There are plenty of things I don’t think my kids need to see me doing. Some of them, they will see anyway. Others I might succeed in keeping private (but probably not). Yet there is behavior I want ingrained in their memories because it is counter-cultural: My husband and I support causes and organizations that have nothing to do with our kids.
Lots of parents get involved in their kids’ school PTA, coaching a kids soccer team, leading their Scouts troop or even volunteering with their vacation Bible school. But let’s be honest, that’s just insurance we’ll have a say and that it will be well-run for the sake of our kids.
I want my kids to notice that their parents invest in activities with no payback for ourselves. I want my kids to see their mother and father supporting an organization that is not connected to them. This is how we live out Jesus’ interpretation of the law—“love your neighbor as yourself”—by taking our benefits out of the picture.
Here is one way we’re putting this into practice: Each summer our family receives a weekly box of vegetables from a neighborhood garden and non-profit that employs high school students. Youth tend gardens, learn about cooking fresh produce and work at nearby nature reserves. Sure, we get produce out of our subscription, and by our fourth summer subscribing, I can even recognize most of it. (Often what I get is a cooking challenge.) Moreover, we take our kids and friends with us to the organization’s events. We are evangelists for this nonprofit and its mission.
We do this because we are sending our daughters these messages (and reinforcing them for ourselves):
- Our family is not the center of the universe. Our kids must know that their parents’ time, effort and even food choices do not revolve completely around them or even ourselves. We choose to do things and invest in programs that support other kids’ growth and other families’ futures. Martin Luther wrote that “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does” (in his commentary on 1 Peter 1:17). The life of faith is not all about gathering good things to ourselves but about living in our world with care for others.
- We can learn a lot from leaders whose lives are different than ours. The youth interns for this organization happen to be mostly people of color whose families have demonstrated economic need to qualify; we are middle-class white people. And they are in high school—much younger than my husband and I! We show up in all kinds of weather for events run by these teens. The interns give testimonies about the impact of not only their stipend but the cooking and leadership skills they gain from the program. We listen and learn.
- Investing in other people’s well-being is good for all of us. We want our kids to be thoughtful adults, but we also want to nurture other young people. Our world needs a new generation that cares about the earth and can use their leadership to work for good. At our children’s baptisms, we promised to teach them to “strive for peace and justice throughout the earth.” We believe supporting access to healthy food and nurturing leaders who cultivate that food is one way we live out those vows. Furthermore, my husband and I use our networks to connect others with this organization.
Right now, our two young children just accept our engagement with this organization (and at least one of them eats unfamiliar produce). But I look forward to the day when they’ll whine about it a little, so I can explain why we are freed in Christ to serve our neighbors, not ourselves.