The most important lesson we could ever instill in our young people is how to value themselves. This does not mean giving them the best of everything, the most up-to-date phone, the best of clothes, etc. Value does not come from being first in class, being first in sports or achieving one’s goals. In fact, it can be these very things that are the reason why our young people have no value in themselves because their value system has been set by what they have or what they achieve and not by what they do.
For our young people, it is essential to their wellbeing and value system that they learn to give selflessly. They need to know how to help others or put others before themselves. They need to know how to let go of the ‘selfie’ culture.
I think Rabbi Sacks* explained it perfectly when he said ‘Do a search and replace operation in your mind, and every time you see the word ‘self’, delete it and write ‘other’. So instead of self-esteem, other-esteem, instead of self-respect, other-respect, just do that and you’ll find that you will be much happier, your relationships will improve and you will feel that your life is meaningful in a way that it wasn’t before’.
So many times, we witness young people, who have so much, feel so empty inside. They find it hard to identify who they are and what their positive qualities are. It is only when we begin to establish a value system from within that we begin to feel good, feel worthy, feel light. Young people want to help, they want to give but they need us, as adults, parents, teachers, to enable them to do that.
When working with young people in our youth group Spirit we always ended each meeting with what we called The Weekly Task. We identified and created about 50 individual tasks which we had printed in all different colours. At the end of each meeting we would call out ‘Weekly Task!’ and one by one each of the young people would have to pick one from the basket without looking. There was always a bit of excitement about it as they all knew there were easy tasks and not so easy tasks, but all tasks had one thing in common they were selfless, and value based.
As the weeks would go on, they would begin to look forward to this part of the meeting as they would be curious and excited about what would be asked of them during the week ahead.
Each task demanded an element of work and time after which they would be asked to report back on how the task went and how they felt about doing it. Each time each reflection would demonstrate the feelings of positivity, love, friendships, value and joy. Many is the time we would have young people asking could they pick out more than one task in a week! These are the simple types of building blocks that can instil in our children, or young people how to get into the habit of giving of oneself.
In today’s Gospel, we are told that there will come a time when we will be asked ‘what did you do for Me?’. By encouraging our young people at an early age to give, we are enabling them to live a life that is rich and full of value and meaning so that they can stand proud and say ‘Lord, when you were hungry I fed you, when you were thirsty I gave you drink’.
*Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks was an international religious leader, philosopher, award-winning author and respected moral voice, Rabbi Sacks was awarded the 2016 Templeton Prize in recognition of his “exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” He died of cancer at the age of 72 on 7th of November this year.
By Colette O’Doherty
Director of Religious Education & Youth Ministry