Chores? Or Acts of Service?
- Dr. Michelle Anthony Author, Spiritual Parenting
- 2011 10 Oct
In my home we chose not to have chores. You're probably thinking, "Wow, you're kids must have enjoyed that!" Well, actually we still implemented the concept, but instead of referring to them as chores (which they would see as something to "get done and out of the way") we decided to call them acts of service. This might sound silly to you to think that we merely changed the name, but I wanted them to understand that what they were really doing was serving our family.
They needed not only to do what was required for daily living in our home, but also to ask above that, "What needs to be done? We live here in this home. We're participants in this family. What else needs to be done?" So we assigned designated areas of service to our children. My daughter had cleaning bathrooms, doing laundry, and washing dishes every other day, while my son had taking out the trash, mowing the grass, cleaning the spa, and washing dishes every other day. They needed to help with the groceries, the kitchen, the dog, the litter box, and their rooms, as needed. But I didn't want them to think of those things as a list to complete; rather, I wanted them to see our family as interdependent.
I remember the morning when I knew the idea was taking root. Around six thirty a.m., I heard my son shouting in the hallway before school. Now, my son is not by nature a person who shouts or is easily upset, but that morning he was. As I lay in my bed I heard these words resonate through our upstairs hallway: "Mom! Chantel has not done her act of service, and now I have no underwear for school." Although I then heard the argument that ensued as my daughter suggested that he was capable enough to wash his own underwear, I snuggled down in my bed with the satisfaction of knowing that not only had my son referred to the laundry as an act of service at six thirty a.m., but that they had both seen how dependent we were upon each other for our needs to be met.
In this model, while we all have our customary tasks, we also live in a home that asks, "What needs to be done?" So if my son sees that there is a huge pile of laundry, he can put in a load of whites on any given day. My daughter is free to serve our family by picking up groceries and making dinner one night if I am asked to stay later at work. We seek to do this for each other because that is what needs to be done—we don't want to simply live life by checking off our own personal list of duties.
It's a great reminder to ask one another at dinner, "How did you serve your family today?" On the occasion that your family has served one another, this will be a time of gratitude. On the occasion that your family has been more self-serving, this will be an opportunity to remind one another of the ways that you need the other members of the family. Perhaps after sharing, your family can pray that they will not only be sensitive to ways they can serve in the future, but that God will give them the strength to be selfless and generous with their time and energy.
Now let me make one thing clear: My children are not always smiling, dancing, and joyfully running through our house doing acts of service at all times, like the mice in Cinderella. The reality is that my children give me tremendous pushback about serving our family, just as I am sure yours will. But as spiritual parents we are choosing to live this way because it's a daily reminder to them of what their true calling is—not only in our home but in life. This is their calling from God.
We model at home what it looks like to live in this world as Christ followers. So, if we have chores at home in a place that's supposed to be a testing ground for all of life, then they may see serving others as an obligatory chore when they're out in the world. Something to check off of their list. They may see situations of need as "not their job" or rationalize that they already "did their job." Will they respond, "I didn't make that mess," or will they see each circumstance as an opportunity to simply serve someone else?
God has designed us to live interdependently in this world. As Paul writes in Philippians 2:3-4, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of your should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others."
We begin by training our children that God has asked us, as His children, to be servants. We train them with this knowledge, and then we model it by calling it out every time we do it. If we serve at church or in our neighborhood, we tell them why we are serving. By explaining why we are doing something, I am able to tell my children, "I asked the question, ‘What needs to be done?' and then I realized that I was needed to do this." Or, "I'm here at church and we're setting up chairs because I asked the question, ‘What needs to be done?' and chairs needed to be set up." Or, "I'm cleaning up trash in McDonald's right now because someone left a mess, and I asked the question, ‘What needs to be done?'" We reinforce this heart posture through repetition. We tell and show our children in every situation what it means to be a servant.
So often we're great models of service, but our children don't know what we're doing or why we're doing it. In order to bring clarity to this, we must call attention to it. This is not the same as bragging about your actions. It is instructing your children what true service is. As your children get older you won't need to say it as much. They'll be saying it. Children who have been raised in this environment are evident. They walk into any situation, and they go straight to what needs to be done. It's a posture of their heart and of their spirit.
August 19, 2010
Michelle Anthony, Ed. D, is a Pastor of Family Ministries of ROCKHARBOR Church in Costa Mesa, California. A former professor of Biola University and Talbot School of Theology, Anthony has written over a dozen resources for Christian Education and Family/Youth Ministries. Michelle and her husband, Michael, have two children and live in Orange County, California.