I stood in line at the post office with my daughter. We each balanced a large box against the wall as we waited for our turn at the counter. Her package was larger than mine, yet she somehow found a way to hold it with one hand, bracing it precariously against her hip for added support, all while gripping a wad of loose cash in the other. I held the smaller of the two boxes with both hands, trying my best not to let my silly grin embarrass or draw attention to my girl as the mail clerk called her forward.
We had stood here before, perhaps not at this particular counter or even this post office, but at this same crossroads of stewardship—where she obediently gave back to God what He had so graciously given to her. She piled the packages onto the counter, waited for the shipment total, and then casually slid a pile of ones and fives toward the cash register—a rather sizable amount she had been slowly squirreling away for the past four or five months.
The boxes were filled with hygiene products—shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, and toothpaste—basic essentials that you and I take for granted. She was shipping them to a packaging hub in Tennessee where they would later be distributed to refugee camps all across the Middle East. In the grand total of need experienced by the men, women, and children who would receive her care packages, my daughter’s contribution was quite insignificant. After all, a lifetime of pain can’t be swiped clean with a bar of soap. But as I watched the mail clerk slide the boxes onto a large conveyor belt and into the underbelly of the postal system, I knew that they were more than just ‘Package 1 of 2’ as the receipt read. They were the result of sixteen years of discipleship, sixteen years of helping her open her hands and her heart to God’s plans for her life, sixteen years of showing her how to be a good steward.
Stewardship is not a word that slips naturally into everyday conversations. It feels old-fashioned and dated. It fits nicely on a shelf with antiquities like Civil War bonds and Great Depression-era relics but seems slightly out-of-place in this lavish, disposable age. Why take the time to “use it up and wear it out” when there’s always more where that came from?
The answer is simple: Nothing I own has ever been mine to begin with. Everything belongs to God. The money that’s mounting in my bank account? It’s God’s money. The moments of life I’ve yet to spend on this Earth? They belong to God. The skills, talents, and giftings I bring to my work? They are His, too. My possessions, my energy, my relationships, and even my body—they are all God’s, not mine. James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” It’s all His. I’m only the manager, tasked to care for it all to fulfill His good purposes. Like the two faithful servants who multiplied the talents of their master in Matthew 25, I want to steward God’s gifts well. And what’s more, I want to teach my children to do the same.
Stewardship is not a one-and-done object lesson. It’s not a character quality that can be summed up in a short Sunday School lesson. Stewardship is a lifestyle that takes years to teach and even more time to learn. While I will not claim to have the stewardship part of my parenting cinched up, I have come to value a few habits and practices that have nurtured a heart of stewardship in each of my kids.
Like many life skills, stewardship is caught more than taught. You can’t expect to raise children who manage their time, money, and talents well if you don’t make proper management of those things a priority in your own life. Stewardship requires more than lip-service. It takes action. If you want your kids to manage their toys, putting them away properly so as not to break them or lose any parts, then you need to show them how to reorganize their spaces correctly and provide them with the appropriate storage tools for doing so. If you want them to use the same backpack for another school year because it’s perfectly functional and appropriate, then you need to be content with the pair of boots sitting at the bottom of your closet instead of splurging on yet another pair. If you want them to be satisfied with a refurbished, hand-me-down bike, then you need to mend the seam on your torn throw pillow instead of buying a new one. Stewardship that sticks is the kind that is modeled in the everyday decisions of life.
Encouraging your children to serve others not only realigns their naturally selfish focus, it also provides them with purpose and gives them a glimpse of their role in God’s kingdom. When you invite them into a project and entrust them with a job that helps or benefits others, you are saying, “Your gifts are needed here. This task, this place, these people need you.” In return, your children begin to see where their God-given talents and their place in this world collide.
