“Go in peace to love and serve the Lord!”
Each Sunday, our deacon exclaims this over the congregation. Each time he does, my heart lifts and thrills. It is a reminder that our job as Christians is not just to be together in this sacred space, but to go out into the world to spread love and peace and the message of Christ’s Resurrection. Much like the Apostles did after receiving the inspiration of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, our job is to go out and make the world a better place, where God’s love is known.
Sometimes, however, we can forget that this call to “go out into the world in peace, to love and serve the Lord” is not just for adults. Our children are also wonderful ambassadors of peace, compassion, love and community. And as parents, it is part of our calling to raise them to recognize their abilities to do so.
There are several ways we adults can help the children in our lives discover their gifts and how to use those gifts to impact their community. And luckily, they are relatively simple and often involve following the child’s lead.
Observe and Support
We are all different, and we all have our own unique gift. We can know this intellectually, but when it comes to our own kids, this can sometimes be hard to see. As parents, we search for a connection as soon as possible, and that’s easiest to do when our child is just like us. Often, though, that is not the case. We have been given charge over these little unique souls who are very much their own person, often from day one. We cannot guess what will inspire and motivate them. The only thing we can do is observe their behavior and inclinations, and support what seems to give them the most joy, the most passion, and that light in their eyes. These things are the first clue into a child’s own gifts.
When you know these basic elements of your child’s personality, you are better able to guide them towards activities that make them blossom. A quiet, timid child isn’t going to want to do things that involve them being the center of attention, in front of a crowd, speaking or singing in public. To force them to do so will cause them to wilt on the scene, and no one will be happy. Likewise, a vivacious, social child will have trouble doing things that require them to be quiet, still, act in solitude. A child’s gift will be inherent to their personality, and will be something that they seek out again and again of their own accord.
Exposure and Opportunity
That said, a child should sometimes be led out of their comfort zone into new situations and activities that might light an unexpected spark. My daughter has a big heart for animals, and so we became involved with our local animal shelter’s foster program. It was an activity that she wouldn’t have known about without my introduction, but the moment we brought home a heavily pregnant cat from the shelter so she could have her litter in our home, my daughter was overcome with dedication.
She soothed the cat through labor and even assisted a bit with the birth (we ended up with 7 kittens!) and then helped care for the kittens, take them to get vaccinations and eventually we attended city adoption events to find forever homes for the little cats, which never saw the inside of a shelter in their little lives.
It was an experience that brought out all her innate gifts of love and compassion for animals, caregiving, and then finding a good home for small, vulnerable little beings. I was there to get us going on the first step, and oversee the ‘grown up’ elements like driving us to destinations and buying food and kitty litter, but the experience was one of huge formation for my little future “veterinarian or farmer.”
Little Things Matter
In this age of ‘go big or go home’ thinking, we often think that something isn’t worth doing if it doesn’t go viral or land you in the public eye. But that’s not the way real life works. Many important, life changing moments happen out of the public eye, or even without you realizing the impact.
Something I’ve learned – both through my own giving and encouraging my children – is that the little things do matter. We may only have a few dollars to donate to a charity, it may just be one turtle we help cross the road, or it may be just one afternoon spent volunteering. But without these small moments of giving, nothing will ever get done!
Even small amounts of giving also create a habit of stewardship in our children that is completely manageable. It can be overwhelming to think “Well, in order to really make a difference, you must devote many hours or thousands of dollars.” That type of goal is unmanageable for most of us. But we can manage small moments of kindness, and humble acts of giving. And if we make a habit of this, over time our impact on the world will be very large indeed, no matter what our age!
And so, I will try to remind myself and my children, that when we are called each Sunday to “go out into the world in peace, to love and serve the Lord,” that is a mission for all of us. It is a mission we can complete in ways large or small. All we need to do is begin. It’s never too early—or too late!
How have you encouraged children to discover their gifts?