This morning my six-year-old son looked at me with big innocent blue eyes, a box of cereal in his hand, and with a voice as sweet as honey, asked me, “Mom, can you serve me at the table?”
I was a little surprised to say the least. Not because he wanted me to bring him his breakfast at the table. This isn’t an out of the ordinary event at our house. It wasn’t even the cordial manner in which he asked, although that did catch me a little off guard.
I think it was his choice of words: “Serve me.”
My first instinct was to bristle and fight against this concept of servitude. Wait a minute! I’m not your maid. Who do you think runs the show around here? You don’t get to call the shots!
Maybe some of our past conversations were bumping around in the back of my brain. Like the time he told me that he wanted to be the President of the United States so he could “be in charge of ALL the kids he knew,” and after a moment boldly declared, “and the grownups!”
This is the child who has also expressed his desire for world domination a time or two with such phrases as, “I want to be the king of the world!” and “If I was God, then I could tell everyone what to do!”
I’ve sent more than one prayer to heaven pleading “Lord, help me train up this child in the way he should go (Proverbs 22:6). And please let it be Your way, because his way could be a real trip! And I don’t think I’m ready for that ride.”
My husband and I attended a parenting conference a year or so ago where the speaker said something to the effect of: “Everyone thinks they have a strong-willed child. Most of you don’t! But if you are fortunate enough to be charged with that task, be grateful that God has given you the opportunity to raise a leader.”
We try to be grateful and hold onto that perspective. This is especially true on the days when supreme control of the universe seems to be on the agenda. An agenda that comes up more often than you might expect!
But this morning was not one of those mornings. There was no power struggle at play in my son’s request. He was just politely asking me an honest question. Will you serve me?
When I got past my initial surprise and apprehension, I realized that my six-year-old had just asked me something very profound. Whether he knew it or not, he had just invited me into a holy moment. As I stood there, robe clad, baby on my hip, lining up cereal bowls on the counter, my son was welcoming me to put the faith that I so often profess into action.
A choice lay before me. Will I choose to live out and model for my children the kind of life that Jesus lived out and modeled for me?
In the gospel of John, chapter 13, Jesus and his disciples were enjoying a meal together. I suspect theirs was a little more robust than cinnamon life cereal. At one point, Jesus got up from supper and laid aside His outer garments. He took a towel and wrapped it around himself. Then he filled up a basin of water and began to wash his disciples’ dirty, stinky, road worn feet, before drying them with his towel.
Historically, the Jews, like many ancient civilizations, practiced this hospitality custom of foot washing. A host would provide a basin of water for guests to wash their feet, especially after a long journey. Wealthier hosts would also provide a servant or slave to wash the feet of their guests.
To wash someone’s feet was to take on a posture of humility. It wasn’t something anyone really wanted to do. It was probably a rather gross task and was traditionally relegated to the lowliest servant or slave. It was a job fit for a pauper, not a prince!
And yet, here we have the Prince of Peace, the Son of God, the much-anticipated Messiah, seemingly demoting himself into a position of servitude. If anyone was to be engaged in foot washing that night, we would expect his disciples to be the ones washing Jesus’ feet. But instead, he took the opportunity to teach them one last lesson. After he finished washing their feet, He said: “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and teacher washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet (John 13:13-14).”
Was this just a literal invitation for his disciples to get their hands and feet wet? No, this was a call to sacrifice. It was a plea for them to lay down their lives for one another. This act of service that Jesus offered to his closest followers was foreshadowing the ultimate sacrifice that was about to made: His life offered on the cross.
Mom, will you serve me?
Parenting is hard work. It means continually putting the needs and desires of others before your own. It demands a willingness to constantly die to self. Parenting requires sacrifice, period.
It is sleepless nights, and often mentally physically and emotionally exhausting days. It is joy mixed with frustration. It is laughter mingled with tears. And it is a whole bunch of uncertainty coupled with hope in the beautiful mess called the family experience.
But parenting is also an opportunity! It’s the amazing opportunity to live out the example of servant-hood that Jesus set for us. In John 13:15, Jesus actually says: “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.”
This morning I was struck with the reality that the attitude that I display on a daily basis as I parent my children will help shape their view of service and sacrifice. It will color their perspective as they learn how to love and care for others.
Will I choose to serve them with a cheerful disposition or with a chip on my shoulder? Will the way that I parent point them closer to the Jesus that I know and love?
Jesus was willing to serve and sacrifice for others to the point of death on a cross. It’s unlikely that we will be called to literally give up our lives for another person. But we do have the opportunity to lay down our own ambitions, desires and pride for the sake of blessing others. Sometimes the sacrifices we make will require a lot from us. And sometimes it can be as simple as serving our children cereal at the breakfast table with a wink and a smile.