I live in a house with three sons, 10 years old and younger, which means that our home is a veritable museum for all things Star Wars. Lego minifigures of Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader appear perched in all manner of random places, and we have enough Star Wars-related books, lightsabers, and DVDs scattered throughout our house to make George Lucas proud.
But not long ago, I started to notice a disturbing trend amongst my boys, that despite how much Star Wars paraphernalia we already have, they would still itch for more. I would frequently hear comments such as, “I can’t wait until my birthday, so I can get the Rebel cruiser!” or “I want a new lightsaber for Christmas!” or “I want the newer version of Jango Fett, he’s so much cooler than the old one!”
If you are a parent with children of any gender or post-infancy age, you can probably relate to the frustration that comes when “I want” are the most two common words in your kids’ vocabularies. But we should not be surprised that our children’s natural inclinations are to be self-serving and self-seeking; the sin nature we all have ensures that we all skew this way. However, there are ways in which parents can make choices in their family life and parenting to help swing the pendulum the other way so that their kids can reflect a life committed to serving and helping others instead of themselves.
One thing parents can do is to shift from seeing their homes merely as homes, and instead think about them as “missional outposts.” This means that they create a culture in which the entire family is taught and encouraged to see themselves as God’s ambassadors for the purpose of living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When parents consistently use language that expresses values placing God and His mission first, then back up those words with tangible actions, their kids began to see the larger picture for which they were created.
When parents do this, often their kids will catch the vision and then run with it. Isabel Jones is a girl whose parents work for Compassion International, a nonprofit that provides for children’s basic needs in developing countries. One year, she and her sisters accompanied their parents on a trip to Kenya. After seeing kids her age who were poverty-stricken or in ailing health, Isabel wanted to help. Since many of these Kenyan kids did not have shoes, which could help prevent diseases and illnesses given the conditions they lived in, Isabel launched ShoesForKids.me. To date, Isabel’s ministry has sent more than 4,000 pairs of shoes to children in need, to countries across Africa, Asia and Central America. She is an example of how being surrounded with an understanding of the needs of the world can lead children to lay down their own selfish desires to love others first.
You don’t have to take your children to a Third World country to see this kind of transformation occur. Start by praying that the Holy Spirit will help engineer that spiritual openness in your kids to being God’s servants rather than their own pleasure-seekers. Then take intentional time to teach your children about our calling as Christians to lay down our lives for others, to serve others, and love others as Jesus loved. And lastly, ask God to reveal who and where He would want for you to use your time, treasure, and talents as a family to serve His mission.
Now for birthdays and Christmas, while we do let the boys each have a couple of smaller gifts, we use these occasions as opportunities to fundraise for causes that are important to us, such as flood relief in Pakistan or clean water for orphanages in Cambodia. We haven’t completely curbed the “I want” syndrome, but we have made progress; the other day, I heard one of my kids say, “I want to go help pack food at Feed My Starving Children to send food to kids in North Korea.”
Now, that’s the kind of wanting I am happy to indulge.