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Virtue 101: Service
U. S. A. | SPIRITUAL LIFE | NEWS
Practical tips on how to form the virtue of service in our children.

two children sitting

Service:
Service is the virtue that leads us to give and give ourselves to others in a habitual, firm, and decisive way. It leads us to give the best of ourselves and our talents for the good of others.

GOAL
• Through concrete opportunities, to form the children in an attitude of service, generosity, detachment, and self-giving, thus counteracting the effects of selfishness. 
• To help the children understand that they can have a big impact on others’ happiness, and that what they do or don’t do will have positive or negative repercussions on those around them. To teach them a sense of responsibility for others—both in society and in the family.
• To teach the children with our witness, work, and effort that their participation and solidarity with others must be constant attitudes, not just superficial or fleeting gestures. As parents, our example will always be the most powerful lesson we can teach.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO FORM THE VIRTUE OF SERVICE?
• Experiencing the joy and personal growth of true service is an important and often neglected aspect of our children’s education. We live in a materialistic culture that reduces service to a few obligatory hours on the weekend, or to a material gift grudgingly given. Our children are not given enough opportunities to experience the joy of giving themselves to others, and of making others happy.  Without these opportunities, they may not realize how important their personal initiative and actions can be for the lives of others.
• Teaching children how to have an attitude of service is a concrete way of teaching them to overcome their natural selfishness. It is a practical school of love. The life lessons learned from true service can have a real impact on the way our children set their priorities once they are grown up.
• Living this virtue results in greater harmony in the family now, and in society (and in their own families) later. A well-developed attitude of service helps the family to become a domestic church where the virtues flourish, and where everyone grows together. At the same time, it decreases friction and squabbling, which are usually the result of two selfish egos colliding.

LIVING SERVICE MEANS:
• Cheerfully and willingly (not grudgingly) sharing my toys, candies, personal things, etc.       
• Being aware of others’ needs, not locked up in my own little world.                                           
• Sharing my time, listening attentively to what others tell me.
• Being ready to give the best of myself to help others.
• Helping at home or at school, even without being asked.
• Participating actively in campaigns or projects aimed at helping others. Being the first to enthusiastically join in.
• Giving something good of myself to someone I don’t know very well, not just my friends or the people I love. Sometimes this can be a smile, or a friendly word, or an effort to include someone who looks alone and lost.
• Remembering to think of the people who don’t “give” us anything: the sick, the elderly, the handicapped… and being open to discover their interior riches without judging by appearances or first impressions.

WHAT HELPS US TO PRACTICE THIS VIRTUE?
• Specific activities that help children to forget themselves and take on concrete actions or projects for the good of others.
• The example and encouragement of parents who are already living (or striving to live) these virtues. When parents are enthused about service projects, they show their children that there must be more to the experience than just the personal inconvenience of having to get up early on a Saturday, etc. When Mom and Dad are cheerful and enthusiastic about serving, their joy is contagious and the kids find themselves enjoying the experience too (even if they are adolescents and they don’t show it).
• Other role models, such as youth group leaders, slightly older peer leaders, and positive friendships.
• Other virtues and attitudes help, such as:
    o Generosity, availability, and the capacity for self-detachment.
    o Joy and kindness help us to be generous.
    o Camaraderie and participation, which help us to work for the common good.
    o Understanding, which helps us to notice others’ needs and be sensitive enough to reach out to them.
    o Gratitude, which makes us realize the gifts we have, give thanks for them, and share them with others.
    o Magnanimity, which helps us to aim high in our service to others.

WHAT MAKES IT HARD TO LIVE THIS VIRTUE?
• The normal standard of selfishness and individualism that is all around us.
• Our own materialism, by which we tend to compensate for a lack of presence with an abundance of presents. Parents: what we give to our children is above all the gift of ourselves: our love, our presence, our interest, our joy… this is what matters most. Children CAN be happy without the latest gadgets.
• Our own tendency as parents to satisfy the children’s likes and wants immediately.  This can be the result of a culture that is too attached to comfort and convenience. We sometimes forget that adversity and challenges forge strong character, and that children can derive great satisfaction from having learned to overcome an obstacle or achieve a goal with their own resources.
• Along the same lines, when we take away the child’s opportunities to practice detachment (ie, when we are afraid to say a firm and unyielding “no”), we stunt their capacity for service. When this happens too much, children can begin to acquire an attitude of entitlement and a sense that their wants and whims are at the center of everyone’s world. This subtle focus on self can result in hardness of heart and indifference to others.

PRACTICAL WAYS TO FOSTER SERVICE AT HOME
• Always recognize and encourage family members to do acts of service to others.
• Be hospitable. Happily receive friends and visitors, without behind-the-scenes complaining about the effort required.
• At the dinner table, teach children to notice the needs of other people, so that they learn to offer each other a refill or a napkin before the other person has to ask. Teach proactive charity at the table, and also discretion.
• Teach children to give their best when they are visiting relatives or family friends: to smile, respond courteously, show interest…
• Pray as a family for the needs of others.
• When natural disasters come up, respond as a family by participating in missions, special collections, social service projects, etc.
• Listen well and teach your children to listen. This means: not interrupting, not looking bored, asking good questions, and not thinking of what you’re going to say next while the other person is talking.
• As a family, thank people for the gifts that we receive. Never complain about what we don’t have. Instead, teach the children (by example and through specific opportunities) how to work patiently toward their goals.
• Invite the children to give part of their allowance to a charity of their choice.
• Do a service project on a regular basis as a family: work together at a soup kitchen, go on missions, rake Grandma’s yard and take care of her landscaping, put together gift baskets together for the poor, visit a nursing home or an orphanage together… some of these projects can be specific “father-son” moments, one-on-one. Others can be as a family.
• Always praise your children for the good acts they do, and comment on the good actions of others.

“Jesus traveled throughout all of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom, and curing the people’s sicknesses” (Lk 6:17).


PUBLICATION DATE: 2009-11-25


 
 


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