Bedtime Theology with the 7 yo...

Me: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord (jokingly to my kids, trying to get them out of the house).

7 yo: Why do you say serve the Lord? I don't wanna serve the Lord.

Me: Why not?

7 yo: If I got food ready and traveled up in space to bring it to God, by the time I got there I'd be dead.

Me: Well, maybe we don't have to literally serve God like that. Maybe we can serve God by being kind and caring toward other people. That makes God happy and that's serving God.

7 yo: Oh! I forgot about that!

My earliest model of serving was that my mom did all the household chores. We'd all be sitting at the dinner table and my mom would be rushing around the kitchen, pulling things out of the fridge and the oven, washing one more dish in the sink (no dishwasher) and pouring milk. I supposed we (kids) must have helped some, but mostly I remember her catering to our every need.

People say these things are generational, and that is true, but I often find myself being the whirling dervish of the kitchen at mealtime. Women and girls are still conditioned - and rewarded - by society for attending to the tasks of cleaning, cooking and serving. It happens outside the home too: who brings food for the teacher's appreciation breakfast at your kid's school? Who grabs napkins, plates and cake for an office party at work? Sometimes things change, but sometimes they stay the same.

Service is often connected to food, regardless of who's doing the serving. Sit down at your favorite restaurant and you hear: "Hi, my name is Lisa and I'll be your server this evening." Although I've noticed in past years that sometimes you'll hear this one: "Hi, my name is Lisa and I'll be taking care of you this evening." I'm not sure if this is an intentional switch in the food service industry, but maybe it helps us all imagine service more broadly. After all, what is serving but taking care?

I try to teach my children to serve others, or take care of others, and sometimes it works (they packaged boxes for a food pantry!) and sometimes it doesn't (they can't share the remote without someone getting punched!) How do we teach our children to serve others? And how do we connect the dots that when we serve others, we are at the same time serving God?

Maybe it's as simple as saying it -- I think my 7-year-old got the point. There's lots of little ways to involve kids in serving others -- from food pantry volunteering to helping out at church to going the extra mile to tidy up at school or help a child who is being bullied. Service is absolutely little acts of kindness and charity. 

But it's also an orientation. That wise theologian Bob Dylan said you gotta serve somebody. Something ends up taking first place. Something becomes the center around which we orbit. It's gonna be something, might as well be God. 

Serving God might look a list of do-gooding, but it also might mean orienting our lives a little more about things that matter -- the love of God, relationships, nature, humility, kindness, learning from others, building community -- and a little less around the trends and drama of media, cultural icons, sports or politics. Not that there's anything wrong with the latter list, but they are not our gods. 

The joys of service are often hidden to children, and seem less desirable than, say, playing Minecraft, but I keep trying, because sometimes they are surprised by joy, and so am I. My 7-year-old meticulously chose which flower starts to put in a pot and give to his first grade teacher the last week of school; he was so proud of his arrangement. He seemed genuinely happy to serve -- at least for a minute -- and then he raced off to the playground for another round of tag.


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