One Simple Question for Cultivating a Heart of Gratitude and Service

December is a natural time to take stock of the year, financially and otherwise. Did we achieve the goals we set for ourselves at the start of the year? What went well? What didn’t go so well? And what changes should we aim for in the year ahead?

But a few years ago I came across a year-end reflection question that put this exercise in a whole new light. Who did we help this year? It’s such a simple question, yet so powerful. I think it’s a great way to evaluate a year—to think of who you might have helped in some way? I kept thinking about that question as I looked back on 2021. And then, over dinner one night, I asked my family the question.

At first, some of our kids said they couldn’t think of anyone they helped. But my wife and I challenged them to give it some more thought and they were able to come up with several names. Our daughter thought of a new girl in her class who seems really shy. Our daughter made a point of asking her questions, sitting by her in the cafeteria, and trying to make her laugh or at least smile. 

Each of them came up with examples. We talked about specific ways we have served in our community, whether preparing and serving meals at a ministry that helps people in need, hosting a group of middle school students in our home for weekly small group meetings, our kids inviting friends to summer camp, and clearing ice from the front walk of an older newly-widowed woman’s home. 

What makes your highlight reel?

Every year, I put together a slide show of our family’s year—trips we took and other picture-worthy experiences from the year. It’s always enjoyable to look back on all that we did.

But I think this question—Who did you help this year?—will become part of our annual look-back from now on. And already it’s motivating us to more actively pursue opportunities to serve. 

It isn’t that we’re not serving. We are. My wife helps lead a women’s Bible study and co-leads a small group for middle school girls. I do some biblical money management teaching at our church and serve as a deacon. And we financially support a number of missionaries and other ministries, in addition to our church.

But there’s something about that question—Who did you help this year?—that’s stirring something in me. Maybe it’s a sense that service has felt too compartmentalized—events we participate in, but then then they’re done until the next service project. Maybe it’s a desire to make service more of a lifestyle. And my hope is that if we keep the question in front of our family, it may help our kids think more outwardly on a daily basis, too.

Have you ever looked back on a year and asked yourself, Who did I help this year? 

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:4

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2 Responses to One Simple Question for Cultivating a Heart of Gratitude and Service

  1. Tom A. December 28, 2021 at 3:40 AM #

    LOVE this. The article compels me, too, to ask “who did I help this year?” And the idea that it can become a lifestyle, is so very important. Thank you for the good read, Matt.

  2. JonC January 29, 2019 at 6:18 PM #

    Great thought provoking question. I especially like the idea to challenge my children to help them reconnect with things they did for others. Thanks!

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