“The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.” – Albert Schweitzer
Giving can take practice. Most of us want to be able to give freely but when the time arrives to actually reach into our pockets and to give of our own money, set aside time on our calendar to give of our time, or reach inside and give of ourselves, giving can be hard.
What prevents us from giving? Fear of being taken advantage of may be an underlying pattern that blocks us. If we give money we may fear it will not be used efficiently. If we give too much of our time we may fear that others may not appreciate our sacrifice. If we give too much with another in a relationship we may fear that another may take our love for granted. Giving can make us feel vulnerable.
When I am feeling conflicted between my desire to be a generous person and the risk that this may take, this poem, attributed to Mother Teresa gives me great comfort and enables me to take the first step in giving – regardless of the outcome.
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
Real giving comes from within and carries with it no expectation of receiving anything in return. Even the best of us can not help but hope for at least a ‘thank you’ for what we give. But, if someone else is happier, better off, more financially stable, or their lives have been improved by our act of generosity, then we can feel even more satisfaction. Even if there is no such obvious result – or even if there is a backlash of someone rebuking our generosity, we have the satisfaction of having acted like the person we want to be – no matter what the response.
I do not believe that Mother Teresa’s poem suggests we should continue to put our money, time or energy in a particular direction if we feel it is being wasted. I think she meant that a few negative experiences with people should not serve as an excuse to shut down our desire to be open and giving with others. I am sure that we can all think of times when in order to honor healthy boundaries for ourselves, we needed to say “no” in a particular situation so that we can redirect that same money, time or energy to recipients that truly appreciate and utilize our giving, boosting our desire to give all the more.
We may also feel like we do not have enough for ourselves and so we can not give. However, if we care for and love ourselves, we are more centered and connected to spirit. We are more calm, less frustrated and have more energy. The more connected to our spirit we are, the more open we are to receive support and guidance from Spirit, instead of feeling we have to provide everything for ourselves. This allows us to recognize the abundance in our lives instead of maintaining a perspective of lack. The more abundance we recognize, the more we feel able to give.
Anyone who is a parent or a teacher is familiar with the concept of thankless giving. Trying to steer a child in a better direction is an effort that can leave us feeling very ineffective. While it is understandable to feel very frustrated, it can help to remind ourselves that the effort we give may be planting a seed that will take root – perhaps one day, very far in the future. So far in the future, in fact, that we may not be around to see it. Even if that seed never takes root, however, our efforts were still a gift, given to another, to hear and see something in a different way. It is up to others to either accept or reject our gift and we have no control over their choice. If we were to stay quiet, assuming that our effort will never make a difference anyway, then we have failed to give of our unique perspective to another who may never have seen it without us.
The belief that our contribution is not enough can also get in the way of implementing our generous nature. Could this belief be an automatic and unconscious one? After all, our Spirit would not be guiding us with our desire to reach out to others if we were not needed – right now. If we defer this part of our journey until a feeling of confidence kicks in, we may be waiting for a very long time.
Recently, I was standing in line at the convenience store in my neighborhood and my eyes drifted to a lottery machine boasting a $6 million jackpot. I have been involved with my local elementary school, where almost all of the students live below the poverty line. I began spending the $6 million jackpot in my mind on computers, a new playground, new library books and college scholarships. I began to lament my own lack of financial ability to really make a difference for these students when the man in line in front of me turned and said, “Do you have a dime? I’m just ten cents short”. The man thanked me and said, “I keep forgetting that all we have to do when we need something is smile and ask!” His comment felt like a message to me. I did not have to wait until I had $6 million to give to students in order to make a difference. It was enough to donate what I could in order to provide some new books for the library, for instance. That gift would make all the difference to someone wanting to read the books I donated. Such a donation would also remind those kids that someone cared about them and was willing to help. That was my jackpot!
We owe it to ourselves to listen to those negative voices in our heads in relation to giving to others so that we can move beyond them. Each of us has unique qualities that we are meant to share. Identify where and how we would like to give of ourselves and experience the incredible satisfaction that giving gives!
What negative thoughts do you experience when you think about giving to others?