"One ought, everyday at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture and speak a few reasonable words." --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Monday, August 8, 2011

Happiness is Giving

“There is a wonderful law of nature that the three things we crave most - happiness, freedom, and peace of mind - are always attained by giving them to someone else."

I recently saw a guy on the corner of a busy intersection with a sign that said, “Hungry Need Help,” and it got me thinking about the connection between Charity and Happiness.

What is your philosophy on giving to beggars and such? My personal philosophy is simple: if I have something to give, I give it. What I decided long ago – and what I teach my children – is that it is not my business or responsibility to judge whether or not there is actually a need. What is my business is how I act when someone is professing a need and asking for help. So, I do what I can to supply the need with whatever I have at my disposal at the time: money, food, a listening ear. I feel I will be judged by God and myself for what I do and the intentions in my heart and the person asking for the help will be judged on their intentions and actions as well. If they are professing a need when they really don’t have one, or if they’re just relying on the charity of others to support their lazy, alcoholic, and/or drug-addicted lifestyle, that’s their problem.  

There have been times when I’ve had an overwhelming feeling that I should not help someone, and I heed those feelings. But for the most part, probably some of the biggest regrets of my life have come from having something to give and withholding it.

I’ll share one of my experiences of regret and one of satisfaction.

As the mother of 4 children, there are times when I just need to get away and regenerate with some “me” time. So, I arranged for someone to sit with my kids and took my self out for a few hours of peaceful solitude. I don’t carry cash very often, so on my way I stopped at the bank and withdrew $10 so I could get some lunch at a place I knew did not take debit cards. But on the way to the place I had planned to spend the bulk of my time I encountered a sign-holding beggar at a freeway exit. I knew I had that ten-dollar-bill in my purse and my first inclination was to give it to the man. But there arose in my heart a string of rationalizations that prevented me from giving the man my lunch money. If I had two fives I feel confident that I would have given him half of my money without hesitation. But to sacrifice everything I had at that moment to a man that might be supporting an addiction…I just couldn’t do it. I latched onto that rationalization along with the vision of a peaceful lunch by myself at a favorite place and did not give the money. What I regret most about this whole experience is that my babysitter called with an emergency and I rushed home and never got that lunch anyway. I kept that ten-dollar-bill in my wallet for a long time to remind myself that I had an opportunity to give someone the shirt off my back and I willfully excused myself. The regret brings this quote to mind, "I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare." --C.S. Lewis

My satisfying giving experience happened one early morning in front of Wal-Mart. I was rushing to bring home some milk so my kids could have some cereal before school when I ran into a rather clean, yet obviously homeless man. I don’t know what made me stop and listen to him; maybe it was his downcast look, maybe it was his threadbare clothes. Whatever it was, I am so glad I stopped. He talked to me for about 15 minutes while my milk sat sweating in the cart. His story was a demoralizing tale of woe. I could just feel the hopelessness dripping off him as he described to me the difficulties of breaking the cycle of homelessness. He couldn’t get a job because he had no address. He couldn’t get an address without a job. The shelters cost $40 a week and all the churches he had talked to were kind to him, but wouldn’t help him long enough to break the cycle. Now, I realize this whole sob story could have been a well rehearsed act. Don’t believe for a second that it didn’t occur to me while I was standing there listening to him. But I pushed that aside and allowed myself to love the man for a second and I knew what I had to do. First, I listened to him and willingly gave him some of my time. I looked him in the eye and treated him like a friend. Then, I told him to hang on a second while I went back into the store to get some cash (because again, I hardly ever carry any). It’s hard to describe the feelings that coursed through my body when I was buying a pack of gum to get the $40 cash I wanted to give him. It felt a little like I was nervous because I was shaking, had clammy hands, and felt short of breath. But I wasn’t nervous, I was giddy with excitement! Here was an opportunity to give that I would boldly take! I nearly skipped out of the store to hand over my money for a week’s shelter for him. I knew it wouldn’t solve all of his problems, but it felt good to know that he’d have a bed for at least a week, and maybe even a little more hope to get him through it. And even if it was a well rehearsed swindle, I know I did the right thing and no one can take the joy I felt from me.

I don’t write all of these things to regale others with my regrets and/or wonderfulness. I write them because through these experiences I learned that there is a connection between Charity and Happiness. The more we give, the more we get. Really, when I don’t give due to a judgment I have made of someone’s intentions, I deny myself a measure of Happiness. But you know what’s even better than giving for your own Happiness? Losing your “self” completely and giving for someone else’s Happiness.

“The words of Jesus, ‘Love one another as I have loved you,’ must be not only a light for us but a flame that consumes the self in us. Love, in order to survive, must be nourished by sacrifices, especially the sacrifice of self. Love, to be real, must cost—it must hurt—it must empty us of self.” --Mother Theresa

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