Raising Selfless Kids in a Selfish World
About the Guest
We're born selfish. Unfortunately, some of us never grow out of it. Today Pastor Dave Stone talks to parents about teaching their children to be others-centered instead of self-centered. Dave talks about the importance of grace in parenting, as well as the benefits of boundaries and consequences. He tells a humorous story about a time as a teen when he took the family car out for a cruise without having a driver's license.
Pastor Dave Stone talks to parents about teaching their children to be others-centered instead of self-centered.
Raising Selfless Kids in a Selfish World
Bob: You want to raise unselfish children; right? So how do you do that when you’re the one teaching them—and more often than you like to admit—you’re living a selfish life? Here’s Pastor Dave Stone.
Dave: We’re going to blow it! They’re going to see our selfishness at times. The question is whether or not we use that as a teaching opportunity or whether we try to sweep it under the carpet. The key for a parent is to say: “I’m going to be authentic. I’m going to be consistent.” That means that I’ve had to make that journey upstairs to the bedrooms and say: “Hey, I just want you to know I blew it. I was thinking of me more than I was thinking of others.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, August 27th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. If the monster of selfishness has invaded your home, we’re going to talk today about what you can do to slay the beast. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I did a study, a number of years ago, through the book of Proverbs—looking at what advice a father was to pass on to his children. Three things jumped out at me in the book of Proverbs. Over and over again I kept seeing these three themes emerge.
The first is that children are born foolish and have to be taught wisdom. They’re not born with wisdom. They’re born foolish and have to be taught wisdom. The second thing was—they’re born with knowledge of God, but they have to be taught a love for God. And the third thing was—they’re born selfish. They have to be taught to be other-centered. Every kid I’ve ever met—the selfish gene was resident in that child.
Dennis: And our guest, on today’s broadcast, resonates with that statement. Dave Stone joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back, Dave.
Dave: It’s great to be back. Thanks for having me on, you guys.
Dennis: He has written a book called How to Raise Selfless Kids in a Self-Centered World. Dave knows a little about that. He not only raised three children—now, almost three to adulthood—but also married to his wife Beth since 1985 and has been leading a church in Louisville, Kentucky, that has—not 22,000 members—but 22,000 people who attend every Sunday.
Bob: So you’re not fudging the numbers up there; huh?
Dave: No, that’s right. That’s—
Dennis: I’ve been in the church. You won’t see 22,000 at one time, but I can picture that they make their way through there. You’re really talking about an issue today—that parents need to take aim on this issue. You begin your book with a story that I’ve heard—that really is a remarkable story that occurred in the Olympics.
Dave: Yes. Matt Emmons, back in 2004, was in a rifle competition—a shooting competition. He had the gold medal in the bag. He shot a shot that would have, any other time, for his final shot, would have counted seven or eight points. The only problem was he shot at the wrong target. He shot it in the lane next to him. He was in lane three—he shot it in lane four. The score he got was a zero instead of a seven or an eight.
It dropped him, totally, out of the medals. So, he won nothing. The point is—it doesn’t matter if you hit the target if it’s the wrong target. There are a lot of parents who are raising their kids to be wrapped up in themselves, and everything is about them. As a result of that, their kids will hit that target; but it’s the wrong target.
I don’t think any set of parents leaves the maternity ward and says, “Boy, I sure hope that I can raise a self-absorbed, selfish child who wants everything for himself.” No parent sets out to do that, but a lot of parents have succeeded in doing that. If you look at the change, the past few decades, of what’s happened—even in our periodicals—it is indicative of what’s taking place in our culture. We’ve gone from TIME®Magazine to LIFE® Magazine to People® Magazine to Us® Magazine to SELF® Magazine. Now, there’s actually a magazine called Me. That shows the regression—of where we want all of the focus to be on us.
Dennis: And it really is an issue of the will. Whose will is going to win here because your children, if they’re allowed to go their own way—like Bob was talking about in the book of Proverbs—it’s really the father appealing to his son to deny himself and to look out for other people. As you raised your three, where did you begin in this battle to call your children out of self-absorption into more of a service mindset?
Bob: Well, you began with notes in the glove compartment; didn’t you? Wasn’t that one of the tactics you used?
Dave: Yes, that actually came a little bit later, but what it does is—it teaches our kids that they are more important than things. When my kids were 16 years of age and they started driving, I actually wrote a letter, unbeknownst to them, and placed it in the glove compartment. It was right there, with the registration, because I knew the only time they would ever look in the glove compartment, next to the registration, was when they either were in a car accident or they got pulled over by a police officer.
So, I wrote in that letter to them—I said: “I’m assuming that you have found this because of something that’s happened. I pray that you are okay. I hope that you will let me know as soon as you can if you are alright, but cars can be fixed and people can’t. So, please know that you are more important than any car.” I just wanted them to know that if they were upset over a wreck or over something that’s happened to that vehicle—hey, it pales in comparison to how much I love them.
