Monday, September 3, 2007

YOURS!Teaching Children to Give Ann Voskamp, September 2007


I just loved this article in Christian Women Online by Ann Voshamp. It touched my heart and pushed me onward to seek a life of giving. I especially liked the scientific data backing up the delight we get when we give to others. John had me listen to an NPR program on the concept of love and the various hormones that are released when you fall in love. Funny that the release of oxytocin in present in both falling in love and generous giving.






He was all of eighteen months, crowned with a mess of ringlets that fell over one eye, when he began gloriously saying it. An only child, yet to be joined by siblings, he lifted our house with exuberance. The place was his. But he kept charitably, delightfully saying, “Yours.” Our hands would fall upon his glossy 1456 International tractor, his engine-red train, scuffed and worn, his basket of board books and beloved Beatrix Potter. And he would singsong: “Yours! Yours!” What a rhapsodic, generous notion! This just grown baby studded with celestial blue eyes, giving his world away to the world, one piece at a time: “Yours! Yours! Yours!” We basked in this blissfully strange absence of selfishness.
And then, as I handed him an alphabet block one sun-saturated afternoon, I think it was the “e” one, I stumbled upon it. Because I customarily wrapped entertainments up in the phrase “Yours,” he had mistakenly come to think that the term “yours” meant, understandably, “mine!” All this happy time the child had had his meaning inverted, upside down to what he intended. Ironically, his upside down was precisely right-side up. We would spend the rest of our parenting years trying to make our way back to that upside down, right-side up notion of “Yours”.
“Yours.” It’s starkly simple: nothing in the limitless expanse of the universe rivals the raw potency of giving. Of saying, “Here, this is yours. I am yours.” For God so loved the world, He gave. And science, unsurprisingly, has discovered it to be so: Give, and one receives more happiness. Give and one receives more health. Give and one receives more life to live.
MRIs substantiate Biblical, transformative truth: “It is better to give than to receive.” While in the midst of receiving a gift, neurons deep in the brain trigger dopamine, the happy chemical. But when one is in the act of giving, donating a gift, the brain works even more powerfully. Jordan Grafman, chief scientist with the National Institute of Health asserts from his research: “The same regions of the brain that are associated with the good feelings you have when you get something yourself were the same areas that were activated when you give. That surprised us. And not only were the same areas involved, but in fact they were more activated when you give than when you receive.”
Giving kindles deep satisfaction and fulfillment in the recesses of our being. And, in this particular study, researchers found that giving induced another chemical that receiving failed to activate: oxytocin. The chemical released when one feels love.
When we give, we feel love. God-love. Merciful, gracious, benevolent love. When we give, we enter the way of God. God is love. If your child enters into the way of God, giving and engaging in helping activities, the evidence asserts that a lifetime later of sixty to seventy years, long after your days on this earth are but a memory, your child will still be reaping health benefits. Children who give of their time, resources, and talents are found to live deeper, richer lives: better school grades, less drug and alcohol use, and more likely to keep giving all their lives. Teach a child to say the simple word, “yours,” and you change a life.
Jesus said the more blessed life is the giving life. That’s the one we want for our children. Highly regarded psychology scientists agree: “One of the best ways we can help our kids is to encourage their own generosity.”
How do we teach a child to lose his life, so he may find it? Jesus whispers the answer: “It is enough that a disciple be like his teacher” (Matthew 10:24). The answer is us.
Jesus lived the giving-away life as our example, and now we live it as the model for this next generation. Awkwardly, but determinedly, I mindfully take up this generous way, quickening young ones to come too.
“YES! I have the privilege of giving you breakfast this morning! Cream of wheat or smoothies?…. Let’s make cookies today and give Daddy a surprise!…. Can I give you a hand with that?… Let’s give your sister a treat and make her bed for her!…. Can I give you a backrub before tucking you in?…. Think we could come up with a plan to give much to the emergency aid campaign? …. Why don’t we make bread today to give to the kind widow woman at church?”
Some days frowns meet such invitations. Dragging feet and mumbling. Some days I too want simply what I want when I want it. And then we shake ourselves up: “Let’s really try out the Jesus-way. An experiment in a day of giving. And let’s see if the giving life really is more blessed…or not.” So, some days, we begin, half-hearted, this giving trial, me leading the giving way.
(Decade long studies concur with Jesus that the giving must begin with me: The strongest predictive factor for helpful behavior in children? The presence of nurturing, giving, supportive adults. So I gulp hard, pray harder, and attempt to give and kiss these brains and souls into mature wisdom.) At the gateway then to everyday, oblivious to the sway of feelings, we pray over breakfast: “Lord, freely we have received, let us freely give. What good can we give today?” So we think, purpose, plan. We live and give. At day’s end, as we pull up the quilts and God rolls out the stars, we whisper in the quiet, “Lord, freely we have received, did we freely give? What good did we give today?” This reflection on the day is the prayer of examen, the “search me, O God, and know my heart, test me and know my thoughts” prayer (Ps. 139-23).
We are attempting to frame our days, beginning and ending, in the Jesus-way of giving.
We wake, and we sleep, giving. We are surprised by joy.
We give up this saying of “mine.” And whisper to the Giver, “I am yours.”
©2007, Ann Voskamp

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