It’s tempting to see kids as an obstacle to serving others, especially if you have young children. But there are actually many ways that little ones can be a blessing and not a burden while serving. With young children, it’s best to start with service projects that directly affect them. Volunteer at places and for people with whom your children already have an established connection. That link will be a natural motivator for them to want to lend a hand. For instance, when my kids were learning their ABCs, we often offered to tidy the picture book section of the local library. Each book had a letter sticker on its spine indicating the first initial of the author’s last name. All my preschoolers had to do to return a book to its proper place was drop it in the wooden bin that contained books with that same letter on their spines. Since we frequented that particular section of the library at least once a week, my kids felt honored to be able to restore it to order.
Another time, we volunteered to bag dehydrated meals for an organization that delivered them to hungry children all over the world. The entire day was spent scooping cupfuls of grains into plastic bags, a job even my two-year-old could manage with some assistance. Before and after our time in the assembly line, we were shown pictures of kids who would receive the food. My kids couldn’t help but want to pack meals, knowing that they’d be helping a little boy that looked a lot like their cousin or a little girl who had hair just like our neighbor.
Encouraging children to serve in real ways teaches them that their time is not their own; it belongs to God. Service demonstrates the importance of being intentional with our time and helps children learn to steward it well.
The concept of open-handed living cannot be thoroughly taught to a child whose hand is empty. If your children are to learn to be wise with their money—stewarding their saving, their spending, and their giving—then they need to be entrusted with small amounts of money. Giving your children an allowance each week is one simple way to provide practice in financial stewardship. As they begin to save, they’ll learn the value of patience and persistence. As they spend, they’ll be introduced to frugality and the discernment necessary to determine a need versus a want. As they give with a cheerful heart, they’ll learn to be faithful in little so that one day God can trust them with much (Luke 16:11, 2 Corinthians 9:6-7).
When each of my kids turned five and had learned the value of every coin and how to skip count, they were given a weekly allowance of one dollar. It was doled out in dimes to make percentages easier to manage. One dime went to God, four dimes could be spent, and five dimes had to be saved. They’re all much older now, but they still receive an allowance.
This money is gifted, not earned. While they have additional opportunities to earn money and the 2 Thessalonians 3:10 work ethic that naturally comes by doing extra jobs around the house, their allowance is not in any way connected to chores that they may or may not be asked to do each week. Make no mistake, I am not advocating for laziness. I expect my children to do household chores because they are an integral part of our household and must do their share to help keep it functioning, not because they will be rewarded monetarily. Doing chores helps us learn to serve one another. Not to mention the fact that my two teenagers each have jobs that earn them more than $10 an hour. If I had tied their chores to their allowance way back when, there’d be no reason for them to continue doing them now. My financially savvy teens would have grown to see my paltry sum as dispensable and perhaps would have opted out of chores altogether.
No, allowance in my home is given, not earned. In the same way that God blesses me because I am His child and gives me good gifts by no merit of my own, I give my children an allowance. It is a gift that I’m using to train them in stewardship.
When the church offering plate is passed down the pew each week, I often see parents fish a few coins out of their own pockets to give to their children. Their kids are then encouraged to drop the money into the plate as it goes by. I’ve no doubt that this simple exercise is well-intentioned, designed to encourage generous giving in their kids. The fact of the matter is, however, secondhand sacrifice is not really sacrifice at all. It may train an action but it’s not necessarily a prudent way to disciple a heart. If a sacrifice is not hard-won—if it doesn’t cost something or make its giver consider its full weight—it’s not truly a sacrifice.
A FINAL WORD
God used a visit to the post office to reveal the fruit of sixteen years of steadfast and sometimes challenging behavior. It encouraged my heart to watch my daughter actively model her understanding that all she has comes from—and still belongs to—God. This understanding did not come naturally. It had to be cultivated in her. In truth, it’s still being cultivated in us both.
To mature in open-handed living, children must first be encouraged to take responsibility for their own choices. They must clean up messes they make, fix items they’ve broken, make amends when they’ve hurt someone’s feelings, and give generously from their own storehouses. This is good stewardship for the Master. May we, as mothers, disciple children toward this open-handed stewardship.
Share This Post