Teaching selflessness, the hardest thing ever

So I’ve never mentioned this on the blog before, and I’m slightly hesitant even now, but lately I’ve been consumed with teaching my boys to think outside themselves, a task that is tremendously more difficult at Christmas time.

Three years ago when we joined our church, I asked around about volunteer work that the boys and I could do. We attend a fairly large church in town that serves a hot meal once a week to approximately 300 people in the community. These folks are displaced, discouraged, desperate for connection, physically and emotionally hungry, members and non-members, Christians and non-Christians, and so on. It’s called Welcome Table and our church is currently one of two in town that provides this service.

Though the person in charge of organizing Welcome Table is a paid position shared between the two churches, the rest of the work is done entirely by volunteers. For the last three years, every Tuesday afternoon, minus a couple of Tuesdays when we were out of town, the boys have helped set 30+ tables for the evening meal.



They arrange the centerpieces and the salt and pepper shakers. They add the sugar bowls and salad dressings and whatever else was needed to accompany the meal.



I help too, but only because they aren’t allowed in the kitchen on account of their age. I help prepare the bowls and baskets, but they do the toting and arranging.


When we’ve had guests in town, we take them with us to Welcome Table. Both Ethan and Alex have helped set tables, and so did my extended family when they came in for Christmas two years ago. Unless we are out of town, which is rare for a Tuesday, or ill, which is also rare, we have a standing weekly appointment to set tables.

Setting tables

I’ve refrained from mentioning this publicly because I think volunteer work (in most capacities) should be done quietly without any fuss. To be completely frank, I didn’t want people patting their backs and telling my boys how wonderful they are because they’re volunteering. I wanted them to work and do so in humility. After all, it isn’t about them.

Tables at Christmas

This message has been the driving force of my focus to teach them about selflessness. Over and over again I say, “Others first,” and “Consider how this affects other people.” Sure, there’s some level of personal pride that helps to balance our psyche, but in this case, I kept a lid on it. Unless you know us in person, it’s likely you didn’t know about their Welcome Table work.

Welcome Table

So why mention it now? Because I have been riding their tails so hard about selflessness that I couldn’t see how far they had already come. I’m making this work public as a reminder to me that I haven’t lost my kids entirely to self-centeredness. They DO have good hearts and a desire to help others. They DO care for other people and want to be in service to them. They ARE good kids who think not only of themselves.

Shame on me for not giving them an ounce of credit all this time. I was so concerned about other people patting their backs that I failed to offer them a well-deserved “good job today” or “I love how hard you work.” Those are things they should hear from me.

As I said, it’s exceptionally harder around the holidays to focus on caring for others because everywhere we turn there’s a Christmas Wish List or a toy commercial or a comment about what they want to find under the tree on Christmas morning. Christmas is like kid crack, and I have to remind myself that this is also okay. It’s fun to receive gifts and be hopeful and live each day in anticipation. I have to cut myself and them some slack in this arena.

As we start our fourth year of setting tables, I’m looking for additional ways we can serve our community and carry on the tradition of doing what we can with what we have. I’m also making a mental note to commend my boys more often on the work they’re already doing. I know their hearts and I see how hard they try. It would do them well to know that their parents are proud.

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