Sunday, December 4, 2011

Service and Giving in Advent

Our pastor’s sermon to kick off Advent encouraged us to do things that really celebrated the life of our Savior.  She suggested a number of ideas, but she of course flagged that service is a great way to celebrate Christ’s birth.  She mentioned several ministries at our own church as practical ways to serve others at this time of year.

I really love service and have done a good deal of volunteer work in my life to-date.  But I was talking with some church friends the other day about certain struggles we have with service at our current phase of life.  In the group, we were all parents to young children.  It is very hard to find age appropriate service opportunities to do with children.  Our own family has lived in several towns and gone to different churches while our kids have been young.  At each church, this is a perennial problem.  As a result, it is hard for parents to do service because then child care is needed.  And in our hectic lives, we all already have so precious little time together as a family. 

A friend of mine in the group was saying how guilty it made her feel, she just cannot do enough.  I told her that I used to feel that way, but had eventually come to a realization and a peace about the situation.  I realized that this is only a season in life.  Our kids will not be little and unable to participate in volunteerism forever. They will get bigger and more opportunities will become available. 

And eventually they will fly the nest.  At that point, my husband and I (God willing!) will have plenty of time to devote to serving others.  But I believe at this present season of our lives, God has other plans.  He has put our family together for a reason.  Our children need our nurture and guidance.  So, I am content to be on the service sidelines a lot these days.  I still do things that work logistically like helping with the children’s ministry or ushering at church.  And there are a few other ministries where I only have to help periodically. One ministry even allows our whole family (including the kids) to participate. But I feel that my main area of service right now is to my family—particularly to my young children.

Nonetheless, many parents would like their children to be more involved and to have a better appreciation of the needs and struggles of our brothers and sisters around the world.  It is important—especially when we live in a country of relative wealth—to understand how fortunate we are.  I would like to share two practical ways that my husband and I have helped others while also helping our children understand how privileged their lives are.

First, for a number of years our family has had a tradition of “shopping” for gifts in the World Vision Gift Catalogue.  World Vision is a well-respected Christian humanitarian organization that does an array of practical and impactful things to meet the needs of vulnerable people around the world.  The Gift Catalogue has a number of options.  You can choose from a host of things to bring health, education, nutrition or even a livelihood to children and families in need. Each year, we give each of our children a budget and study the catalogue with them. It always makes tears come to my eyes when they choose to buy things like ducks, blankets, soccer balls, seeds and mosquito netting for other families. I think they have a better appreciation of how difficult some people’s lives are and how our actions can ease their burden.  You can learn more about the World Vision Gift Catalogue at:

My own theological views on war and the military are complex.  But regardless of that fact, I greatly admire anyone who gives service to others—particularly those who risk their own lives.  As our nation has been involved in two separate wars in the past decade, my heart has broken for the toll that the situation has taken on families.  I mourn for the separation of parents and children especially.  And at this time of year, I can imagine that sacrifice must seem almost unbearable.  I have been a real fan of the site: It provides a list of soldiers who are willing to act as the point person for their unit, and lists things that would be most useful and appropriate to send to that particular unit. Our family on various occasions has sent cards, art work and care packages to soldiers serving overseas.  It is a very worthwhile endeavor.

Matthew 7:9-12

Who among you will give your children a stone when they ask for bread?  Or give them a snake when they ask for fish?  If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.  Therefore, you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets.

John 15:13

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

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