From the time they can speak, we ask them the same question. Over and over, relatives ask. Friends ask, Sunday school teachers ask, random strangers ask.
And our children quite cutely respond with whatever strikes their fancy at the moment. It’s fun to hear the answers, to dream with our children. To wonder what’s going on in their little minds when they are asked yet again:
“What do you want to do/be when you grow up?”
It’s a question with endless possibilities- a question that is pregnant with room to dream.
My husband and I have nurtured our children’s creativity in the same way, frequently asking this common question.
Until about 2 years ago….when, during one of our “what do you want to do/be when you grow up?” conversations, our son gave an answer that stopped me in my tracks.
“Does that make a lot of money?” he asked.
Now, before you think I’m against making money, I’ll clear the air and assure you that I am not. I’m not against people getting good jobs and making money, and I don’t think that everyone should be in full time ministry.
What stopped me in my tracks was the realization that we had somehow (even inadvertently) shaped or guided our kids’ thinking into pondering what job would make them the most money. And at that point we realized that we needed to change what we were asking.
Since then, we’ve not asked them “What do you want to do/be when you grow up?” Instead we ask the following question, and it is radically changing the way they think and answer:
Who do you want to help when you grow up?
We love to see the way it always makes our children stop and think….rethink. And we’ve had some great conversations about the relationship between what you do and who you help.
We wanted to put our theory to the test, so one day we threw a curveball to our kids. Without any previous discussion, this is how the dialogue went, word for word:
“Who does Daddy help?”
The kids stopped, thought for a minute, and said confidently, “Churches. People in churches.”
“Who does Mommy help?”
They didn’t even stop to think before saying, “Pastors’ wives!”
Then they added, giggling, “Us! You guys help us!”
You can’t even imagine how their answers warmed our hearts. They got it. They connected what we do with who we help. And we had never even had that conversation before.
Another example- our kids were discussing in the car recently which books in the “Who Was,” “What Was,” and “Where Is” book series are their favourites. (If you aren’t familiar with these books, become so. They are excellent for succinct learning about people, places, and events in history.)
Marie Curie, Ben Franklin, Helen Keller, Amelia Earhart, Abraham Lincoln, Anne Frank, Betsy Ross, Paul Revere.
“Why did you like Betsy Ross?” I asked, “Who did she help?”
“Why did you like Abraham Lincoln? Who did he help?”
And we discussed how all of these people are remembered NOT for what they did, but for who they helped. Because what they did helped people. Even by the world’s standards, if what they did in their lifetime didn’t help anyone, it holds no value to be remembered.
If what we do in our lifetime doesn’t help anyone, it’s rather worthless in eternity, and certainly will not be remembered on earth.
I want my children to live a life of focusing on others, helping others, sharing Christ with others, solving problems that help others, designing and creating things that help others.
This is Gospel living.
Whether that Gospel living looks like full time ministry in missions at home or in a foreign land, or whether that looks like working a 9-5 job in the secular work force…..I want their thinking to be not “What do I want to do?” but “Who do I want to help?”
We are absolutely loving the answers we are getting from this revolutionary question. We’re successfully shaping and guiding their thinking away from monetary gain and onto the needs, hearts, and souls of people in the world around them. This is exciting to us because we know that God has created them to help people in some way. Even if they or we don’t know what that looks like for a long time, at least they are becoming more and more aware that they were created for more than themselves and the dog-eat-dog, rat race of a life they could make for themselves.
I wanted to share this with you, my readers and friends, because it is so transformational. No matter what age your children are, it’s never too early or too late to guide their thinking in this way. Not only is it effective with young children, but older ones as well. If your children are high school/college age and perhaps struggling with what they should do with their lives or what they should study, try shining a different perspective on the issue by saying this:
“Who do you want to help?”
And see if you don’t crack open a corner of their hearts. See if they don’t look inside and start to realize how God has gifted them and who they are drawn to.
These days we are getting answers like “I want to build houses for the people in the townships in Africa” and “I want to help children” and “I want to bake things for people” and “I want to travel around the world and give all the people a Bible who don’t have one.”
Now we’re talkin.’
No. Now we’re thinking. Thinking Gospel.
It makes my heart happy, and I whisper a prayer during these Gospel conversations- to the God Who is listening in…..to the God Who created them and wants them to be more like Him than I do….to the God Who has given me greater joy in helping than any aspirations or amount of doing could ever bring.
Do, or do not. But always help. Teach your children to think this way, and both you and they will be changed. Who knows, it might even change the world. This is the power of the Gospel!
We can live it….if we think it first.
A Kindred Spirit
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