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Editor: Ed Barnes      ph 865-458-5043     

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Vol 5 No 20 June 25, 2000

Teaching Children Generosity

Betty Haynes

HOW DO YOU TEACH CHILDREN generosity when their peers count their blessings in terms of designer jeans and the latest Nintendo games; and when the media bombard us with the subtle message, "It's okay to want everything and to do everything -- you deserve it"? The epidemic of depression and escape into drugs, alcohol, premarital sex and even suicide among teens who "have every advantage" shows the sad failure of this thinking. Women can make a difference here since their attitude helps set the family tone.

Old Testament warnings about the world's focus on pride, possessions, and pleasure are summed up in Jesus. By example and teaching he directs us to true happiness, a happiness which demands self-denial;, not self-gratification -- exactly the opposite of today's ideas.

Jesus had to make choices about time, interest, and effort similar to our own. Yet, we see Him willing to "spend and be spent" again and again. One wonders how He held up to such long, grueling days, but He never turned away anyone needing His help. The fact that many were total strangers shows His compassion for all, and His interaction was more than just "going through the motions." He always invested something of Himself, rejoicing or sorrowing according to the situation. What a contrast is our reluctance to "get involved," fearing more will be expected of us than we wish to give!

Jesus' life was a live portrayal of "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39). Yet He was not a long-faced hermit. He joyfully shared in simple, everyday blessings. We will be wonderfully blessed and "find our lives," too, if we let His choices be our guide.

Jesus showed His priorities not only by example, but by teaching. Etched into our mind are graphic pictures of the foolish farmer and his barns, the rich young ruler, the rich man and Lazarus, the widow's mite. How reassuring to know we can lay up treasure which can never be disturbed! How sobering to think we are merely stewards of our possessions! How humbling to consider that serving others is really serving Him!

The basis for a selfless lifestyle is an attitude of trusting faith. Many of us have experienced firsthand that such attitudes are "caught" as well as taught. One of my most precious blessings is the memory of my maternal grandmother with her never-failing unselfishness, her willingness to work hard for her family and others and her sweet serenity during the good and bad times. How inspiring it is now to wake up early just blocks from the site of my grandparents' farm house and think of "Bigmama" beginning her long day through so many busy years!

Her hospitality was legendary in our little town. For example, on Saturdays she carefully placed a cake in the glass-doored china cabinet. It was "hands off" until Sunday dinner when company (including virtual strangers) was often invited home after the morning worship service. Four of her sons were called into service during World War II, but she eased her pain by making her home "a home away from home" for lonely young men at the local air base.

She reached out to others in many other ways. I remember her rummaging through her closets, then dividing her own linens with a family who had lost everything they had in a fire. An orphaned niece was taken in and treated like her own daughters. I often went with her so see shut-ins and was impressed from an early age with their touching appreciation.

Her generosity was not an isolated thing. Her faith in God was strong. Through excruciating trials she never wavered. One son was declared "Killed in Action" and surfaced later with the Belgian underground; another was missing in action for a time over China; her husband died prematurely of cancer; and, in the Vietnam War, a grandson was killed in a helicopter crash. But through it all she still worked and trusted in the Lord's goodness. She was a humble woman and would have been surprised that her life helped define generosity for others.

What can we glean about teaching children from all of this? First, that we must impress upon their minds early on the lessons of Scripture, with special emphasis on Jesus as the ultimate example and teacher. They need to be led to make personal application, to internalize basic principles which will anchor them in coming years.

Second, that our example can show godliness with contentment is great gain. Keeping our priorities straight is a life-long struggle. but they can see we are trying.

Third, that even small efforts can have lasting effects. Learning to be faithful over little leads to faithfulness over much. Children can help cook and take food to others, do yard work, gather and arrange flowers, draw pictures, send cards, and welcome new boys and girls. Parents I know help their children to become close to elderly people in nursing homes. Others have taken their youngsters along when a sick mother needed a babysitter. This may have meant canceling anticipated recreation, but that's a learning experience, too. Young attempts at generosity should be praised at least as enthusiastically as getting "straight A's" or being athletic stars.

Perhaps the beginning place is recognizing the need for consciously practicing and teaching generosity. Understanding its emphasis in Scripture and in Jesus' life makes us more aware of its importance for us and our children.

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