How do you raise children to be compassionate and mission-minded? How do you instill qualities of a servant leader from a young age? What are appropriate ways for children to serve their community? How can you serve together as a family? These are questions I’ve journeyed with the past two years. In this new blog series, Raising Micah 6:8 Kids, we’ll follow the scriptural road map to raising a generation of world-changers: “The Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” This month we look at cultivating contentment in our kids.
Spring has sprung, and in our neck of the woods that means yard sales. I love Saturday morning yard sales for many reasons, but one is how it satisfies my 7-year-old’s itch for getting ALL THE THINGS. She has a collection of knick knacks in nearly every category: dolphins, Asian motifs, buttons, plastic bottle caps.
It’s either human nature or societal conditioning, but no matter what my husband and I give or do for our kids, they always seem to want more. I know this because the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted something, gotten it and still wanted more. Contentment is hard, y’all.
So how do we raise Micah 6:8 kids? You know, the ones who consider the needs of others before themselves? Here are a few ways to plant seeds of contentment. Our job is to water. God’s is to give the increase.
A neighborhood family has taught me much about the advantages of living modestly. When their twins had (simple) birthday parties, they asked for donations of items to give to the homeless shelter. When their son made his Christmas list, I noticed the items that were inexpensive, classic toys. I realized it resulted from living without cable TV and its barrage of constant commercials. They live on one income, drive used cars and take incredible vacations to areas of natural beauty, like state parks, and go without electronics while they’re there.
When you make intentional choices like these, tell your kids why you do them. Explain that the most important things in life aren’t things—they’re our relationships with each other. Eating at the dinner table, having family reading time or game night are great ways to build family ties without defaulting to the mall or the movies.
When my second child came along I had forgotten the very wise trick of rotating plastic storage bins of toys. When our playroom got particularly out of hand recently, I realized my kids just had too much stuff. I filled four bins with toys and my husband put them in the attic. We plan to bring one out every three months or so. We brought out a bin that had been put away for a while already and my two-year-old thought she had all new toys!
Make a “want” list.
Lately, whenever my oldest asks for or wants something, I tell her to write it on her “want list.” I explain that I wouldn’t be a good mom if I gave her everything she wanted all the time, even if I had the ability to. My friend Betsy said when her kids ask for stuff at the store, she explains that she has a list of items she needs to buy and she budgeted for those only. “But, if the kids would like to bring their money to spend on stuff of their choice, they are welcome to do so.”
Ron Lieber, personal finance columnist for The New York Times, says in his new book, The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous and Smart about Money, that it’s critical we teach our kids about money, the difference between needs and wants, and where to draw the line between high quality and high dollar. He says allowance is “practice money,” and can help kids learn about finances by controlling how they spend it. His preferred method for tracking is using three clear containers (like mason jars) labeled spend, save and give. He says allowing for impulse spending now may help them make better choices later.
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My friend Leigh Ann says she tries to model gratitude by saying “thank you” when her kids help out or treat someone kindly. She also says she “thinks out loud” in front of them, saying things like, “We are so fortunate to have a warm home to stay in, and blankets and coats to keep us warm.” Or, “I’d really like to have some new boots, but our electric bill was really high this month, so that’s going to have to wait. At least we are able to pay the bill. I’m grateful for that.”
Our abundance should be used to help others. It’s how we can show others the love of Jesus in a practical way. 1 John 3:17 says, “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (ESV).
If you start to look around at the needs of others, it’s not hard to find reasons to be thankful. If you have a young one, keeping a Blessings Jar, like the one described in this book can help inspire gratitude. If your child is older, keeping a gratitude journal as a family can help foster a sense of God’s provision. In the front of the journal, write, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth….For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19,21, NIV) as a reminder to treasure and be grateful for the things of God.
Give them opportunities to give and serve.
Today I joined a group of mothers who were rehabbing a transitional house so a high school student whose mother moved out of state, leaving her behind, would have a safe place to live. Some moms brought their fourth, fifth and sixth graders to clean and pick up trash to give them an opportunity to serve and see first-hand what life is like for people in need.
When it comes to donating, Lieber’s book cites 64 percent of children said they had no idea what their parents were giving, if anything. Don’t assume your kids know how generous you are; include them in the process of giving.
A shining moment came for my friend Leigh Ann last year when her third grader came home from school and asked if he could get $75 out of his bank account. “I asked what for, expecting him to say some kind of shoes (cause that’s his thing),” she said. “Instead, he said his teacher had made them aware of another child whose family was having a rough time, and he wanted to help them. Of course, we drove straight to the bank and withdrew the money. On the way there, trying to see the road through my tears, I was thinking, this is so sweet, I think I will take $75 out of my account, too, and match his donation. But then I had a really powerful feeling come over me that I should just let him do this himself. I didn’t want to undermine his effort by just casually pulling out more money like $75 was no big deal. Something told me to let this be his own personal gesture. I just had a strong feeling it would be more powerful for him to do it all by himself.”
Quiet the soul.
In a particularly anxiety-filled time, I began instituting pre-bed stillness with my oldest daughter. We turn on worship or instrumental music and sit or lay side by side on the floor in silence. I set the timer to 1 minute at first, then we worked our way up to 3. I found that nurturing stillness brought peace and calm inside, which affected how we interacted with the world outside.
An activity like that can also open the door to talk about the way God made us. God made each of us with the desire for something bigger than ourselves. The reality is only He can satisfy that itch for “more.” Sometimes when we want things, it’s our soul wanting to spend time with its Creator. Talk to Him about filling our hearts with His Spirit and ask Him to help us to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with Him. Hebrews 13:5 is good to meditate upon.
How do you know it’s working? Start with yourself. Check and see your level of contentment. The benchmark is being able to say, “It is well with my soul.” (Use this printable as a visual reminder in your home this month to cultivate contentment.)
7 Big Questions About God
Kids have big questions about God…and Clive & Ian have blimp-sized answers! Find out the answers to 7 big questions about God including “How do we show respect to God through our actions?” in Clive & Ian’s Wonder-Blimp of Knowledge 2.
Cara Davis is a content consultant and co-founder of the soon-to-launch church’d.com. The former editorial director for Relevant Media Group, her writing has appeared in The Huffington Post and CNN, and she’s been quoted in USA Today and The New York Times. She lives with her husband and two girls in East Nashville where she has co-founded a nonprofit called Community PTO to support the success of local community schools.