You could say that I grew up in a non-conventional family. Where a lot of families were going on family vacations to the beach, or the mountains, or Disneyland, my family went on mission trips. These weren’t necessarily the “glamorous” overseas mission trips to South America or a remote village in Africa. Often, these were the under-rated, off-the-beaten-path places that no one else wanted to go to. These were the small towns in the panhandle of Texas with a population less than my high school. These were the tiny churches that were barely being able to keep the lights on. These are the places far from glamour and even something interesting to do on our off-time. Still, I did these from a young age with my mom and dad, sometimes also with a church group. This is what I grew up knowing. And instead of dreading these times I feel like it really allowed me to understand the world around me in a way that many others I grew up with just didn’t get. We served together. We actively saw the world around us impacted by the work we did whether it be my four-year-old sister or my missions deacon dad. We all had an impact. As a therapist, I often think back on these moments and wonder if that benefit is transferable to other families that didn’t grow up the way I did. I absolutely think that this is one of the most important things families can do: to serve together. Here are just a few reasons why.
As a couple it allows us to work toward a healthier foundation of partnership rather than two individuals living in the same home.
This is a classic danger of marriage in America right now. Often, instead of working in a problem-solving partnership, there are two individuals with their own departments and divisions much like a corporate structure. When couples serve together, it allows them to work shoulder-to-shoulder without pushing and pulling each other. This can truly help us see the gifts and strengths of the other person and to put ourselves in a position to be both helped and to help.
It allows us to give as well as receive so that we don’t become consumeristic individuals.
We live in a country that is full of abundance. We are blessed to be Americans. However, the ugly side of blessing is that we can become consumers, just taking from the abundance rather than giving back. Serving together allows us to give back in a way that is substantive. It takes time and energy and sometimes sweat. Rather than just writing a check (which is better than nothing) it allows us to really get in and actively work along the lines of helping others.
It allows us to have a more stable perception that we are not better than anyone else.
There’s a great Ben Folds song that I have used as a calibrating tool for many years. Anytime that I’m feeling particularly superior or overly prideful, I play the song. The title says it all: “There’s always someone cooler than you.” Although I wouldn’t recommend playing the song for your kids since there is some language, I think the sentiment of the song is solid. No matter how financially stable or socially dynamic or successful we become there’s always somebody that does it better. Serving allows us to keep this important levelheaded mindset. It allows us to get down on our knees and work toward somebody else or something that may not even affect us. We’re never too good to get dirty or sweaty or to help somebody in need. Of course, it’s important to do this in a shoulder-to-shoulder mindset rather than in the mindset of superiority—“Oh, let me go help these poor people or give of my abundance because I’m so much better than everyone else.” That would actually defeat the benefit of the service in the first place.
As Christians it allows us to put our money where our mouth is.
Of course, I’m not talking solely about money. It’s important to work as a couple, shoulder-to-shoulder, in order to live out the values that we aspire to. It’s one thing to sit in the church auditorium and applaud the person on stage talking about their service organization. It’s quite another to get down in the thick of that organization and do the work. Again, we are very blessed in our country but one of the dangers is becoming removed from the actual doing of our values.
It models the type of thing we want our kids to embody.
The number one obstacle I hear from families that find themselves in crisis is that they just don’t have enough time. I don’t think this is a perception. I think the truth is that there are more good things to do than there is time to do them in today’s society. A lot of these families aren’t filling their schedules with fluff and filler. Most of these families have intentional things in their lives that they want to instill in their kids and their families. The problem is there’s just not enough time for everything. By having a routine of serving together as a family you make time for the things that are important. Teach your kids that service and giving to others is as important as all the other personal things that you may want to achieve. Instead of looking for extra time in order to do these projects you build these into your everyday life. This will help ensure the idea of serving will be instilled in your kids as a fundamental value.
Of course, there are some things that will make this process easier on you. One of the biggest reasons I hear that families don’t serve, other than time constraints, is they can’t find a service project that fits everyone. Serving together doesn’t mean doing the exact same service activity.
It’s important to respect each other‘s individual take on the service activity. The most important part is that you’re serving. Not that you’re serving exactly the same way or see it in exactly the same manner. God has blessed us with different gifts and talents and personalities. As a couple or as a family leaning into those and finding ways for the individual members of the family to express themselves through service will go a long way toward helping everyone to have confidence, feel comfortable in their own skin, and to have a fundamental value of giving. When we serve in our sweet spot we actually feel a sense of accomplishment and energy. This can motivate us to want to do more. So, spending a little extra time leaning in to your spouse, to your kids, and to your family as a whole to find out their individual gifts and personalities will go a long way toward helping make an impactful and beneficial experience.
Above all else it’s certainly true that we are better together. Serving alongside one another is a practical way to impact the world around you and to be better together in a positive way.
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