On a Spring day in 1998, I reluctantly notified our mission chairman that I wouldn’t be able to make the Mexico Mission trip. My reason? I did not have the $500 deposit and didn’t have time to raise the money. However, that same day, my daughter called, “Dad, I know that you really, really want to take this trip, and it just so happens that I have an extra $500. I want you to use it for your deposit.”
Recalling that conversation still makes me misty eyed, not because I was able to take the trip, but because our daughter made such a generous offer. Knowing that Jaime, a struggling cosmetologist, did not have ANY extra money punctuated the bigheartedness of our girl, and being the recipient made me realize that my wife and I had raised a remarkable young woman. Lest I shortchange our other three children, allow me to state that all four of our children, now in their thirties, are generous with their hearts, their time and their money.
I wish I could pinpoint the exact strategy my wife and I used to raise generous children, but I must confess that such a strategy never existed. However, we did a few things right, so I will share three tips, some of which we did pretty well and some of which we could have done better.
1. Walk the walk.
Children learn by watching their parents. Period. Jesus was teaching this principle when he said that students cannot be greater than their teachers (Mat 10:24). Our children learned generosity as they watched my wife taking hot soup to sick neighbors, baking holiday treats to give away at Christmastime and simply giving of herself any time any of us have had needs. Myself? Although I have been doing better in recent years, generosity has never come easy for me. Still, in spite of my self-centered nature, I was acutely aware of the fact that my children were watching how I treated the restaurant server and how I responded to red poppy collections at stop signs. Such awareness, I am sure, prompted my own generosity and (I hope) encouraged our children to do likewise.
2. Involve your children in giving.
Our church, for years, gave homemade Christmas gifts to the inmates at a nearby minimum security prison. Coordinating with a prison minister, we (children included) were allowed to deliver those gifts to the prison and then participate in a Christmas worship service with the inmates. The gifts consisted of homemade Christmas cards and homemade cookies. For weeks before Christmas, our children’s Sunday School classes made hundreds of homemade cards. In the meantime, parents and children made dozens of homemade cookies. Janice devised an assembly line approach for our family: some mixing, some placing on cookie sheets, some timing and removing from oven and some putting the cooled cookies in plastic bags. The highlight of our Christmases during those years was taking our children with us to deliver the gifts and participate in the service.
3. Make giving a requirement.
“Just a minute, Joe. Isn’t ‘required giving’ an oxymoron? After all, if it doesn’t come from the heart, is it really giving?” Good point. But Proverbs 22:6 tells us to “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not turn from it.” We train our children to study, to work and to treat others as they want to be treated. Should we not also train them to give? Of course! And such training does not mean handing them a quarter as you walk into the church building…that is a lesson of how to be a courier. Because we taught our children to earn their own money (by paying them for certain responsibilities), the offerings they gave to the Lord were true gifts. Did we militantly force them to give every single Sunday? Not at all. In fact, we should have been more diligent about it…something I hope you can do better than we did. Candidly, getting all four of them into the car on Sunday mornings was challenging enough without always remembering their offerings. However, in spite of our inconsistencies, the giving they did as children stayed with them when they became adults.
It is more than money.
I want to close by emphasizing that true giving, while it is a discipline, is much more profound than a simple transfer of goods. When you train your children to be givers, you are molding their hearts; hearts which will develop into generous spirits as they enter adulthood. When our oldest son Josh was a high school senior, he saved his pizza delivery money for months so he could spend it on vacation. But, when we encountered a needy family while en route, he gave it all to them.
Who knows? Maybe your son will do the same. Or maybe your daughter will some day offer to pay your deposit on a short-term mission trip. I hope so.
What other tips do you have for those looking to raise generous children? Tell us a story from your own life, and meet us in the comments!