Cynthia Yanof, host of Christian Parenting’s "Pardon the Mess" podcast, has spearheaded a kindness challenge this Christmas season and is encouraging families to join her in facilitating opportunities to bless others.
Yanof and her family set aside a day this year to perform “random acts of (holiday) kindness” and they hope to inspire others to do the same.
“If you find something that you’re passionate about and allow other people to join you in serving in that area, you will be overwhelmed with the response you receive,” she said in an interview with The Christian Post.
Yanof said she's noticed that just about “everyone is looking for ways to make a difference; they just need someone willing to facilitate the opportunities.”
She and her husband, Mike, have three children — a high schooler (Kate), a middle schooler (Brett) and a preschooler (J.B.). After years of being an attorney, she decided to change course and now writes and hosts a podcast for Christian parenting. Yanof’s Christian faith is what fuels her passion for family, foster care, and honest service unto others. She believes Jesus is the best example of that.
“When we look at gift-giving in the context of the Christmas story, we’re reminded that the sacrifice, humility, worship, and generosity behind gifts is key to making temporary things have lasting Kingdom significance,” she told CP.
In the following transcript, Yanof provides practical ways people can follow Jesus’ example and be a blessing to others during Christmas amid the pandemic.
CP: Can you share why you felt compelled to kick off a kindness day?
Yanof: Many years ago someone encouraged me to sit down and consider what it is in this world that really breaks my heart. She said to think about that one thing keeping me awake at night if I think too much about it. She then challenged me to find a way to serve in that area and make a difference in our community.
After praying about it, I realized I couldn’t stand the reality that kids in my city don’t have enough to eat or the basic things they need to live life comfortably. Obviously, those are big problems that no one person can solve. But I began asking the Lord how He would have my family meet some of the needs of children in our city.
I’m so thankful my friend challenged me to put action behind my convictions all those years ago, because 10 years later I’m in awe of the opportunities the Lord has provided for us to serve. Not only has my family had the blessing of feeding thousands of kids in our community each summer, but our friends have joined us in a group effort that continues to accomplish things we never could have done on our own.
I say all of this for one reason: If you find something that you’re passionate about and allow other people to join you in serving in that area, you will be overwhelmed with the response you receive.
I’ve realized that just about everyone is looking for ways to make a difference; they just need someone willing to facilitate the opportunities. Finding ways to serve others, including organizing something as simple as a day of kindness, will likely bless your family and friends even more than those whom you’ve set out to bless.
It doesn’t have to be a huge endeavor, just start small and be intentional in finding ways to help and encourage those around you.
CP: What do “random acts of kindness” look like in a COVID-19 kind of year?
Yanof: Although COVID has limited many of the activities we typically enjoy this time of year, the spirit of giving is more alive than ever. As the needs are greater this year than most, the opportunities are greater as well.
Obviously, safety concerns are of the highest consideration as we do this, but here are a few ideas or “acts of kindness” that might encourage those who are anxious or struggling:
- Have your kids assemble packets of hot chocolate and candy canes to put on cars at nursing homes.
- Leave pre-packaged goodies at your neighbors with a note that you’ve prayed for them.
- Place $1 bills in baggies with a Bible verse and tape them to items in the Dollar Store.
- Tape plastic bags with coins to the washer/dryers in laundromats with a note of encouragement.
- Set up Zoom calls with older people this Christmas and spend time talking with them periodically.
- Have your kids collect gently used toys (their own and from friends) to donate to a local charity.
- Rake leaves or plant seasonal flowers for a neighbor.
- Leave messages of encouragement with sidewalk chalk in front of different houses in your neighborhood.
- Show gratitude to first responders by leaving notes or even having food delivered to the fire station, police station, hospital, etc.
- Leave bottles of bubbles with encouraging notes to surprise daycare workers when they arrive in the morning.
Pinterest also has lots of free printable notes that are perfect for attaching to goodies as a socially-distanced way to encourage others.
CP: What would you say is the real message of gift-giving on Christmas? How did Jesus model that?
Yanof: As parents, the best lessons we can teach on gift-giving come from the Nativity and the message of Christmas. The most obvious gift is that of eternal life given to us by a loving God who sent His only son to die for our sins (John 3:16). But we also see Mary’s sacrificial gift of her physical body as a virgin mom, and Joseph’s willingness to set aside his pride for a posture of love and humility.
The shepherds gave the gift of worship, showing their willingness to travel long distances to lay eyes on their Savior. And the wise men traveled far away to generously give their finest possessions to the newborn King.
When we look at gift-giving in the context of the Christmas story, we’re reminded that the sacrifice, humility, worship, and generosity behind gifts is key to making temporary things have lasting Kingdom significance.
CP: What would you want families and children to gain from doing random acts of kindness?
Yanof: Let’s start by calling it a complete success if we do nothing more than help others while having some fun and gaining much-needed perspective this time of year. But on a deeper level, my prayer is that these random acts of kindness give our kids the opportunity to know God better by serving those He created.
Anytime we can intersect the secular with the sacred, it’s a parenting win. It’s those places where we’re making great memories with our kids while also demonstrating that our faith has legs and we’re serious about the call to care for the orphans, widows, elderly, and the poor.
I’m reminded of one of my daughter’s friends who helped us make sack lunches for low-income kids one summer a few years ago. That following school year, she was assigned the task of writing an essay at school on the most meaningful thing she had accomplished in her life thus far.
She wrote about helping feed others in the summer because it’s the only time she could remember doing something for someone who could offer her nothing in return. That’s the message of the Gospel played out in real-time for our kids. It’s the Good Samaritan’s message of loving God by loving the people He places in our paths.
CP: What has this holiday done to bond you and your family?
Yanof: With a high schooler, middle schooler, and preschooler in our home, it’s oftentimes hard to find things they all will enjoy that also brings significance this time of year. It’s perfect how serving others is a way to grow together as a family while also growing closer to the Lord.
Even as I’m [sharing] this, our living room is full of gifts our family has collected with our friends to donate to a local Christian nonprofit. We recently received word that they had a shortage of board books for babies and presents for teenage boys this Christmas, so we sent an email to our friends. The response has been overwhelming.
My kids love collecting, sorting, organizing, and delivering gifts to ministries, knowing someone else will experience Christmas joy in the end. It’s fun to see their spirit of cooperation and excitement as they get behind something that has significance outside of their own daily lives.
CP: You have said, "True impact comes when kids see the needs around them and have the opportunity, on a very personal level, to engage in helping others." How can you encourage parents to get their children to really care about others in this season and not get wrapped up in their wants and needs?
Yanof: I’ve found that the majority of kids inherently want to help others, but simply aren’t stretched outside of their daily routine to see the needs around them.
Most kids are hooked on serving as soon as they experience the blessing and satisfaction of being a part of solving real-life problems. It’s empowering for kids to help others in need and contribute positively to society.
As we approach the end of a very difficult year, let’s ask God to redeem some of this adversity by creating ministry opportunities for our families. But as we do this, keep in mind one key ingredient I’ve found important for engaging our kids in the process: sweat equity.
I believe there’s a fairly direct correlation between the impact on our kids and the skin they have in the game as they are serving. There’s nothing wrong with making financial contributions on behalf of our family; but don’t expect that to impact our kids. It’s in those places where they will be asked to sacrifice time with friends, or use their talents and creativity, where we see attitudes change and hearts soften.
I’ll wrap it up by encouraging you with my favorite Mother Teresa quote: “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
I’m praying God will lead each of us to serve our “one” well this Christmas season.