April 15, 2010
In The Antidote for Childhood Laziness: Purpose Part 1, we were challenging the assumption that kids cannot be expected to seek out meaningful purpose in their lives. We came to the conclusion that purpose is what kids are already seeking, that they already have dreams and interests and the energy to pursue them. As a society, we simply haven't given them the guidance and platform to live purposeful lives. Purpose is the key.
Today, I am going to share 3 different scenarios of what purpose looks like in the life of real kids. I have intentionally avoided stories that you will see in newspapers (i.e., 6-year-old Raises $3M By Singing on Streetcorner) not because these are not worthy stories, but because I think it's critical for you to see that purpose looks different to each child and each family. We are not always called to what I call 'loud' purposes. Some of the quietest things we do can make an impact we may never see. Some of our biggest challenges may not even affect others all that much, but will change who we are inside. Those changes add up to quality actions that reverberate throughout the family, community and world. Lofty thoughts? Maybe, but definitely worth mulling.
We know purpose is instrumental in turning children away from the easy and the lazy, and toward the hard and the worthwhile. So, how do we guide them? What is 'meaningful work,' anyway?
Meaningful work looks slightly different at different ages. Our job as parents is to develop in wisdom. We can then help our children understand the difference between selfish goals and edifying goals. We can show them how to shoot high, while still retaining a grip on reality. We can give them the moral, spiritual and physical tools they need as a foundation for pursuing their purpose.
I think some examples will clarify this a bit. These are real life stories about three different age segments. Feel free to share your own stories in the comments.
Pre-school Sticking Power
When my youngest son was just barely four, he really wanted to learn to ride a bike – no training wheels – along with his big brother. They did everything together, and he didn't want to be left in the dust. Now, I will be honest, I wasn't all that on board with this idea. A trip to the emergency room wasn't high on my to do list that day. However, this is our 'challenging child' and he was relatively coordinated, so I was curious to see what he would do if we let him. Professor Dad, aka Scott, was just as curious as I was. We gave him a helmet, told him what to do, and ran with him once or twice. At that point, we heard the age-old, "Can I do it myself? I don't need any help." (Anyone else?!) OK. We sat down in the front yard to watch.
That little guy fell down 85 times! No, that is not a typo. 85 times he dumped that bike, and each time he got back on and tried again. Sure enough, he taught himself to ride without training wheels that day! As painful as this was to watch, I realized something that day. Even the little ones can do mighty things if they are working with a purpose and given the right tools. He had his goal, appropriate guidance from us, and the bike. Did he hurt himself? Yup. But, that lesson in perseverance was worth all the scraped knees and mommy pain in the world.
A young lady I know, age 11 at the time, was determined to start babysitting. She is a homeschooler and lives out of town. She had to be creative to grow a real babysitting business. She decided to provide free babysitting during our homeschool group's Boy Scout/Cub Scout meetings. Parents who volunteer during the meetings could leave their younger ones with her while they helped the scouts. She didn't just stick these kids in a room and stare at them. She lined up activities, brought snacks (after asking about allergies), and gave each parent an individualized info sheet on what their child did that night. She was smart enough to add her contact information to that sheet letting everyone know that she was also available to sit at other times. She was humble enough to know that to reach her goal, she would have to prove herself trustworthy. She was patient enough to realize that this wouldn't happen overnight. The result? Not only did she get jobs from her efforts, she also has the respect and gratitude of every parent in that group, including me.
Our church has a group of young people who decided a few years ago to start a puppet ministry. A couple of adults provide oversight, but these kids had to raise funds for puppets, lighting, and staging – none of which is inexpensive. They have to practice often which involves a great deal of teamwork to get the puppets all talking at the correct times. They set up venues so they can share their faith, and they go to competitions to keep their skills sharp. Most under the age of 15, this purpose has given them grown-up qualities and experiences that will last them all of their lives.
None of these examples have been taken from the annals of history, however, I could give you scores of those as well. Why? Because expectations of young people were far higher years ago than they are now. Even the George Washingtons were not 'exceptional' children. They were everyday kids who were given the key to moving forward… purpose.
I encourage you to look for opportunities like these. In a very young child, it may be a simple as giving them the paper when they want to create a 'book' on all of the animals at the zoo. As they get older, they may feel driven to raise funds for their scout troop with door-to-door sales. By the time they are 11, they can help plan a family mission trip.
Many parents expect that greatness will manifest itself naturally in their children, but they have it backward. By teaching kids to seek purpose and giving them a heart for the good and true and beautiful, they create the environment for greatness to grow.
Remember, children are sparks. Stoke those fires so that when they hit their teen years, they have become so able that they can't even imagine choosing mediocrity.
Image by Kriss Szkurlatowski