The Greatest Lesson We Can Impart
By Susan Erschen
A large crowd has gathered. They are hungry. They need to be fed. The leader tells his men to find some food for this mob of hungry people. One man comes back to report, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish” (John 6:9).
This is the situation on the banks of the Sea of Galilee nearly 2,000 years ago. What did Jesus do? Did he say the boy was too young to give? Did he send his apostles out again to find a man instead of a child who could help? No! Jesus turned to the boy. “Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them” (John 6:11). With the contribution from one young boy, our Lord fed more than five thousand! How proud that boy must have felt!
Giving Is an Important Lesson for Children of All Ages
While today some adults may think children do not need to learn stewardship, our Lord clearly proved he can make miracles happen even with a small contribution from a young child. The reasons for introducing stewardship to children are overwhelming. In fact, stewardship could be the greatest lesson we teach to our young people.
- Stewardship helps build self-esteem. Today, children are exposed to constant advertising telling them they are not good enough unless they wear the right clothes and carry the latest accessories. Since there will always be something newer and more tempting for us to want, these messages can lead to a lifetime of poor self-image and lasting discontent. In the Catholic classroom, children should hear a different message. They should learn that God has already blessed them with all the wonderful and unique gifts they will need to do the special work God has put the on Earth to do. They do not need what the world is selling.
- Stewardship brings joy and contentment. A life of giving is a rewarding life. When children learn to share the gifts God has entrusted to them, they will naturally find joy, fulfillment, and contentment.
- Stewardship connects children more deeply with God. An important part of good stewardship is turning to God for guidance in using and sharing our gifts. Children learn to place their trust in God when they are taught to ask God what He wants them to do, instead of always telling God what they want.
- Children have the ability and the natural longing to give. Due to allowances and gifts, most children in our society today have quite a bit of disposable income. Even children without financial resources have the ability to share their talents or give the gift of prayer. Children feel grown-up, important, and needed when they give. Social scientists believe most children learn their attitudes about giving between the ages of 6 and 10. If young children learn to find joy in giving, they will become lifelong givers. If they never learn to give, they will maintain an immature attitude of entitlement, thinking everything in the world should be for them and about them.
Stewardship Should Be a Way of Life in the School
Since stewardship is a way of life to embrace rather than a subject to study, we must handle it differently than any other curriculum item. Stewardship cannot be just one more report to write, test to pass, or service project to complete. The ultimate goal is to have students become God’s stewards, not just learn about stewardship. Students must see that stewardship is something we do constantly. Every decision we make is a stewardship decision.
To make stewardship a persuasive “way of life” lesson in the classroom, we must regularly reinforce several key stewardship concepts using a wide variety of strategies. We must talk about it in every circumstance, not just in religion class.
Six Critical Stewardship Concepts to Teach
1. Everything we have is a gift from God.
Children must recognize that every single thing they have comes from God. God is in charge; they are not. Thus, God gets credit for what they have or do not have. As children fully understand this, some of the pressure they feel to have so much will begin to wane. We can reinforce this concept by always reminding children that God gets credit for all they have. Asking children to bring in pictures or write stories about the gifts God had given them is one way to teach this concept. There are no wrong answers here. Everything is a gift from God!
2. We must be grateful for the gifts we receive.
Gratitude is a forgotten virtue today. We are so busy thinking about what we want that we forget to be grateful for what we have now. Yet, contentment comes only when we are grateful. Children must be reminded constantly to be grateful to God and to others for the blessings they have.
3. We have a responsibility to share our gifts.
Jesus said, “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much and more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more” (Lk 12:48). Compared to children throughout the world, most children in our country today have been entrusted with “much” if not with “more.” By learning about the poor and needy throughout the world, children will recognize how blessed they are see that they have a responsibility to help those less fortunate. They are also capable of understanding the concept of the tithe and our Lord’s numerous parables on giving, sharing, and caring for others.
4. We must ask God for guidance in using our gifts.
Children can easily feel overwhelmed as they learn of he needs in our world. They may want to help everyone. This is where we must encourage them to develop a relationship with the Holy Spirit and take time each day to ask God what He wants them to do with the gifts He has given them. They need to learn to listen for God’s gentle whisper in their hearts.
5. We must turn away from materialism.
Some psychologists believe that people give only when they feel all their own needs have been met. If we are taught by clever advertising to think that we need everything, we will never give. Children must accept that they will never have all they want, but that God does give them all they need. They must understand the difference between a need and a want. Shoes are a need. A specific brand of shoes is a want. Simple conversations in the classroom provide many opportunities to help educate children about the rampant materialism in our society today.
6. True joy is found in good stewardship.
Children need to feel the joy that comes from living as God’s stewards. Thus, whenever children participate in any stewardship activity – bringing in canned goods for Thanksgiving, planning a special collection for an identified need, participating in a service activity, etc. – time should be built into the project to let the students reflect on the experience. These reflections can include classroom discussion, journaling, or witnessing from older students or adults. Invariably, these reflections will reinforce the idea that giving to others can make us feel better than buying for ourselves ever can.
We can ingrain the above concepts in the hearts of our students through several strategies.
- Use stewardship Scripture quotes and thoughts on bulletin boards.
- Ask children to write their own prayers of gratitude and also prayers for those in need.
- Read and reflect on stewardship Gospel stories, such as the Good Samaritan, the Vigilant and Faithful Servants, the Rich Man and Lazarus, the Beatitudes, and the Judgment of the Nations.
- Study and discuss he lives of the saints. The life of every saint is the story of good stewardship. Saints earned their place in heaven by generously sharing the gifts that God had given them. Challenging students to identify how the saints gave back to God is a good way to help them understand the many ways to be good stewards.
- Encourage children to write thank-you notes. Such notes can be written to parish volunteers and donors, school staff, family, and friends.
- Involve families. If parents themselves have not embraced stewardship, they may have difficulty reinforcing the stewardship messages you are trying to teach. You can help educate and involve students’ parents through stewardship columns in parent newsletters and the discussion of your stewardship education goals during parent meetings.
- Plan activities that increase children’s awareness of the poor, worldwide needs, and the needs within the parish and local Church. This can be accomplished by
- exploring various websites that highlight the needs of the world. (See “Websites to Help Students Embrace Giving” at the bottom of the page.)
- assigning reports and Power Point presentations on world and local needs.
- inviting parish and community guest speakers into the classroom to speak about how needs are met through generosity.
Beyond helping students get into the high school, college, or career of their choice, the most important goal of a good Catholic education is to help our students get into heaven. The Parable of the Talents is one of Our Lord’s many great stewardship parables. In the end, he tells us those who are good stewards of the gifts God has entrusted will hear God say to them, “Well done my good and faithful servant… Come, share in your master’s joy” (Mt. 25:21). Good Catholic teachers want their students to hear those welcoming words from God at the end of their lives. Stewardship is the lesson that prepares children to follow God’s will for their lives no matter where they go or what they do.
Websites to Help Students Embrace Giving
crs.org: Click on Act Now and then Participate to find links to Operation Rice Bowl and the Catholic Relief Services Education Portal with lesson plans, prayer services, etc.
onefamilyinmission.org: Check out the Holy Childhood Association handouts.
heifer.org: Check out their Get Involved links for ideas for schools to help fight worldwide hunger.
earthday.org: This website teaches environmental stewardship. Click on Programs and then Education for classroom activities. The footprint calculator can be very eye-opening.
learningtogive.org: Find lesson plans and resources for teaching giving in many faith traditions.
Sue Erschen retired earlier this year after serving thirteen years as the director of stewardship education in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. She currently does freelance writing from her home in St. Louis, MO.
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