Was I giving the best I had, or just my leftovers?

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The hard truth slapped me across the face like windchill on a cold winter day. Instead of feeling good about my attempts to serve and help others, I felt pretty lame. I’m not going to lie – it stung!

Yet, that cold slap in the face has awakened me to reality as well as what is possible, and so I am grateful for the truth. I am going to lay out my imperfections here and ask that you not judge me, but that you learn from my experience.

I was raised in a family and in a faith that emphasizes serving one another. The Good Samaritan was a hero at my house. My Dad picked up hitchhikers. He gave rides to people who had run out of gas on the side of the road or drove them to the nearest gas station to get their tire fixed. My mom volunteered to clean someone’s house when they were sick. We were always having people to our house for dinner who struggled to put food on their own table. If there was an event at church, my family volunteered to set up or clean up.  We shoveled the neighbors’ driveways. We gave rides. You get the picture. Service was as much a part of my life as was eating and showering. It’s just what we did.

As an adult, my life has gotten busier and busier. I own a business. I travel. My husband has a time-consuming job. He has an aging mother that he spends time with. We have dogs that need to be exercised. We have church responsibilities that take a good deal of time. We own a house and there is always something that needs to be cleaned or fixed or taken care of when you own a house. Do you see? My life is now really busy and time for serving seems to be less prevalent than when I was younger.

As a person who wants to do the right thing though, I have tried to find ways to serve. There is always someone that can use help. Help can take on different forms, and I have found myself helping in the least disruptive ways.

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When volunteers were laying a new floor at the fitness center where I teach, I volunteered to buy and deliver pizzas for lunch on Saturday. That’s nice, right? It saved them money and time and kept them fed. I looked like a hero, but really? It was just money and 20 minutes I didn’t bother to rearrange my schedule so that I could help lay the floor.   

When my grown kids needed to a break from being parents, I bought them gift certificates for movies and dinner and even paid for a sitter. Nice thing to do, right? Again, it was the easy way out because it only cost money. I didn’t cancel something in my life so that I could spend a few hours with my grandchildren.

When a friend’s mother passed away and they needed help with the funeral luncheon, I made dozens and dozens of cookies. Helpful, right? It was, except I didn’t volunteer to spend time with other women preparing food at the church or serving lunch to the family, instead I baked in the comforts of my own home far away from the people that were grieving and having a need to be served.

Are you clearly seeing the picture I am painting here? On the surface, it appears that I have been doing the right thing. Granted, I have been helping, but as I take a closer look, I notice that I have been taking the easy way out. If there is a convenient way to help another that doesn’t really interrupt my life then I  do my part. But, if it requires sacrifice, then I haven’t been signing up for that gig. Bottom line – I am very good at serving when it’s convenient. That’s not bad, but it certainly isn’t my best.

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Last week at church, we had a lesson on selfless service and the following analogy is what grabbed my attention BECAUSE IT IS ME! Our teacher asked if we had ever been asked to donate to a food shelf and in filling up our grocery sack we opened our cupboards and looked for the green beans that were about to expire or the can of Spaghetti-Os that we didn’t like anyway or the generic brand of marshmallows that we found didn’t melt very well and put those in the sack. We made the donation, but we gave what we wouldn’t eat ourselves. We gave our leftovers. The receivers of the donation would be grateful for whatever they received, and they would never know, but we do. We know that we are giving leftovers and keeping the best for ourselves.

Service, done the right way, benefits the receiver AND the giver. The greater the sacrifice, the better the giver feels. The more we give, the more joy we can feel. When we dig a little deeper to give, something happens that I can’t explain. We change a little bit. We recognize that we need each other. We realize that we are all here on earth together to help each other and when we help another, we help ourselves. That’s what happens when we give the best we have instead of the leftovers.

I have been awakened and pledge to give more of me – to serve when it doesn’t fit into my schedule – to look for ways to help lift another because I know lifting another lifts me too!