Teaching Our Children to Be Big-Hearted
by Carol Grace Stratton
We live in a self-absorbed world. Listening to conversations around us and looking at social media, the messages are demands of “Look at me,” “Listen to me,” “Give to me.” Unfortunately, being a giver is a rare trait in our culture, but one we should teach our children.
Generosity can be shown in three ways—through money, time and grace. And as parents, we want to mirror all aspects of generosity so our children will become big-hearted.
An example of a child who was taught to share his possessions is the little boy who parted with his five loaves and two fishes during the Sermon on the Mount. It’s not clear why this little boy lugged five loaves and two fishes to the event. Was he peddling the food to earn money for his family? Was he bringing home dinner for a few nights? Whatever the reason, the boy relinquished his bundle to the disciples, resulting in a great multiplication miracle. The young man had learned to give at an early age, and Jesus rewarded him with more leftovers than when he started.
I wasn’t very big-hearted when I was growing up. With three other siblings, I had to share a lot. So when my mother gave me a few dollars to walk down to Toy World to buy a birthday present for a friend in my Girl Scout troop, I looked for the cheapest item, a couple of colored pencils. My intent—to keep the leftover money for myself. When I brought home my purchase, my mother was so mad at me she made me take money out of my own piggy bank and return to the store for an upgraded gift. Boy, was I humbled when I found out the entire troop had learned about my stinginess. But I learned my lesson.
Years ago, when we were raising our children, my husband and I wanted to make sure they understood the importance of sharing money and possessions to those in need. So one Christmas morning when we read in the paper that a local family’s home had burned down, we directed our kids to pick out a present under our tree to gift to this family. Each child picked one or two toys and put them in the car. We drove to what was left of the house and explained to the family how we had read about the fire and wanted to help. The gesture made a huge impact on my children as we provided a little Christmas cheer. More than anything, I wanted my children to not hold out on blessing someone, like I did as a child.
Giving of one’s time is a more difficult way to be generous. Time is something we can’t get back. Parents who are raising children, working full time, remodeling their house and delivering pizza as a side hustle can’t imagine squeezing in another activity.
But if we want to live that lifestyle of generosity, we must learn to whittle down our commitments. When we live a quieter routine, we can hear the Holy Spirit speaking to us about those around us who need care. Maybe an elderly aunt comes to mind that we need to call. Or maybe a neighbor with a brood of kids needs a sitter so she can get out and have some girl time. Being generous with our time in the midst of a hurried culture speaks volumes about our faith.
One of my mentors, Muriel Cook, had such a gift for connecting with women that she developed a popular counseling ministry at Multnomah School of the Bible. Outside the door to her office, she often had a line of women needing to talk to her. In addition, she spoke all over the world to women’s groups. But when I would call her up with a concern, she had all the time in the world to listen to me. It didn’t matter if she was hopping on a plane to Taiwan the next day or entertaining a pack of house guests in her home. When I called, she gave me her undivided attention. She never rushed me or thought my problems trivial and unimportant. She was there with me in the moment. It’s a trait I’ve strived to develop.
Jesus modeled this ability, liberally sharing His time even while knowing He had a few short years of ministry. His mission was to tell all who would listen that He was the Son of God, and it must have been urgent on His heart to get out His message. Yet if we read some of His encounters with people, He appeared to have all the time in the world. At one point in the book of Matthew, the disciples were irritated when a group of children approached Him. I’m sure they thought it a waste of time talking to children. But He turned to them and told them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). Time was His to give away.
In addition to giving of our time and money, there’s a third level of generosity: generosity of spirit. This kind of generosity offers grace when someone in our life has hurt us or acted foolishly. Children can learn early not to be offended when one of their schoolmates has let them down. Jesus, of course, is our ultimate role model for offering grace. While hanging on a cross, He cried out to his Heavenly Father saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). He set the bar for a generosity of spirit, asking His Heavenly Father to forgive the very ones who nailed Him to the cross.
Generosity comes in many forms. As parents, we can teach our children to hold loosely time and money as we extend magnanimous grace. Hearts can be enlarged— remember the Grinch? We want to send out big-hearted children to the world, because big-hearted children can change the world for Christ.
We’d like to hear from you. Please share your comments below or like us on your Facebook page. Be sure to check back each month for more articles and products available at your local Christian bookstore.