Raising Generous Kids

Editors' Note: This article is part of the Patheos Public Square on Charitable Giving. Read other perspectives here.

My little girl brought home an empty baby bottle from her class at church and set it on the kitchen counter. "Mom, we need to put money in this bottle to help babies."

I read the attached note explaining the Christmas project was to help the local crisis pregnancy center. I agreed to help her because I thought it might be a fun way to teach generosity to my kids. She approached every member of the family and asked for their change. I heard pennies, nickels, and dimes jingle in the bottle as she scoured the house. She found a quarter under the couch and asked about the dollar that was lost in the dryer.

Within a couple of hours, the baby bottle was half full. But she didn't stop there. "Mom, I need more money," she explained with a hand on her hip. I wanted her to know that generosity requires hard work, so I gave her a couple of small jobs to do around the house. She looked a little surprised. "Honey, giving to others isn't easy."

She completed her work and begged a handful of change from her grandparents. By the time the next Sunday rolled around, the bottle was quite heavy and completely full of money.

But when I reminded her to bring it to class, she got a funny look on her face. "Mom, I've decided to keep the baby bottle. It has so much money in it!"

I tried not to laugh at her unexpected announcement. And honestly, I couldn't blame her for the selfish thought. She had worked hard to collect and save the money, only to give it away. But I also knew that is the birthplace of true generosity: when it costs us something to give to those who can't return it and we give it anyway.

I sat down across from her at the breakfast table and told her the story of the widow's mite.

"She gave everything in the offering?" she asked.

"Her last pennies," I said.

God doesn't want us to give out what we have. He wants us to give from what we lack.

"I tell you the truth," Jesus said, "this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has" (Luke 21:1-4).

Here are four things I want to teach my kids this holiday season about generosity:

  1. We give because we can. Simply put, we are blessed with so much. From food to clothing to the house we live in, and the jobs we work. We give because we can and it will help us value the days ahead when maybe we can't.
  2. We give because we want to receive. We don't give to get. Sometimes the people we give to can give us something in return and sometimes they can't. But we don't give for either reason. We give because of what God gives us in return. We sow good seeds when we give to others and he reaps a bountiful harvest in our lives.
  3. We give because it feels good. One of my family's favorite Christmas acts of generosity is giving to impoverished families anonymously. It feels so good to secretly surprise a single mom with gifts on her porch or buy a toy for a child in foster care.
  4. We give because it glorifies God. Giving pleases God. It honors him. It's one of the many ways we can say thanks for all he has given us.

Editor's Note: For more stories about Kristen's family and their experiences in raising generous and grateful children, read her new book, Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World, to be released in January 2016.