Bob: That value—that people matter more than things—is one of the core values that really teaches us selflessness; isn’t it?
Dave: And you have to flesh it out. Your kids will copy and imitate what they see in Mom and Dad. So, that was a subtle way of communicating that. The P.S. to that letter was, “If you got pulled over for speeding, I pray that you never forget how your heart was about to pound out of your chest when you saw those flashing lights in the rearview mirror.” [Laughter]
Bob: “And by the way, I’ll take the keys when you get home.”
Dave: That’s right.
Dennis: Well, speaking of keys, there was a reason why you had used this opportunity as a teaching lesson. It went all the way back to when you were 15?
Dave: Oh! How do you know all these things about me, Dennis?
Dennis: You put them in the book!
Dave: I know, but I was hoping you would skim and not read; you know?
Dennis: Your dad really nailed this one. It’s like: “Oh my goodness! What a teachable moment!” He seized the moment.
Dave: Well, for all your listeners, it’s important for us all to realize that when it comes to our parenting, God is much more concerned with our direction than He is our perfection. I didn’t have perfect parents, but I had great parents. One of the things that they did was they showed truth and they showed grace. They had some consequences for when I would get out away from them.
The story that Dennis is referring to, of course, is when I was 15 years of age. My parents went out of town. They had us stay at a Bible college campus, where my dad worked at the time. My older brother gave me the car keys and said, “While Mom and Dad are gone, feel free to take that thing out for a spin.” I said, “You are the best brother that ever walked the face of the earth!”
I didn’t have a driver’s license. I didn’t even have a permit. So, for two solid days, I gave lonely secretaries rides around the campus. If they were at one building, I’d say “Hey, hop in. I’ll give you a ride to the other side.” I went back and forth; but every person that got in my car, I said: “Please promise me you won’t tell anyone. You’re sworn to secrecy.” They all said that they would—you know.
But when my parents came back in town, my dad was fired up. He said to Jeff and me, “Okay, I need to talk to you guys.” He put us in his study, and he slammed the door. He stared at us; and he said, “Is there anything you want to tell me?” Well, they’d been gone for three days. We’d done a lot of different things, and we didn’t know what he had on us; you know? We lived by a principle: “Never confess to a felony if he only hits you for a misdemeanor.” [Laughter]
Bob: So you started with the small stuff; huh?
Dave: Yes. So, I’m like, “We have nothing to declare.” I didn’t know what he had, so I was going to pull him out.
Dennis: Who was the first one to speak?
Dave: Well, I was the first one to speak; but it was after my dad gave his speech. My dad was also a preacher. He immediately goes into an impromptu parable. He says, “A certain man went on a journey out of town.” I’m like, “Oh, I know where this is going.” He said, “He entrusted two sets of car keys to his older son, who in turn entrusted a set of car keys to his younger brother, who did not have a license, who proceeded to drive around the campus for two days. What should happen to these two boys?” I finally—my Sunday school training kicked in. I said, “As surely as the Lord lives, the older brother must die.” [Laughter] And Dad did not think it was that funny.
Dennis: Did he even grin? Did he grin; do you think?
Dave: When I was 16, he said, “Happy birthday, but you’re going to have to wait to get your license.”
Bob: And here’s what was at the core of all this. They were trying to make it clear that life doesn’t revolve around you—your decisions, your choices. We live in a world where we rely on one another, we depend on one another, and we ought to be able to trust one another. We have to die to what we want to do for the sake of others. That’s part of what they were trying to train.
Dave: Well-said. That was their end result that they were hoping to get because they wanted to teach us that being a Christian is counter-cultural. There is nothing more counter-cultural, these days, than putting the focus on others rather than upon you. I had a mom and dad who were trying to bore that into our hearts—to put the focus on someone else. We’ve tried to do the same thing.
Dennis: You know—the problem, Dave, is the culture is like a megaphone—screaming at our children, as well as us, to: “Live for yourself.” “Acquire.” “Consume.” “Live for your own needs, your own desires,” and, “Really, don’t worry about everybody else.” How did you take this on? You had to be facing it as you raised your kids, just like we did.
Dave: Yes, and we made plenty of mistakes along the way; but I think you have to keep coming back to the fact of: “Okay, why are you here? Were you put here on this earth for yourself or were you put here for the glory of God? Is everything going to revolve around you, or can you derive incredible fulfillment when you do things for others?” That’s why I encourage parents, “Get involved in some type of service.” It’s a mindset.
It’s my wife—driving the van and taking three or four neighborhood kids to school—and each day, when they would come in, in the afternoon, and get in the van—she’d say, “Okay, I want to know. Who did you encourage?” She’d have a jar of candy, up-front. She’d say, “Tell me who you encouraged today.” See, you’re raising the bar and you’re raising the expectation.
