(2009 October Newsletter)
In traditional Chinese culture, there are various points of view when it comes to serving. We either think others look down on us when we serve, or conversely, we feel a sense of superiority when being served. In Chinese families, parents often teach the children to obey the elderly, and for the younger ones to serve the older ones. On the other hand, the Western culture promotes equality and respect for everyone, regardless of age or occupation. Even the service industry is well respected. All members in the family are to be treated fairly, whether you are the child, the parent, or the grandpa.
The Bible also talks about serving one another. In John 13:15, Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment to love one another. Christ Jesus demonstrated to His disciples how to serve one another in love by personally washing His disciples’ feet. (John 13; Galatians 5)
The difference between the teachings of Jesus and the practices of the traditional Chinese and Western culture is motivation. Jesus teaches the disciples to serve one another out of love, whereas today’s culture encourages quid pro quo. Since we live in today’s culture, how then should we teach our children the Biblical way to serve others?
As God’s children, God provides us with guidelines for serving one another in love. First, we are God’s creation and He loves all of us. Therefore, we must love and respect one another, whether we are the one who is serving or the ones being served. This principle challenges the traditional Chinese frame of mind. We must break through the concept that the younger generation should serve the older generation. Everyone, regardless of their age, should serve one another in love. In the family setting, parents should avoid overemphasizing the importance of their children serving the older generations. On the contrary, when parents serve their children, their children will feel the love and respect from their parents. By seeing the parents’ example, the children will respond by serving others with love. For example, my son has Taekwondo three times a week. During weekends when he experiences muscle pain in his legs, I take the initiative to massage his legs for him which he enjoys so much. One day, I came home exhausted and I rested on the sofa. My son came to me and asked “Mom, are you tired? Let me massage your shoulders for you!” I was so happy that my son has learned to care for me by offering to serve me.
Secondly, when we serve one another in love, we experience joy in our hearts rather than complaining. Feelings of injustice and disappointment will not be an issue anymore. When parents view taking care of their children as a dreaded duty, parents get upset at their children and blame them. This will give their children the misconception that serving others is nothing but torture. Just like Martha in the Bible, she was upset when she had to serve Jesus and complained to Him. (Luke 10) Martha failed to focus on the reason for her service. Therefore, the service became a chore to her instead of an act of love.
The Bible teaches us that “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs.” (1 Corinthians 13:4 – 5) Therefore, parents ought to follow Jesus’ footsteps and teach their children to serve in love. We must set a good example for our children, always be ready to serve willingly and not expect anything in return. When we experience joy in serving in this way, our children will also learn to be happy to serve.
The lessons of serving one another in love should not stop at the level of family and individuals. One day, our children will leave us and be continuing members of society. We must begin to teach our children at a young age to serve our community at large. Last Christmas Eve, I brought my two children, 4 and 9, to visit senior apartments and convalescent homes as part of our church’s activities. We sang Christmas carols to the elderly and presented them with gifts. We were all very touched by the smiles on the faces of the elderly. From these visits, our children learned to step out of their little circle of friends and serve others in love.
The most valuable lesson that parents can teach their children about serving is to actively serve God together with them. For example, since my son was 2 years old, I’ve brought him with us to short-term mission trips every summer. Not only is he thankful to God for how much he has, compared to the under-privileged, he also has firsthand experience and a deeper understanding of what is involved in serving God and spreading the gospel. Going on short-term mission trips is much more meaningful to him than going to summer school.
In teaching children how to serve with love, the key is encouragement and support from the parents. The attitude of the parents would greatly influence the way children view serving others. Parents need to help children find opportunities to serve. Parents must walk with their children and help them to mature. Short-term mission trips, caring for the homeless and the elderly in the community are all great opportunities for children to learn to serve others with love. I encourage every parent to bring your children when you serve others during this coming Thanksgivings and Christmas holidays.