Remember the command in Matthew 5:41? You know – the one when if someone asks you for one piece of clothing or to walk a mile, you give them twice what they asked from you? I think if I ever heard any sermons on it, they revolved around helping others or being nice to our enemies. How often though do we teach our children to actually go the extra mile in everything they are asked to do?
Unfortunately, it has become politically incorrect and “uncool” to do your best. Anyone expecting the best from us is judgmental, demanding, and even divisive. If we go the extra mile and give more than is asked from us – whether it is in church, service, work or school – we can be labeled “teacher’s pet” or much uglier things. Yet, I don’t find Jesus putting any limitations on his commands in those surrounding verses. Clearly, God expects us and our children to go that “extra mile”.
So how can you encourage your children to do their best without turning them into anxious perfectionists or rebellious slackers in the process? I think we can train our children to go the extra mile while also teaching them how to set healthy boundaries. There are probably a lot of ways to do it, but here are a few we tried:
- Teach your children the idea of godly importance. Godly importance is going the extra mile for the things God considers important. Obedience, sharing our faith, serving others, working as if working for the Lord (Colossians 3:23) and more are things God considers important and I am strongly guessing, worthy of our extra mile. On the other hand, God does not seem to care about our efforts to seek money, fame, power, fancy clothes, or whether we can bake the perfect pie from scratch. In fact in some areas, God actually discourages us from getting too caught up in achieving a certain level of worldly success. Your children should focus their efforts on going the extra mile in areas that would please God. The other things may come, but I honestly don’t believe God wants us to put all of our extra mile efforts into seeking fame (for example).
- Help your children understand that even when going the extra mile, they are going to make mistakes and even sin from time to time, but that is not a reason to stop trying. A few days ago, I wrote about teaching your children how to not let mistakes and sins separate them from God. They should also not stop your children from doing their best.
- Train your children to understand perfection is not the goal, but their heart is. I don’t for a second think Jesus thinks we will be perfect at going the extra mile. Sometimes we may not even be sure what that would look like in a particular situation and we are just doing the best we know how to do at the moment. What Jesus really cared about was the heart of the person willing to go the extra mile. Does your child have a heart that wants to serve God and others as much as he can? Whether his efforts “succeed” in his eyes or in the eyes of others isn’t as important as that his heart really wanted to give and serve.
- Give your child practice in going the extra mile. Is your child given an opportunity to serve, work, or an important school assignment (which I believe is their “job” falling under Colossians 3:23)? Help them understand and practice what the extra mile looks like in each circumstance. When our daughter started babysitting several years ago, we talked about the baby sitters she had enjoyed the most. We discussed what made the difference between an okay babysitter and a great babysitter. Any time she babysits, she takes a bag or two of activities especially tailored for those children to enjoy while she is with them. When they are awake, she is totally engaged in talking with them and playing with them. Without our talks, she may or may not have known what going the extra mile looked like as a babysitter. We have had similar discussions when we do service, attempt to share our faith and more.
- Teach your child how to set healthy boundaries. This is an area where, in spite of all those great books by Dr. Henry Cloud, I still struggle just a bit. I know there are definitely people and situations who will break you in their demands for your time and attention. I do know even Jesus had times when he needed to get away from the people and rest and reconnect with God. On the other hand, Jesus pushed past the boundaries of the religious leaders of the day and did much more than they were doing (even if they could have done miracles too). I think a beginning boundary we can teach our children is to be aware when their bodies and spirits are about to crash. If they lose their health or have no relationship with God, then going the extra mile won’t be possible or mean anything. What that means exactly will be different for every person. I would caution however that even today, many religious leaders talk big but often barely go the first mile, much less the second. Some things will never change. I would not look at others for a measure of what a second mile is, but teach your children to look at the life of Jesus as their example.
- Discourage comparisons and self-deception. If you have ever asked your child to clean his room, you know exactly what I mean! When we don’t want to go the extra mile, we can easily convince ourselves that our half-hearted efforts were the second mile even though they probably weren’t even the first. Teach your child to have an accurate perception of themselves and their efforts. You don’t want a perfectionist who is too hard on herself any more than you want a slacker who is too easy on herself. Help your child find that godly balance, even if you are still working on it yourself.
- Set a great example for your child. Like me, you still may be working to find the best balance of going the extra mile and boundaries in your own life, I think it is great to admit that to our children, especially as they reach the teen years. Share the lessons you learn with your kids. It may be that you wished you had put more effort into sharing your faith with someone who gave you an opening. Maybe you learned you can’t stay up all night helping someone without getting very ill the next day and you must get at least a few hours of sleep in a crisis. Search the Bible with your child for examples that can help you both on your journey.
If you figure out the perfect balance between going the extra mile and godly boundaries, please let me know. In the meantime, our family will do our best to go the extra mile in godly things, let some not so important things (in my book a perfectly tidy house!) slide a little and keep our health and relationship with God strong. I pray that your family joins us on this journey. Let’s make it “cool” again to do our best for God and go the extra mile.