The Rev. Leslie Houseworth-Fields
That’s the same spirit of giving that connects all of us during the holidays. So many people all across the country are helping out at soup kitchens, buying gifts for children in need, or organizing food or clothing drives for their neighbors. For families like ours, that service is a chance to celebrate the birth of Christ and live out what He taught us—to love our neighbors as we would ourselves; to feed the hungry and look after the sick; to be our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper. And for all of us as Americans, regardless of our faith, those are values that can drive us to be better parents and friends, better neighbors and better citizens.
– Barack Obama
My daughter and I have been reading Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen by DyAnne Di Salvo. We’ve had it on our shelf since this past summer when we received it as a gift. I couldn’t get my children interested in the book until recently when Chloe read it at school with her class. It is her new favorite book. As a parent of a once reluctant reader, I’m thrilled that Chloe is so excited about reading. But sometimes at night I have to take it away as she strains to read it in her dark bedroom.
I find it interesting that my daughter connects so deeply with this story. It’s a story about a child serving in a soup kitchen. I’m no expert in children’s literature, but it’s not a particularly exciting book (in my opinion). There aren’t talking animals or an ABBA rhyme scheme. It’s not action packed nor does it contain heightened conflict. Nonetheless, my daughter loves it. I’ve begun to think that the story resonates with her because it’s about a child making a difference through service. Admittedly, I haven’t taken my children on as many service projects as I would like or exposed them to others in great need very often. Still, a story about a child helping in a soup kitchen resonates very deeply with Chloe.
As a result of Chloe’s obsession with this book, I’ve been wondering if service is intrinsic to our nature. Looking at the world around us, we wouldn’t think so. However, I can recall many instances of children, mine and other people’s, who have been eager to help others. You may have noticed a child trying to help with household chores (sometimes slowing you down); a child passing a needed item at the dinner table; or even a child offering a hug or kiss to someone in distress.
We often think about the values and behaviors we try to teach kids, but we don’t always consider all the gifts they possess; gifts like empathy and generosity. By the time we reach adulthood, life can leave us jaded and self-absorbed. Maybe that’s why Jesus brought the children close to him—not so they could learn from adults, but so adults could learn from them. This Christmas, may we all learn from children, especially the Christ Child, and embody those lessons through our service.
Prayer: Holy God, as we celebrate the Christ Child, fill us with empathy and love that we may go out in service to others. Amen.