Since generosity is the virtue our family is focusing on this Advent, last week I asked the boys if they would like to put some charity into practice by making something homemade for their homeschool classmates. They were so eager to jump right in, that I decided to let them completely take charge of choosing and making the treats for their friends.
What I realized after it was all said and done is that if you give boys free reign in the land o' treat making they will always:
2. Continually lick their fingers even if you make them wear gloves. Behold Exhibit B (Charlie's 17th pair):
Steve and I try to teach it is in giving that we receive to the boys, words we, as adults, are still trying to trust. Being generous not only with our material blessings, but also with our time, can sometimes be a challenge to our self-seeking natures.
We can only be said to be alive when our hearts are truly conscious of our treasures.
- Thornton Wilder
How many more days 'til Christmas, Mommy??
If you have little ones at your feet today, I bet that, like me, you've been asked that question countless times over the past few weeks.
Weren't we the same when we were young? There's so much excitement wrapped up in the Advent and Christmas seasons. I wish I could say with 100% confidence that my boys are counting down to Christmas purely because they are awaiting the supreme gift of Christ, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, but the honest truth is they can't wait to see what Santa brings.
I'm not sure our nature changes all that much much as we get older. The longing for something more, to be blessed, to be surprised, to be thought of, to be given something we can call our own is within each of us. Those longings can be such a good thing, provided they are anchored in Christ.
My children make dozens of requests every day, from a necessary glass of water to unnecessary extras such as sweet treats, toys or more TV time. Being asked over and over constantly for things is kind of exhausting, isn't it?
I wonder sometimes if I weary the Lord with all of my requests, I'm quite certain that I lack gratitude and thanksgiving in a measure that far exceeds my wants. Steve is always saying that we cannot give that which we don't possess.
How can I expect my children to live a life of gratitude if they don't see it in me, or hear it from me first??
There is so much to be thankful for. All of the time.
During the penitential seasons of the church, I like for our family to choose a virtue that we can focus on together, and this Advent we chose generosity.
Deep and sincere generosity toward others comes from a place of gratitude. When we understand how blessed we are, giving to others is a natural response. We have a quote from Ben Franklin on our wall that says, "What good can I do today?" I knew when I saw it in the store that it would become a focal point in our home, not just for the boys, but for Steve and me as well.
Despite the visual reminder hanging in our living room, there is still a tendency in our home toward selfishness. The children need a great deal of encouragement as well as practical opportunities to grow in virtue without being overly criticized for their faults or feeling overwhelmed by their weaknesses.
I always thought as the kids got older that we would go out as a family and participate in volunteer work at soup kitchens or shelters, but many of those places require kids to be of a certain age before they may volunteer.
So, until the boys are a bit older, I have to set my ideals aside and show them that our home is full of people to care for and every day offers an abundance of opportunities to be generous.
When they balk at being generous when asked, I find it is helpful (but not always a cure for the bad attitude) to remind the boys that we are ultimately serving the Lord, and that the rewards for every act of loving sacrifice are eternal. Jesus didn't feel like giving His life for us, but He did, and He is the perfect example of charity in action.
When we're out as a family, during our time together in the car, I try to remind the boys that as young men they are called to be an example of courage, strength and sacrifice to the world. They can demonstrate these virtues by opening doors for others, assisting the elderly, being gracious to those who serve us and even just cheerfully acknowledging others with a kind hello or how are you can be an act of sincere generosity.
I think it is especially important, as well, that children remember generosity toward grandparents. Our boys pull weeds and mow lawns for grandparents during the summer months whenever possible. And, if they are not sure how they can be helpful, we just remind them to ask, "Is there anything I can do to help you today?" Grandparents cherish children's thoughtfulness and their helpful hearts, too!
Each Christmas the boys put their names in a hat and draw someone whom they will either buy or make a gift for. If they don't have any money of their own, and want to purchase a gift, then we put up a list of chores that can be completed for payment such as detailing the car or cleaning out the garage. I feel that this doubles their generosity, because they have to sacrifice play time to work hard in order to obtain their goal!
In addition to Christmas, birthdays and Father's day are also special times during the year for them to show extra special acts of generosity toward others through the gift of sharing something they possess, doing chores for others, or making or buying a gift for a family member.
I really love how every day family life provides the most perfect and abundant opportunities for everyone to strive toward living a virtuous life. It just takes a little bit of effort on the parents' part to show the children how precious these opportunities are, and that the value in seizing the opportunities has an eternal reward.