The Selfless Giver You Already Know: What Young Men Can Learn From Their Mothers

As I finished my breakfast, I took my greasy skillet covered in bacon grease and fried egg and placed it adjacent to the sink. I thought to myself, “Umm, I’ll take care of that later…” Maybe this would happen, but probably not. So, I walked up the stairs to my room and entered, noticing the nicely folded stack of laundry at the foot of my bed thinking, “Sweet, Mom got me back my laundry!”  I proceeded to put on my favorite flannel shirt and jeans preparing for the day. I returned downstairs to find my skillet already clean and new coffee in the coffee pot. “Sweet, coffee. It may be Folgers, but as long as it’s strong, I’m good.” Fast forward that evening. “Dinner’s ready!” My mom yelled up the stairs. My brothers and I thunder down the steps to find pizza, one individually made for each of us. As we eat, Mom continues to cook more pizza, simultaneously cleaning to ensure the cleaning process isn’t so burdensome once we all finish eating. As always, she eats last, ensuring that her beloved sons are well fed and happy. 

I have no doubt that much of my intellectual depth and leadership skills, I learned from my father and the other men at Battalion. However, my mother imparted one critical gift: giving. Adam Grant in Give and Take speaks to three different types of people: Takers, Matchers, and Givers. The Takers are what you imagine when you hear the word; they take whatever they can for themselves. Even their offers of help advance their own agenda. The Taker appears in Proverbs many times as the “proud” or the “wicked.” Their end goal is their own glorification and they will take advantage of every situation and everyone they can in order to achieve this goal. 

Matchers characterize the majority of the population, people who trade one favor for another. “I’ll do this for you, if you do that for me.” These are people who offer assistance with the hope of cashing in that favor sometime in the future. 

Givers are people who give, either never expecting repayment or knowing that you can never repay them. Jesus summarizes this perfectly in the sermon on the Mount: “If anyone 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.” (Matthew 5:41-42) Also concerning Christ: “Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made Himself nothing by taking on the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8) Not only does Christ call us to be Givers in the Sermon on the Mount, but He also died for us knowing that we could never repay Him, the archetypical giver. 

I learned this skill watching my mother. She constantly gives, never expecting anything in return. She continues to mentor younger women as they tackle the challenges of being a homeschooling parent, maintaining a presence in a ministry that her sons left long ago. Additionally, despite my brothers and I all being grown men, Christmas still remains as elaborate as it was when we were kids. She does this all with no expectation of repayment. 

This Giver mentality has transformed my little brother’s and mine relationship. When he and I were kids we used to trade favors for various chores. If I walked the dogs two days in a row, then he had to clean the counter after dinner. If he mowed the lawn, then I had to do the dishes. Our relationship epitomized matching, completely lacking in love. When our older brothers moved away from home, we were suddenly left with primarily each other as company. So, one day we decided that we no longer wanted our friendship to be defined by our transactions. Rather, we wanted to actively seek each-other’s well-being over our own out of love; essentially, we wanted to give with no regard for repayment. This fundamentally changed the nature of our relationship, and you would be hard pressed to find two brothers closer than us. Whether adventures across the country to climb mountains, or constant reliable feedback and support, we are always seeking opportunities to love and sacrifice for each other. Thus, when we co-led one of the leadership courses at Hemlock Wilderness Brigade Camp, we constantly sought to use our relationship as the example of how these students should give to one another.

My encouragement is this, constantly point your sons towards their mothers, as they selflessly provide for them. There are thousands of little things she does from which he can learn a great deal. Remind him that serving and giving like his mother and back to his mother is a training ground to being a good husband. Whenever I am home, the dishes in the dishwasher from dinner usually finish shortly before I go to bed. So, like my mother modeled for me, I put them away knowing that I am training myself to one day be a husband. This practice of giving I know will over time become a habit, making me more like Christ, thus preparing me for whatever challenges He has for me in the future. 

A note: I highly encourage you to read Give and Take: why helping others drives our success by Adam Grant, a professor at Wharton Business School. While you do so. consider the implications for your life, and the lives of your sons and other young men in your battalion. Think of examples of how Christ and the boys’ mothers embody Givers in their interactions. 


Adam Grant, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives our Success. Penguin Books, 2014.

Brent Niewoehner is a graduate of the CSB programs at Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Annapolis, MD, and served on junior and senior staff at Hemlock Wilderness Brigade Camp, in West Virginia. He currently serves as an infantry platoon commander in the United States Marine Corps.

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