“My father regularly took one of us with him when he shared our family’s plenty with others who needed it,” reports a service-minded priesthood holder. “Dad saw to it that we learned early what it meant to share, to serve, to recognize need. And to his credit, we grew up thinking that’s how you live.”
The truth is, each of us serves or is served continuously. Nearly every minute of our lives, we are either serving others or are being served by them. Our balance of giving versus receiving depends largely on what we learn at a young age.
One family with both teenagers and little ones has made it a practice that whenever they bake goodies, however simple, they always make enough to share with someone outside their home. “Now even the little ones have ideas about who we should take ‘extras’ to,” the mother explains. “To something that’s already fun—having a treat—there is now added joy: ‘Who shall we share the extras with?’ It may be only three extra cookies for the widower across the street, or a whole second cake baked to take to someone having a special day.”
What a sermon there is in that little notion: Who shall we take the “extras” to this time? Will children who grow up in such an environment have a difficult time serving as they grow older? Sharing extras as children will enable ready understanding of the Savior’s words, “Whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.” (Mark 10:44.)
The Savior was a servant-leader. Parents are servant-leaders. They lead their families and serve them at the same time. Parents who are unselfish in their own relationship with each other will help build an unselfish attitude in their children. Just as the Savior could “do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do,” (John 5:19), our children need good models to follow.
Giving of yourself as husband or wife is one way of setting an example for your children to follow:
AS A HUSBAND, you can serve your wife by—
willingly helping at home;
helping care for the children;
blessing her in times of special need (anxiety, stress, fatigue);
continuing after marriage a courteous and thoughtful courtship;
learning about her responsibilities at work and in her Church callings;
helping her schedule time for her personal development;
listening and discussing her ideas and concerns;
AS A WIFE, you can serve your husband by—
making the home run smoothly in his absence;
continuing after marriage a courteous and thoughtful courtship;
bringing beauty into the home;
learning about his responsibilities at work and in his Church callings;
being his companion and best friend, listening to him;
not complaining in his absence;
AS A CHILD, you can serve your parents and brother(s)/sister(s) by—
being responsible enough with your own tasks and possessions that you can be free to offer help;
not complaining when asked to contribute, so family members will feel like asking you again;
being alert enough that you can notice things on your own that need to be done and do them;
loving the members of your family.
In the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin gave his farewell address about service, and he gave it to families: “They pitched their tents round about, every man according to his family, … every family being separate one from another.” (Mosiah 2:5.) His words about service are among the most frequently quoted in the Church:
“Behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” (Mosiah 2:17.)
The Savior himself set the pattern for us to follow as he spoke of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and befriending the stranger: “Verily I say unto you [who do these things], Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (See Matt. 25:35–40.) Who are “the least of these?”
King Benjamin’s answer was everyone—those both within and outside of our homes.
For young children, perhaps the word help will be more readily understood than serve. Children can realize that we all need help sometimes. Even mothers and fathers need help from one another and from their children.
Helping others in the family gives children a strong sense of belonging. For instance, older children can help younger ones learn skills such as bicycle riding, catching a ball, counting, playing games, or working at hobbies. They can help with school studies and read stories to their brothers and sisters, and can provide transportation when parents are busy.
When a child is busy serving and helping, he is less inclined to be self-centered. He automatically learns to think more of others and less of himself. In fact, if we “teach [our children] to love one another, and to serve one another,” service can be an antidote for fighting and quarreling. (See Mosiah 4:14–15.) This is a very valuable aspect of service, and one that the Lord intended when he taught that we must learn to lose ourselves in serving one another. “When we are engaged in the service of our fellowmen, not only do our deeds assist them, but we put our own problems in a fresher perspective … there is less time to be concerned with ourselves.” (Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, Dec. 1974, p. 2.)
Every day there are countless small acts of service a child can perform, such as helping his mother in the kitchen, emptying the wastebaskets, running errands, caring for a younger brother or sister, tidying his room, or helping his father in the yard or garden.
By talking with children from the earliest ages about the value of helping, sharing, and serving, we cultivate an attitude about service that shapes the way they view the world. If, on the other hand, we impose rewards and incentives on young children to motivate them to do these things, we distort for them the value of simple satisfaction—the natural reward that comes when we contribute.
A grouchy neighbor became a friend to one family who chose to serve him rather than take offense. The father described it this way: “After years of hearing the children tell us about the grumpy, even harsh things Mr. Sloan said to them when they played near his yard, we felt prompted to go over as a family and offer him some service, just a little attention.
“We baked some date bread and took some window-washing equipment over, because his outside windows were hard to reach for one so hunched over.
“The children claimed they had never seen him smile before. But they’ve seen that smile a lot since that day. Bobby, seven, has decided to take Mr. Sloan’s mail from his box to his door every day after school. Susie, twelve, loves to walk Mr. Sloan’s old red setter on a leash around the block several times a week. And Peter, fifteen, has begun mowing the lawn there, since Mr. Sloan can’t do that himself.
“Serving Mr. Sloan has taught our family to love him, and we think he has learned to love us. What a reward!”
President Spencer W. Kimball taught, “God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other in the kingdom. … In the Doctrine and Covenants we read about how important it is to ’succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.’ (D&C 81:5.) So often, our acts of service consist of simple encouragement or of giving mundane help with mundane tasks, but what glorious consequences can flow from mundane acts and small but deliberate deeds!” (Ensign, Dec. 1974, p. 5.) Our service need not wait until we devise some elaborate means or project. Often the simplest, most obvious thing is what is needed most, like a thought expressed by telephone or a note in the mail.
One family that enjoyed the luxury of music lessons for all the children decided that they wanted to share that blessing. So they called a nursing home not far away that had a piano and arranged to go there and play the piano and their violins for a most appreciative audience. Afterwards, one of the older children remarked, “Mom, I was worried at first, but that was more fun than any recital I ever played in.” The father added, “And our music study has taken on greater meaning for all the children.”
Jesus taught us to serve one another without thought of receiving praise or reward. Even small children can learn to do things anonymously. They may enjoy doing some secret good deed, such as shining all the family’s Sunday shoes or making a sister’s bed. If a youngster experiences the good feeling that follows naturally, he will seek out other ways to be of help, either inside or outside his family.
You will want to express genuine appreciation as well as encouragement freely when your children serve. But guard against lavish praise and other incentives that tend to manipulate behavior. Such efforts can too easily displace the inherent rewards of service for children. They may, in fact, be useful to correct problems with children, but they cannot be expected to teach children to do the right things for the right reasons. But with a loving example, in an environment where serving each other is practiced patiently and sincerely, children can learn to serve willingly.
Christlike service not only unites and strengthens the family, it increases our ability to love. Such love benefits both those we serve and ourselves. We become less selfish. As Bishop H. Burke Peterson put it: “The Master gave the commandment to all—not to a few in one land or a handful in another, not just to a family here or there, but to all his children, everywhere. Express love now! Show it now.” (Ensign, May 1977, p. 69.)
Start today! As a family, outline together ways you can begin serving more, or finding more joy in the service you are already performing.