It’s a trial and error. It’s a teaching process, but it’s a great time for these kids to be able to put the focus and spotlight someplace else. Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” If we’re really imitating Christ, that means that we start having our eyes open for all these needs. In this book, Selfless Kids, I talk about some families that do a great job with that.
I think of the Sykes family, in our church. They do a great job of putting the focus on others. They’ll have a “Garbage Man Appreciation Day”. They’ll put posters, with the garbage man’s name, in their yard, just to try to bring attention to them. They’ll do the same thing with their postal carrier. I think about people who raised their children in such a way that they think of others first when it comes to any type of need.
We have the Snyders, some friends of ours. They went to a third-world country. They came back—they invited girls to come over to their house for a sleepover; but they said: “You cannot bring a sleeping bag. You can’t bring a pillow. We’re going to talk about where we were in India.” They shared about an orphanage there, and they had people bring gifts for the orphanage. They ate rice at dinner. They ate rice for breakfast, the next morning. They slept the same way that the kids in the orphanage did. Now, that’s a family that is putting the focus on others. Those kids are going to grow up, saying, “It’s not about me.”
Dennis: How much of that mindset did you grab from your mom and dad in the home you grew up in? I mean, your story is really a mixture of what you did with your kids—raising them—but a ton of stories are about the family you are going to the bank on, today, as a dad.
Dave: Yes, I was very blessed in the fact that my parents modeled servanthood for me. So, I think it is easier. The whole key to raising these godly kids is the fact that I think we have to be genuine. We have to be the real deal. One of the things that moved me the most—my dad did work at a Bible college. When he left, he got a small raise with his next job. What my parents would do wipes me out, even to think about it.
Sometimes, they would put cash—just in an envelope. They would tell my brother and they would tell me: “Hey, will you go down to the campus? After everybody has gone and it’s late at night, would you just slide this underneath this professor’s door?” We became a courier service for his old staff—that he used to work alongside of—because he knew some of the money that they made or the lack thereof. We became these anonymous carrier pigeons that would slide an envelope with $40 or $70 in it. No one knew anything about what my parents were doing; but do you have any idea the impact that that makes on a 17-year-old kid, knowing that my parents didn’t have a whole lot, and yet they were modeling for us generosity and selfless living? So, I was very blessed.
Bob: It carried over to your son, Sam, when the church had a building campaign. He got involved; didn’t he?
Dave: Yes. That was one of the more unusual moments of parenthood—where you feel like, “Boy, I think my kids are getting it!” We had a building campaign at church. We made a big push about it. We challenged our kids and said, “We want you all to be involved in this.” Each one of them stepped up to the plate; but my son, Sam, in an unusual fashion, committed $200. He said, “I pledge $200 over the course of the next two years.”
To put that in perspective, that was every penny of his allowance for two solid years. That was no extra spending money—that was everything for two years. I said, “Buddy, are you sure you want to do this?” I went through the numbers with him. He said: “Oh, no. I’ve figured this all out.” I think he was nine years old, at the time. He said, “No, I’m fine with it.”
I said, “Well, I want to make certain, before you turn this pledge card in, that you realize every dime that Mom and Dad give you, you’re going to say that you’re going to give that to the Lord’s work of this new building and that ministry.” He said, “Yes, I understand that.” We really thought: “Gosh, this is amazing! We shouldn’t let him do it.” We wrestled with that. We certainly didn’t tell anybody about it because we thought it would look really bad—like: “Oh, golly, the preacher is strong-arming his own kid. This is terrible!”
Dave: So we didn’t talk about it; but he did it faithfully for months, and months, and months. Then, one time, I was speaking at something. They said, “Would you bring your dad and bring your son with you?” My dad came and he spoke some. My son got up; and he talked for five minutes, at the age of ten, at that time. Then, he did a rap. He had memorized a rap song—a Christian rap song. He did such a great job at the men’s conference—they had him do it at the weekend service. It went over so well he got a standing ovation. They had him do it at every service at this church. Two weeks later, they sent him a check for his speaking; and it was $200. [Laughter]
God has a sense of humor; but I think what God was teaching my son, at a very early age, is: “I’ve got this. Trust Me. Be selfless. Be unselfish. Share with others, and I’m going to take care of you.”
Dennis: What I want to remind parents of is that they are in the process of raising the next generation of Christ-followers and of disciples, who are going to be warriors on behalf of the next generation. As you were talking, I kept thinking about Christ’s words in Luke, Chapter 9, when He said: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, will save it.”
As parents, we have to train our kids, early, to begin to latch on to that truth of being a disciple of Christ. We are the ones who create that original appetite—that thirst for God and a thirst for denying self—because it does not come naturally.
