Teaching Kids to “Go the Extra Mile”


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Me: “Hey, {insert child’s name}, will you help me {set the table/carry the laundry/vacuum the floor} ?”

Kid, with a dramatic groan: “But that’s not my chore this week!”

**Repeat variations of this conversation a dozen times, with all of my children, over several weeks.**

Me to myself: Time for a family talk.

With this attitude problem in mind, last week the kids and I held a quick devotion time before school. We turned to Matthew 5:41–42: “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

Kind of a strange passage, right? Not your usual “encourage the kids to help around the house with a good attitude” scripture.

But hang with me.

First I had to explain the context of the passage to the kids. During Jesus’ day, the Romans occupied all Jewish territory. By law, Roman soldiers could force Jewish people to carry their equipment for them—they could just stop them on the side of the road and conscript them into service. No matter what the Jew was doing or where he was going, he had to stop and travel with the Roman as his temporary slave. (Remember Simon, the man who was forced to carry Jesus’ cross when Jesus couldn’t carry it himself (Mark 15:21)? That’s an example of this law in action.)

The only redeeming aspect of this law was its built-in limitation: the Roman could only force the Jew into service for one mile. We can imagine how humiliated the Jews must have felt by this practice—how slowly and angrily they must have walked while shouldering their enemy’s burden, how violently they must have dropped the baggage at the end of their mile of service.

To help the kids connect with the story, we acted this scene out using pillows from our couch. I played the part of the Roman soldier, and forced my son to carry my pillows across the room. I piled pillow after pillow into his arms, until he was giggling his head off, and his giggling head had completely disappeared behind a pile of pillows. Then he had to attempt to walk across the room.

Want more creative ideas for bringing God into your family life? Click here to sign up for my monthly parenting newsletter. As a welcome gift, you’ll receive a free download: seven two-minute devotions to do around the breakfast table with kids!

When everybody stopped laughing, we used this story to talk about Jesus’ expectations for his followers. Jesus called his disciples to have a completely different attitude than anyone else. Instead of giving in to anger and resentment, he called us to show the love and grace of God by going the extra mile. (And now you know where that phrase came from! Cool, right?) The disciple of Jesus shouldn’t just count his steps till he reaches the end of his required service, then drop the burden and stomp off in a bitter huff—no, the disciple of Jesus says, “Hey, Roman soldier, I’m enjoying your company so much, why don’t you let me carry this for you for another mile? And while I’m at it, let me tell you about a preacher named Jesus…” Jesus wants his people to exemplify kindness and grace, even in the face of injustice and cruelty. He wants us to do more than expected, and better than expected!

And how does this lesson translate into our daily life today? It means that as people who love Jesus, we always seek to have a great attitude no matter what—even if we are being mistreated. It means that we show the love of God to people who don’t “deserve” it. It means we do more than we have to, and we do it with a great attitude. In Colossians 3: 22–24, Paul has these words of admonition for slaves with their masters (I emphasized some phrases): “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” What a challenging attitude to attain, under painful circumstances—but what a great reward in the end!

We talked about having a “second-mile” attitude in our family life—in everything we do at school, in sports, in friendship, and at home. We talked about always looking for ways to serve and give, above and beyond what we are required to do. I asked the kids to work on having a better attitude about helping around the house—not thinking in terms of what’s on the chore chart, and what they have to do to earn allowance, but always striving to serve as much as they can, and with a generous spirit.

I have to say, the Bible is powerful. Jesus’ ways work. This simple scripture brought immediate change to all of our hearts (the kids’ and mine!), and has made our house a more helpful and Christ-like place to live. If you do this devotion with your family, I hope it inspires you all to give your best and go the extra mile! (And come back and let me know how it goes— either here in the comments, or on Facebook—I love hearing from you!)

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Author: Elizabeth Laing Thompson VIEW ALL AUTHORS POSTS

Elizabeth works from home as a writer, editor, diaper changer, baby snuggler, laundry slayer, not-so-gourmet chef, kid chauffeur, floor mopper, dog groomer, and tantrum tamer. She is always tired, but it's mostly the good kind.


  • Tanya February 4, 2016 at 6:58 am

    Thank You Elizabeth! This is great for Parents & Trachers, or anyone in authority who manages other people! If the authority is a disciple of Jesus…we live the extra mile attitude each day & help those we lead do the same. ????

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson February 4, 2016 at 8:56 am

      So true, Tanya! It was such a great reminder for ME, too! We need these reminders no matter what our role!

  • Gina Poirier February 4, 2016 at 8:25 am

    Wow this is so cool! I will definitely be sharing this and trying this and I will try to remember to tell you how it goes 🙂

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson February 4, 2016 at 8:55 am

      Please do! It really made a difference in my kids’ attitudes, and I loved how it helped them connect with Jesus’ teachings on a heart level.

  • Geri Laing February 4, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    Thank you for this one – for myself! Needed to be reminded of this today. You are right – Jesus’ ways always work!

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson February 5, 2016 at 11:00 am

      Thanks, Mom! 😀 xoxo

  • Lara Tabua February 4, 2016 at 11:21 pm

    Fabulous post and great insight to the scripture Lizzie, thanks so much!
    I’ll be sharing this with my family and my women as it really convicted me too!
    Also a big thank you for replying to my email sometime back, really appreciate you taking the time out to reply.
    As another article idea, our churches married ministry have been talking about strong men’s ministries equals strong church, if love to hear anything you’ve learnt about this over time and how we can work in our families to make this happen

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson February 5, 2016 at 11:00 am

      Thanks, Lara! I hope this devotion is helpful for all of you. True story: We were JUST talking this week about men’s ministry, and how crucial it is for a healthy church to have a thriving men’s ministry. My husband has just started a new thing he’s really excited about, based on my dad’s new book for men, WARRIOR. Dad has some fantastic ideas for creating inspiring men’s groups on his new site: http://www.WarriorfortheLord.com.

  • Rav February 24, 2016 at 8:52 am

    thnx sister, this was for me this morning….i work for myself but we always work for others as we have contracts etc., this convicted me because i have been doing only wht my contract says….not going extra which makes the most impact and makes HIS heart smile….wonderful and convicting…

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson February 26, 2016 at 1:01 pm

      So glad this was helpful, Rav! Yes, grown-ups need this reminder, too! I know I have needed it!

  • Taniqua February 29, 2016 at 3:49 pm

    Glad to read this!!

    I often look for something the opposite of the current attitude to replace my saying, “don’t do this or that” and instead say, “do do this” this is perfect for what I was trying to figure out. For me and the kids!!!

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson February 29, 2016 at 4:22 pm

      I’m so glad you found it helpful! It helped our family a great deal—I keep referring back to it with the kids as an easy reminder.

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