How can I teach my children the joy of serving others?
High school teens are so awesome. They can be crazy, goofy, down to earth, dramatic, or completely frank. They are sometimes moody, depressed, or struggling to find their place in life. They are open to new ideas. They are seeking truth, even if they don’t realize it. They are so capable of deep conversations and profound prayer. Not only are they capable of these things, they long for it. This is because they are longing for Christ Himself, it’s what their hearts were made for (our hearts too!).
Longing for Christ
Teens, in longing for Christ, discover that this longing can be filled in service to others. And if they are longing to serve, how do we turn service into a source of joy for them? The greatest way I found to teach the youth the joy of serving others is to do it. Is it really that simple? Yes.
Serve with your children. For two years, I took a group of 8th grade students each month during lunch hour to Connection Café, where we served the poor and working poor in downtown Des Moines. Each time on the way back to school, we would process what we had seen and heard.
I heard words of surprise for the many faces of the poor in their own city. I heard words of sadness for the struggle they saw. I heard words of joy over the gratitude that was voiced. Almost unanimously, the students would convey their excitement over the chance to serve lunch and express interest in going again.
Sharing joy, encountering Christ
I took a group of high school students to a couple of nursing homes one afternoon during the Octave of Christmas. We sang songs and visited. We had some great conversations. We encountered some joyful people. We encountered some lonely people.
Nonetheless, we encountered Christ in those we served in the simplest ways, and the teens were begging to return soon.
Why were they so excited about the opportunity to serve? Because in serving, they had an encounter with Christ. An encounter with the poor, the helpless, or the lonely is an encounter with Christ Himself, and He is the source of all joy.
As parents it is so important to serve alongside your children. Encounter Christ together. Find joy in the encounter! We don’t do service simply to fill out a number of hours on a piece of paper, but in order to meet Christ. Come to realize that the face of Christ is found in all people.
As we learn to serve the poor and the needy, may we find joy in that service, and may that joy penetrate every other aspect of our lives and every other encounter we may have on any given day. Because joy, as Blessed Mother Teresa said, “Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls!”
(Maggie [Schopp] Peiffer, Former Youth Minister at St. Mary of Nazareth Parish)