Dave: The key for a parent is to say: “I’m going to be authentic. I’m going to be consistent.” That means that we’re going to blow it! They’re going to see our selfishness at times. The question is whether or not we use that as a teaching opportunity or whether we try to sweep it under the carpet. There are plenty of times when I’ve had to make that journey up the stairs to the bedrooms and say: “Hey, I just want you to know I blew it. I was thinking of me more than I was thinking of others.”
I think of a time when my son was involved in a Bible study we had for couples at our house, and he loved it. He looked forward to it. These all were people in their 20s—a lot of them played sports—and they were involved in different things. Every week, we’d have 35 people in our basement—every Wednesday. His job was, whoever the visitors were, he was to make them feel really comfortable. He might play ping pong with them, he might go up and show them his room; he would do anything he possibly could to put the focus on them so that they would feel comfortable in the Bible study.
He looked forward to this every Wednesday; but one night, on Wednesday before the Bible study started, I made a joke, at his expense. My son has a great sense of humor; but I mean, everybody laughed hard—the group of guys. We were standing around there, and I was talking about him—I was talking about Sam and a girlfriend that he kind of was interested in at school—but it really embarrassed him. I could tell that I had said the wrong thing, and I had crossed the line. I saw him kind of slowly meander his way out. He went upstairs. The Bible study started. I started teaching, and I got about five minutes into it. I said [Emotion in voice]: “Just give me a couple of minutes. I have to take care of something,” and went upstairs.
There was my son. I found him in his room. He has the door shut and his head is buried in a pillow on the bed. I can see his eyes are red, and he’s been crying. I said, “Dude,” I said, “I owe you an apology.” He said, “You made everybody laugh at me.” I said: “You’re right. I was more concerned with me than I was you, and I wanted to laugh.” I said, “I am so sorry.” I said, “Will you forgive me?” Of course, he said, “I forgive you.” I said: “I’ll never do that again, at your expense. I’m sorry I did it.” He hugged me, and I went back downstairs and presented the Bible study; but I told them what had happened. I apologized to them, too. Out of all the nights we’ve had couples’ Bible studies—I think that that probably was the night when they got the biggest lesson.
I can’t even tell you what I taught on that night, but it had nothing to do with what the planned lesson was. It had everything to do with the fact that they realized you’re going to have to swallow your pride, and you’re going to have to ask forgiveness of your family members. You’re going to have to put the spotlight on others rather than trying to get the laugh for yourself or the attention for yourself.
Dennis: If you keep on doing that—enough days in a row—your kids are going to get the message.
Dennis: You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to persevere.
Bob: The point here, I think, is that we have to recognize that unselfishness will never come naturally. Nobody ever goes: “You know, I just feel like I ought to be unselfish.” That’s learned—that’s trained.
Dennis: I don’t think I’ve ever awakened in the morning, thinking, “I’d love to be unselfish”—
Bob: “I’ll be unselfish today.” No—selfishness is bound up in all of our hearts. If we’re parents, we have to recognize that’s true with our kids. They are naturally selfish. They’re inclined in that direction. We have to be working to train them—to teach them to go against the impulse of the flesh. We, probably, also need to teach them that this is going to be a lifelong struggle and a lifelong battle for us.
Dave, I appreciate the fact that you’ve given us some anchor points that we can hang onto, as parents, as we talk about things like service, and generosity, and forgiveness, and other elements that lead into living as selfless men and women.
Dave’s book is called How to Raise Selfless Kids in a Self-Centered World. It’s part of the Faithful Families series. We have all the books in the series in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on how you can order any of the books Dave has written. Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com. Or call, toll-free, at 1-800-358-6329; that’s1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”. Ask about Dave’s book, How to Raise Selfless Kids in a Self-Centered World, or about any of the books he’s written in the Faithful Family series.
Speaking about selflessness, there is a group of our listeners—a faithful, committed core group of selfless men and women—who share our desire to see every home become a godly home. They are committed, as we are, to helping to provide practical, biblical help for marriages and families in this country through FamilyLife Today on the radio, all around the world on the internet, and immediately accessible on our Apple® iPhone app.
We appreciate those of you who partner with us, as financial supporters of this ministry. In fact, this week, we’d like to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a couple of CDs that feature a conversation we had with Dr. Steve Farrar, talking about what a dad can do to help anchor his family in Christ for a couple of generations. When you go to FamilyLifeToday.com, click the button that says, “I CARE”, and make an online donation, we’ll send you those CDs as our thank-you gift. Or request the CDs when you get in touch with us by phone or by mail. Our phone number is: 1-800-FL-TODAY; and our mailing address is: FamilyLife Today, Box 7111, Little Rock, Arkansas, and our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk more with Dave Stone—this time, about what parents can do to sow seeds of faith in the hearts and lives of our children. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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