There is a woman, Ms. S, with long, bleached blonde hair who volunteers with the Head Start program almost every morning. She lives at Kiawah during the summer, and has been for a number of years. She also teaches SAT prep and usually brings along her niece and two students. I think it is great that Ms. S chooses to spend a couple hours of her day volunteering. She also gives financial gifts to the program, which are very much appreciated. But, it is volunteers like her that really make me think about the true reasons we choose to give of our gifts, services, and money.
To me, serving others/volunteering/giving is a selfless act. When we give someone a birthday gift, we usually select it with the birthday boy/girl in mind, because it is something they would like or need. In the same way, when we offer our time to serve others, we should remember that is is not about us, or about how much money we donated last year. Yes, giving usually makes us feel good, but we shouldn’t give out of selfishly desiring to feel good about ourselves. We should give because we want to meet others’ needs and make them feel good.
Over the past weeks, I have noticed that Ms. S has a tendency to feel entitled because she has been volunteering with Head Start for a number of years. We are thankful for donations of money, goods, and service, but when the volunteer is choosy about which tasks they will complete, and exactly where their money will be going, it makes me question the person’s true intentions.
Like I said, I know that many people love the feeling they get when they write a check to a non-profit organization, or spend three hours reading to disadvantaged children. It is natural to feel good when we give to others (after all, there is something great to be said for the interconnectedness of human beings); I just think it’s important to remember that giving is not about us. It is about serving others, and therefore serving God.
When I first arrived here for the summer, I felt like I was being assigned tasks based on my gender. This frustrated me greatly, because I never want anyone to think I can or cannot do something solely because I am a woman. These types of issues (sexism, etc.) should be addressed, but at the same time, I took a step back and remembered the real reason why I am here: to serve in whatever way I am needed. This means that if there is work to be done in the office, or phones to be answered, I will do so gratefully. If I am needed on a roof top, or to go on home visits, I will go, remembering that it just isn’t about me proving my abilities or fulfilling my interests.
I am certainly no expert, but I try to remind myself regularly that it’s (it being, well, most things) not about me. Thankfully, we have Jesus to look to as a perfect example of selfless love and service. I think that the greatest thing about giving is actually that it isn’t about us. We trust that our gifts will be used to their greatest extent, to positively affect as many lives as possible, and know that we are serving God and others. Jesus calls us– expects us– to serve others and to give generously. Doesn’t that mean it should be a regular part of our lives? I don’t ask for recognition for brushing my teeth, and we’re expected to do that every day. Since Jesus expects us to love and serve one another, we should do so with open, selfless hearts, and know that in blessing others with our gifts and services, we are blessed ourselves.
Here’s the link to a New York Times article from last year that describes the leap of faith one woman took when she left her investment banking job to work at a non-profit organization that teaches underprivileged children to play chess. Giving means thinking of others before ourselves, and sometimes taking risks, but blessing seems to almost always be a result.