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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Teaching Christian Charity

photo by di_the_huntress

When you hear the word charity, what does it bring to mind? Volunteer work? Donating money or goods to an organization? Helping the poor?

In the King James Bible, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:13 that charity is the greatest of the three virtues listed, that of faith, hope and charity. In the NIV Bible, the word charity is translated love. When researching the original Greek word, charity is the translation of agape, the same sacrificial love God demonstrated for His people when He gave up His Son on the cross for our salvation.

Teaching our children to be charitable, then, means teaching them to give of themselves sacrificially, with God at the very center of the reason for their charity. Not an easy thing to do.

When teaching our children about investing themselves in something, whatever it may be, my husband tells them that they have three things at their disposal: their time, their money and their energy. Depending on circumstances, any one of them can be in short supply. My fourteen year old son has more time and energy than he does money, while my sixteen year old daughter has more money and less time because she works part-time.

The same three assets can be the basis for teaching your child to think in charitable terms. What can they give away in terms of time, energy and/or money that would demonstrate Christian love and character to others?

The money part is generally pretty easy. There are always organizations willing to accept financial support to help in their operation. What about time and energy? Here are some very simple ideas that will allow even the youngest child to learn to give of him or herself:

Pick a task that can be done for someone else in the family. Charity should start at home, right? How easy it would be to give away a few minutes of time and a little bit of energy by doing someone else’s chore without being asked to do so, yet how far the sentiment would go with the recipient of the act of love. Ideas include making a bed, folding clean towels, taking out the garbage and feeding the family pet.

Give a smile away. Christians don’t have to suffer the stereotype of being dull and lifeless if your child is willing to give away a tiny bit of effort and learn to smile at people. Make it a game. Tell your child that you each have to give your smile away to at least three people during the course of your day. Watch the response you get. It’s a wonderful gift.

Walk or play with a neighbor’s pet. With households being as busy as they are nowadays, many pets go hours without human interaction or stimulating exercise. If it’s safe to do so (I’m not advocating approaching a potentially menacing animal), offer to take your neighbor’s pet for a walk, a romp in the backyard, or just some loving pets and belly rubs.

Ask before taking the last of something. This was a hard one in our household, especially with the boys competing with each other for the last slice of pizza or chocolate chip cookie. The real charity comes when your child has to give up that last thing with a cheerful attitude. Nonetheless, applying this concept is a virtue that will reverberate throughout your household.

Christian charity is a noble virtue for your child to have, but it doesn’t have to come expensively or be labor intensive. In fact, the simpler the learning, the easier it will become a part of his or her character as it is consistently carried out.

What ideas do you have for instilling simple charity in your child?

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