3 Ways to cultivate a heart for others

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Does a heart for others come naturally for you?

I confess it does not for me.  Maybe it’s because I grew up an only child – or maybe I’m just selfish.  Staff writer, Sarah Damaska walks us through how to cultivate a heart for others in this enriching post.


The cookie left a residue on my fingers as I traced the indentations in the shape of a heart, leaving me breathless.  Right there in the middle of the cookie, made with thumbprints, was the shape of a heart.


Sweat beaded on my forehead and ran down my back.  I thought of my own kids when I make cookies.  One likes raisins, another asks for chocolate every time.  Two of the three like molasses and all of them will eat snickerdoodles if I don’t over bake them.


My worlds were colliding and I wasn’t sure how to reconcile the two.

I held in my hands a mud cookie.  Yes, you read that right.  A cookie.  Made of mud.


I don’t claim to be an expert in Haitian culture, but on the streets of Port de Paix, you can buy mud cookies for just a few cents. Made of mud, oil, flour, and a little salt, they’re meant to take the edge off for children who have nothing else.  They don’t satisfy and they taste terrible, but for hopelessly empty bellies, they provide just a bit of sustenance to get through the day.


On the top of each cookie is a simple heart made with thumbprints. Truly, I don’t know why the heart is there, but for me – a Mom who yearns to see children the way Jesus does – it’s a reminder that no matter what language we speak, everyone needs someone to love them.

3 Ways to cultivate a heart for others in our children when it won't come naturally. Inspiration for how to use our own pain to meet other's needs.

In addition, I keep a mud cookie on my kitchen windowsill because I know my tendency to forget.  I get home and the demands of everyday life crowd out my compassion. Then, I complain that there’s no food in the house, but that’s not really true. I look past the marginalized and only see my own to-do list.


How can I live every day looking for others who need hope?

How can I teach my children to bring justice to a world where mud cookies exist?  And what can I do today to bring nourishment to someone who is desperately hungry?


Because here’s the deal: In the years I’ve been trekking back and forth to Haiti, I’ve discovered they have a big corner on the market, but it’s not the only corner. There is poverty right here in my hometown, too.  It may look different, but it’s there.


Children in broken homes where there are abuse and neglect.

Houses with big screen televisions yet empty cupboards.  Teachers who keep a supply of extra winter boots and hats for those who come cold.  Kids are hungry, alone, scared and confused in every city, town, village, and street of this world.  They long for someone to notice them, to love them.  And we are moms who can open our arms to them and welcome them like Jesus.



Here are three ways simple ways to cultivate a heart for others

3 Ways to cultivate a heart for others in our children when it won't come naturally. Inspiration for how to use our own pain to meet other's needs.

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1. Take your kids along

Kids have an innate sense of serving, but it has to be cultivated.  Give your children opportunities to come alongside you as your serve.  Pack the Operation Christmas Child box with them.  Let them help with the meal for a neighbor.  Find a food giveaway and take them along.


Don’t be afraid to expose your children to the needs all around them.  You will awaken in them a purpose, which will fuel your desire.  If you want kids who serve others, they have to see you serving.  This is how you open up their eyes to see a bigger world than what’s right in front of them.  This is how you teach them that generosity is much bigger than just giving money— it’s a lifestyle of serving, of giving what you have to give others a hand up.


2. Pay attention to your tears

Not sure where to start?  Frederick Beuchner wrote,

“Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.”  


It may sound too simple, but living a generous life takes courage.  Cultivating a heart for others takes paying attention to the things God whispers…  A friend of mine experienced the crushing grief of several miscarriages.  In her sorrow, she was able to lift her eyes to see a world of people she had missed before.  She began volunteering at a local crisis pregnancy center, ministering to ladies who found themselves at a crossroad.


Jesus often redeems our places of deepest pain in order to bring hope to others.  When you find yourself with tears in your eyes, don’t push it away.  Sit with it.  It may be that God is calling you to serve others in that very place.


3 Ways to cultivate a heart for others in our children when it won't come naturally. Inspiration for how to use our own pain to meet other's needs.

3. Don’t sanitize it

Serving the marginalized can be messy.  You will run into people who are ungrateful.  It will throw your day into a tailspin.  Your kids will fight and complain.  It’s hard because it’s counter-cultural.


A few years ago, I started mentoring in our local middle school.  Kids in that age bracket have always had my heart, ever since I was a college student.  But it’s no secret that middle school kids are difficult.  Every week I meet with a student for an hour that I don’t have to spare.  But I keep showing up to bake cupcakes or play hangman together.


We talk about her kittens and friends.  I look her in the eyes and wonder if it’s even making a difference.  A few weeks ago, she wrote me a note and told me I’m her best friend.  I’m glad I didn’t quit when it got hard.  


Perhaps more than ever we need to realize our unique position in life is not for our own convenience.  It’s for God’s glory.  There’s beauty in our sacrifice and joy in serving; developing a heart for others.  The mud cookie on my kitchen windowsill is a reminder— a reminder that we are called to be love for others.

I don’t know who formed the cookie, sweeping her thumbprints to form a heart, but it’s become a symbol to me.  We are moms together, bringing hope to each corner of the world, one simple, heartbreaking, breathless act at a time.


3 Ways to cultivate a heart for others in our children when it won't come naturally. Inspiration for how to use our own pain to meet other's needs.About the Author

Sarah Damaska lives in the Thumb of Michigan with her pastor-husband and three school-aged kids.  Shaped by the death of her daughter, Annie, she writes on her blog sarahdamaska.com about the intersection of hope & sorrow and how God calls us to live holding onto both.  Every fall, she boards a plane to visit her friends in Haiti, particularly two sweet ex-prostitutes who have taught her the power of redemption and how Jesus makes all things new.



Teach your children to seek Jesus this Advent

A Savior is born

This Advent

My grandson (The Tornado, whom you may have heard me mention before), just asked Jesus to be his Savior!  We are THRILLED to celebrate the Christmas season with Him in a new and special way this year.  Witnessing the miracle of Christ’s birth through the eyes of a child is so exciting!

That’s why I’m sharing this Advent series for moms and children called, A Savior is Born, written by my good friends, Keri Snyder, and Sarah Frazer.  Between the two of them, they have EIGHT KIDS, so the gals know what they’re doing!
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A Savior is born

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