs of others. And we parents must discern and let the teen grow, but we do not have to accommodate selfishness and pride.
To teach a child that he/she is a part of a whole, a part of a family, and that the very nature of family demands sharing is crucial to the child’s ability to learn and grow in almsgiving. Over time I believe that the Joy of sharing can and will be discovered. Sharing proclaims to the world that all we have belongs to God, therefore all we have can be shared.
Work is a true act of giving, especially if it is done for the sake of the whole. When children are brought up to share their stuff, it is easier for them to share the load. Think about it. We adults have to share in the work load of this world. There are many things that must be done, and we all have to do our part. And sometimes we have to do for others because they are unable to do for themselves.
The home is a great place to learn this. When children are given a share in the work load they become aware of the needs of the whole. I especially see this when chores outside of cleaning their own room, or making their own bed, or things that solely pertain to them are given. When the chores began to include folding laundry that doesn’t belong to them, or washing dishes that they did not use, or dressing a younger sibling, or cleaning a bathroom that everyone uses my children began to mature and become more giving.
Right now I am completely dependent on my husband and children to care for me and this house, and honestly we have not had alot of drama over this. Sure there have been days when everyone feels stretched to the limit and attitudes reflect that. But, all in all I am amazed at the level of skill and diligence that my girls have demonstrated. They are also compassionate and loving when I know they are tired and stretched. Not always, but most of the time. The house has kept running, we are a team, we are all part of a whole. When someone on that team is unable to do for themselves it is up to the others on that team to carry the burden. To me this is family. To me this is almsgiving.
Soup kitchens and shelters and mission trips and volunteering are chore oriented, but they have glory attached to them. This kind of almsgiving is definitely crucial and meaningful, but small things are where we learn to do things in secret. Like changing your little sister’s dirty diaper and cooing with her while you do it. Nobody is watching, only God sees, and this is true almsgiving. When a child’s heart is broken in the right way his/her service at the soup kitchen or shelter is genuine. It is based on previous training that has shaped a worldview of service, sharing, and burden baring. I saw this over and over again in the years my husband and I were youth pastors. The children who were trained at home were the ones who cried their eyes out on mission trips when confronted with poverty and disease. They saw things differently, and they worked the hardest. I try to train my children to bare a portion of the family burden, to see their value in their service to others. In this way work and chores can be joyful.
Count Our Blessings
Is it really a blessing to be a part of a family that practices radical sharing and daily chores? Well, I think so, but sometimes my kiddos don’t see the benefit. That’s ok…they are children. However, I sense a sort of contentedness in my children that alot of kids lack. They are not little saints, always happy to work or share, but down deep I can see true happiness. I see a kind of self esteem that is genuine and peaceful. I really think without them knowing it, my children have learned true happiness through sharing and work. They know that they are valuable, not as objects of worship, but as individuals with certain God-given talents and abilities that contribute to the health and happiness of the whole.
Serving others is the key in helping children feel apart and not alone, it makes them feel that they are needed and matter to others. My kids matter to me outside of what they do for me, but I know the look in their eyes when they serve me a glass of ice water when they know I cannot make it myself. I know how they bounce around when they have completed their chores and everything feels orderly and peaceful and good. I have seen them take a younger sibling in their arms to comfort and console, and when the younger snuggles up and settles down the older feels loved and valued and cherished. This is the joy that a giver receives. This is the love that the receiver receives. It is the foundation of all relationship and fellowship. It is communion lived out.
Almsgiving is the recognition of true blessings and sharing those blessings with another person. All the sacrifice and work and sharing become the joy of the giver’s heart. I would like to end this VERY long post with something I wrote on another post:
Almsgiving is not exclusively about money…in its deepest since it is about mercy, a kind of pity that breaks the heart of the giver. It just so happens that money is a readily available resource. But one is reminded of the apostle’s words, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee.” Even those who have no currency are still expected to give what we have been given and give with a broken heart full of mercy and joy, and that is not a religious mandate or a sterile practice. It is life giving.
If the foundation is laid, giving money will be as natural as cleaning a toilet or feeding a pet. It all belongs to God, everything. Our time, our talent, and our treasure. And this is what I call Home Schooling. It all begins at home.