We were at our local Italian pizzeria last week for a date night. Truthfully, we really would have preferred to stay home as it was cold and windy, and we had a beautiful fire burning. But alas, our son had a few friends over for pre-concert drinks and they were playing beer pong.
So, there we were minding our business when we overheard from the adjacent table the following: Can you stop talking about yourself for a while and talk about me instead?
The comment came from a young couple, early twenties, presumably on a date. Clearly the young woman is not impressed with her date’s chattiness. We held our breath wondering if they would survive this massive slap down.
Apparently, his ego was not as needy as his stomach for he persisted, and the conversation resumed. Our meal arrived and was delicious, as always, and there was no more drama from the neighbours.
As we headed home still wondering how this couple’s date would play out, we caught the end of the pre-concert gathering.
Three young women from the Oz-tag team are still there with our son who was very responsibly washing up. Francine took the opportunity to engage the women in conversation by sharing what we had overheard.
The horror! All of them immediately identified the rudeness and self-obsession of the young woman. Though on reflection, she was complaining about her date’s selfishness so it’s not really clear if one or both were fault.
The conversation was animated as Francine artfully steered it towards a helpful life lesson on social skills that they would hopefully remember the next day.
A service mentality
Good social skills teach us to be other focussed in our conversation and to be attentive to cues from the other about whether we are engaging their interest. Such inter-personal awareness is an important skill for getting on in life and getting ahead in the world.
It requires a willingness to set aside our own interests and needs while we attend to the needs of others. In a workplace, it’s a highly desirable trait as such employees are more likely to serve the needs of the organisation ahead of their own.
In terms of romantic relationships, it’s hugely influential in getting through the first date to the second and third, and eventually down the aisle. Most couples marry on the strength of feeling that they are the centre of the each other’s world, something our restaurant neighbours seemed to struggle to embrace.
As children, we both learned from our parents about how to treat a guest. We observed the furious tidying up that went on ahead of guests arriving, and the team-work between our parents, each taking turns to engage the guests in conversation while the other moved briskly to bringing dinner to the table or serve the drinks.
The focus was on the guests, ensuring they never felt neglected.
We’ve followed the same pattern, with each of us assuming defined roles which allows us to efficiently host guests with grace, at least most of the time. And from observing our son, he has also picked up those values around hosting a guest.
Hospitality in the home is a powerful opportunity to not just extend our service beyond our immediate family but to also teach our children how to put others first. In the hustle of everyday family life, the occasion of visiting guests is a prime time to explicitly explain and coach children in service to others.
Such other-centred service is not just for guests of course. It is also part of family life, where dinner conversation is steered towards interested enquiry about our kid’s daily lives, rather than uninvited transmission about our own.
Likewise, the frequent event of gift-giving in extended families is a teaching opportunity to help our kids think about what the other likes rather than what they prefer.
If we look for it, family life is full of potential occasions for teaching the value of service to others including the participation in household chores, baby-sitting and caring for elderly family members.
However, it’s all too easy to neglect developing a culture of service in the home. The deadly combination of parental busyness (it’s just quicker to do it ourselves) and over-indulgence can rob our homes and our children of these experiences.
This in-turn feeds the natural human tendency to self-absorption and entitlement; we inadvertently teach our kids to expect special treatment and to be intolerant of boredom or tedium, both of which are a necessary part of a service mentality.
Importantly, it predisposes them to troubled relationships in all areas of their life and to a frustrated career-path.
In service to each other
St Paul instructs Christians to “serve one another humbly in love” (Gal 5:13). This service to one another most practically begins in the home. Our marriages therefore become one of the most important service relationships we need to model for our children.
We go to impressive lengths to serve our friends and guests, but frequently assume that our spouse is just a personal assistant, rather than the focal point of our vocation to love.
That is not what we intended when we got married, but too often it is the habit we slip into and the relational atmosphere in which our children are raised. Unfortunately, there is often not a lot of other-centred service on show.
To counter this, we need to remind ourselves why we got married and then remember what we were like when were engaged. If you were like us, we were urgent to know more about the other, would do anything for each other, and were generous towards each other to a fault.
We are unlikely to be like that every day after 30 years of marriage together, but gosh, a little bit more of that makes our marriage so much richer and more playful.
And the rest then follows. A wise bit of parenting advice we were once given was: “Worry not that your children will not hear what you say, worry more that they will see what you do.”
If we take the time to reinvest in our relationship and make it the first priority among our earthly pursuits, then being more in service to each other becomes something we naturally want and look to do, rather than something we reluctantly feel we need to do.