Recently heard a story from a proud grandfather. His 14-month-old grandson, I’ll call him James, had recently learned to put sentences together, and when Grandpa flew back to visit, the first words out of James’ mouth were, “How are you today?”
The grandfather was surprised and asked his daughter about it. She explained, “Many people think of themselves first…and sometimes only. But Jesus put others first. I want James to learn to do that, too, so I’m teaching him that he should begin his conversations with others by demonstrating an interest in them.”
I was impressed. Over the many years I’ve been involved in youth ministry, I have been on countless retreats that require sleeping arrangements in cramped quarters. (Isn’t that what a youth retreat is all about?) In that kind of setting, one can quickly see how thoughtful others are. Some kids seem to keep an eye out for ways they can help others, while other kids seem never to notice the needs of others around them. It wouldn’t occur to them to start a conversation with, “How are you?”
When I was young, one of our family standards was that chores had to be done first — before focusing on personal activities. I see now that doing the dishes, pulling weeds and mowing the grass were ways that we implicitly stated, “Family needs are more important than my fun.” Having chores helped teach me the importance of thinking of the best interests of the community first. It is another way parents or caregivers can instill in children a sense of putting others first.
In John 15:13, Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” He did just that. Before he died, Jesus prayed that this sacrificial cup would “pass from him.” But then he added, “Not my will, but your will be done.” Learning to think like Jesus means learning to think of others first. Our personal example is our most important teaching tool.
Some years ago on a business trip, I went to a friend’s house for dinner. I was so struck by how willingly the children all pitched in to help prepare the meal, set the table, serve the dinner, clear the table and wash the dishes that I just had to call my wife and tell her about it. I don’t know whether they did it to impress guests or whether it was their regular routine. Maybe those children grew up considerate of others or maybe they didn’t, but they did have the blessing of having parents who taught them what it feels like.
Can we help our children learn to be thoughtful and considerate of others? Can we teach them the importance of thinking of others first? Can we show them how to be observant of and responsive to the needs of others? According to one grandfather, we sure can! “How are you today?”