Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Rulers or Servants?

When you think of your goals for your children, what usually comes to mind? I think of phrases like living up to their potential and discovering their gifts and doing their best. I encourage perseverance and success and trying new things so they'll get a sense that they can conquer the world. I tell them they can do anything they put their mind to, but that most of all I want them to love Jesus and serve him.

That's not a new goal, of course. In the little town of Strasburg, Virginia, there is a Bible on display, and in that Bible is an inscription dated 1773 that reads:  
On the First of July 1759, I Simon Harr (born the 3rd of July 1734) married Elizabeth Schmitten. Two sons were born to us. The first one Frederic, by name, was born the 4th of April 1760 on good Friday evening at 10 o'clock. The second and last, John by name (Johannes) was born in 1761, on the 19th of Dec. at midnight. Thou, O Triune God, may it please thee to let them grow and develop as well in faith, wisdom and piety and all Christian virtues as in years. Oh vouchsafe to all of us thy Holy Spirit, that it guide us all in truth together and bring us along the strait path and even nearer to our heavenly inheritance and finally bring us hither. For Jesus sake, Amen.

When push comes to shove, my goal for my kids is to raise them to the best of my ability to be a certain kind of person, regardless of what profession they may choose. And I think I've communicated that well enough that they would all say that's what I want for them. But this morning in my mom's group I was struck by a question the speaker asked: Are we raising rulers or servants? Much as I want my kids to have hearts of compassion and serve others, I don't think ultimately that's the goal I usually work for. I think of it as sort of an afterthought: Find a profession with some meaning and purpose behind it, and then use it to serve others. I imagine them serving in positions of influence and leadership--teachers or artists or doctors or mothers or missionaries. I don't think I'm preparing them for careers as janitors or restaurant workers or lawnservice people or grocery store baggers. 

Now, there's nothing wrong with striving to help our kids reach their potential or feel good about the gifts God has given them. In fact, I would say that it's good stewardship to prepare our kids to be whatever God has gifted and called them to do. But am I trying so hard to give my kids great experiences and prepare them to lead that I forget to prepare them to serve? Do I set them up to think they should be the best at something, that they should strive for a profession of influence and leadership? Will they struggle with feelings of failure if they end up in a profession the world sees as pretty lowly? Heaven forbid, will they think I'm disappointed in them if they don't live up to their potential?

For me, these lessons hit home because I often feel like my education was wasted. What have I done with my college degree from a prestigious Christian college? I'm working to raise five kids--usually not very well--and copy edit words that other people have written. It's not much, by the world's estimation. It's not even much by my own estimation!

And yet, this is what I'm called to. Maybe there won't ever be much success in my life. Maybe I'll never rule much of anything. But I'm definitely serving. And Jesus, when he washed the disciples' feet--a lowly job if ever there was one--called that act the full extent of love (John 13:1).

Perhaps my parenting priorities need some tweaking. Forget success and potential and conquering the world: I want to teach my children to love. Not as an afterthought, but as the main purpose of their lives. And that means showing them how to serve. What does that look like? Well, I'm pretty sure it starts at home with serving each other. And it involves expanding their world so they develop compassion for people who are hurting. It includes service projects and missions trips and serving at church. And, perhaps most of all, it means setting an example of loving, humble service that doesn't look down on anyone or any task. It means being cheerful and content with my own profession of laundry and dishes and diaper-changing and nose-wiping.


  1. I absolutely love this, Nancy. You've taken a page out of my book here. I want my kids to live a life of service to Christ, whatever that looks like. And, yes, I have to model that for them as well, even if I think what my service looks like is pretty far down the totem pole from where I'd like it to be (God sure has a way of keeping us humble, doesn't He?!).

    But I think you're getting at something here, and it has to do with gifting and responsibility. Yes, I want my kids to be content to serve in whatever way God calls them to, but they have also been given several gifts--a fantastic education, good minds, a supportive family--and I truly believe that they have a responsibility to the Lord and to the world around them to use those gifts to their fullest potential. So, if the Lord calls them to what the world sees as a "lowly" job, that's fine, but I would also ask them if they are using their gifts responsibly. I think there's a real balance there. Does that make sense?

  2. If I were using my gifts to their fullest potential, wouldn't I have an advanced degree and be doing something "more" than what I am? I graduated near the top of my class with no debt from Wheaton. The stewardship argument would say I have done something with that, wouldn't it? I don't want to raise my kids with a guilt trip about living up to their potential, although I do want them to do whatever they are called to with excellence, if that makes sense. I just wonder if my focus is sometimes too much on the stewardship thing and not enough on the service--the service is there, just as sort of an extra I fear. Yes, my kids have amazing advantages growing up where they are with the educated parents they have, and to whom much is given much is expected. I just struggle to find the balance without raising over-achievers with guilt complexes and high expectations about what they will accomplish with their lives. Have you figured it out yet, Shelly? Let me know when you do figure out the secret to that elusive sense of balance. Seems like I need to write another post about this...I'm coming up with more and more questions here!

  3. I think it's a very good question, Nancy. I can tell you from our experience that God hasn't allowed us to give our kids any experiences other than service, so it must be important. That is also true of us--we've been humbled in ways we never asked for, but so much greater to sit at Jesus' feet, and learn to wash feet. Our favorite icon is Jesus washing His disciples' feet, and it often seems like a symbol for Jeff. That's how our kids will remember him, and what they are learning. I would like to give them a lot of success, but it's God's plan to give them hearts of gold. I think it is truly that He says, "Whoever would be greatest among you must become a servant." I love Acts 2-4: the new believers shared everything, were one in heart and mind....MB

  4. Oh goodness, no, I haven't figured it out. My oldest is determined to get a 4.0 this semester if it kills her, and it makes me scratch my head and wonder why she feels like she has to work that hard. She sure doesn't get that from me! :) All I do these days is sit back and watch and pray that God shows them what He wants for their lives. It's hard. All of it.

  5. I probably felt compelled to get a 4.0, my husband...well, let's just say he didn't feel compelled to do so. Looking back, my most vivid memories are of the days he convinced me to skip class and go to the park with him. I don't regret any of those moments we spent together. And I think I got a 4.0 most of the time except for the semester I had statistics, my only C grade and the class that drove me from a psychology major.