Cultivating Generosity in Our Families
“Tis the season to be sharing.” This phrase may be overheard during the Christmas season. Each family will find its own unique ways to be more generous this time of year. How can we encourage this sentiment throughout the entire year amongst our children?
Generosity allows us to see God’s plan at work not only for others but in ourselves too. I had such an experience when volunteering at The Vatican’s Bambino Gesú hospital. I was in Rome for a week while studying abroad with a group of fellow college students. We were visiting patients in an attempt to lift up their spirits when I came upon Luca. Luca couldn’t have been older than two years old and could neither see nor hear. He also couldn’t communicate himself at all. The only way one could communicate with him was to caress his back to let him know you were there.
The experience left a profound impression. I was reminded I was made for others. All of us have a purpose outside of ourselves and fit into God’s plan. When I met Luca, I felt a strong sense from the Holy Spirit that I was a part of something bigger than myself. Out of God’s love, He had put me on a plane and flew me over an ocean to give comfort to that boy for a few minutes.
Think of the nativity story and how God had invited his guests to the manger. Through their generosity of time, talent, and treasure they participated in an event in which the world had never seen before. The shepherds leave the fields and give of their time to be with Our Lord (Luke 2:15-18). The angels use their celestial talents to give praise to God by singing “Glory to God in the highest.” (Luke 2:13-14) Finally, the wise men give of their treasure when they present Our Lord with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11) How does our Blessed Mother react to all of these gifts? The Gospel of Luke says that she “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) Any generous gift we do out of love for Christ Mary stores and presents them perfectly to her Son.
What mother wouldn’t want to instill the virtue of generosity in her children’s hearts? In today’s world, which focuses so much more on one’s own self-importance, how can we help show our children to live for others and lead generous lives?
A story comes to mind told to me by a wise co-worker I had. We’ll call her Sarah. Sarah related to me a family tradition she and her husband kept with her children. Each year for Christmas, her children knew the expectation was they would only get three presents. One present was something they wanted. Another present was something they needed. The third present was something that they would give away to somebody else. This worked well for their family as it helped their children distinguish needs from wants as they got older.
One year in particular, one of Sarah’s sons realized that what he really wanted for Christmas was a new bicycle. He also wanted to build one for his Christmas present, with help from his Dad. So, months in advance, having chosen his gift early, father and son went to work on building a bicycle from scratch. They chose the frame, the style of the bike, which accessories to add, the color, etc. Come Christmas time, Sarah’s son had a one-of-a-kind brand new bicycle. He was very proud of the hard work he had put into it. However, not too long after Christmas, he realized that a friend of his had just wrecked his own bicycle and needed a new one. On his own accord, Sarah’s son declared that since his friend was without a bike, he would like to have his new bike be the gift that would be given away. The other, less exciting presents would become his need and want gifts.
I can only imagine how proud Sarah was of her son that day. Also, I imagine how thankful she was for the grace that he received through their family’s tradition. Now, this is not to say that receiving multiple gifts for Christmas makes for ungenerous hearts. I do strongly believe that Sarah and her husband, in explicitly giving her children an opportunity to be of service to others, is what really made the difference.
The ideas offered in this article for families are certainly not exhaustive. When compiling this short list, I tended to list things that focused on generosity of time and not so much on talent, or treasure. I think this is because as a teacher who’s taught all over the country, I’ve seen kids who, in one way or another, feel lonely, or isolated. Much of the time they may not be able to express that this is the case. The same can be said for adults. With a myriad of screens and entertainment options at our fingertips, we can be easily disillusioned that we aren’t as lonely as we think.
Family dinners can be a simple way to help with this. Everyone needs to know and feel that they are delighted in, especially children. Children seeing their parents halting their busy days to sit, actively listen, ask questions, and enjoy each other’s company has a positive impact on children. Children can have a great example of what earnest conversation looks like. If your family schedule doesn’t allow this every night, then pick a night, and find ways to set it apart from other nights. Make someone’s favorite dish, set out a nice tablecloth, use different plates, or play a game together after the meal, etc. How you make it special is entirely up to you.
For children to practice generosity of their time, invite children to ask questions of guests you have over to your home. Obviously, the questions should be within appropriate boundaries and with adults that you trust as a family. Asking questions as simple as “What is your favorite season?” or “What is your favorite memory from Christmas?” helps reinforce how to be other-centered and teaches children how to be generous with their time.
Having an interaction with someone with more years in their rearview mirror helps your children gain appreciation and perspective. If you have teenagers, they may see that someone not “liking” their post is not the end of the world, especially in light of how they have so much more to look forward to in their life.
Teens often spend time primarily with other teens, be it in person or online. Also, senior citizens often live in nursing homes or living in special communities where people only 55 or older can live. This type of “age segregation” is something fairly new in the history of our world. Having interactions with different people of different generations has been found to be mutually beneficial. Visiting an older relative or a nursing facility as a volunteer is a great way to bridge this age gap we find ourselves in.
The Christmas season is a great time to connect and be generous in our time, talent, or treasure. Just like the example we have in scripture, the generosity that we show others is not for us to “feel good” about ourselves. Rather, we are honoring the other person. In doing so, may we encounter Christ, especially during this special time of year.