Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Serving Others

The holidays are a time of year of tangled emotions. On the one hand, there’s the happiness and joy of the season, the fun of giving and receiving gifts, seeing family, and, as Chelle likes to say, “Feeling the love.” The flip side of that is regret, or grief, over the absence of those feelings. Some of us are alone, or some of us have suffered a loss over the past year, and we feel keenly a person’s absence. This time of year is also supposed to be a time of forgiveness and wiping the slate clean, starting off the New Year vowing to be better and do better.

It’s also a time to remember those less fortunate than us—truly tough this year, because so many of us have lost our jobs or have taken pay cuts, or haven’t seen a raise in three years despite an increased cost of living. We want to help, but then feel like we can’t, and then feel guilty about that during this season of giving.

And sometimes, the stress of the holidays brings out the worst in people. I was watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” the other night and remarked on Facebook that this world nowadays has way too many Mr. Potters and not enough George Baileys. There is indeed something wrong in the world when 9-11 first responders can’t get government assistance for health problems tied to that event, but millionaires can get their tax breaks extended. And how many Grinches and Scrooges do you know—except that the story ends differently for them? Their hearts don’t grow, or they don’t have a change of heart?

Over the course of a year, it’s so easy to get self-involved, bogged down in your own problems and your own desires. Once in that space, it’s hard to get unstuck.

AA offered me a solution to self-interest. It’s so simple that it’s laughable, but it’s profound in its simplicity. It goes something like this. If you don’t want to be a liar, don’t lie. If you want to be sober, don’t drink. If you want to be unselfish, give. If you want to be forgiving, forgive. If you want to be a better person, start being one.

The point is, stop rationalizing why you CAN’T. Just do it. Actions first. Then your state of mind, your life, will follow suit.

It’s not the other way around. We get stuck when we think actions follow.

I’m reminded of something my father told me the last time I ever saw him in 1986, when I left home after Christmas Break to head back to Penn State and the start of the spring semester. He’d be going into surgery for a pacemaker in a few more days—he never made it out of the recovery room. What he said to me, in a nutshell, was this: “The reason we’re here is to help other people. It’s the only thing that counts.”

I wish then that I had fully understood what he meant. It took me 48 years to get it.


Krissy said...

Awwww, your Dad was George Bailey! You almost made me cry with that one, but you are so right.. and so was he. What a profound man you had to call Dad.

Joyce said...

Took him a long time, too, to get to that point. :) Three wives, leaving the Church, losing one wife to suicide, two mentally ill kids, ... sometimes I think suffering makes people realize what's really important. He had his own personal failings (who doesn't?), but he was a good man.

Krissy said...

My gosh! Did I really just type "my gosh?"

Of course, everyone has to go through trials. Even George Bailey did or they wouldn't have made the movie. :)

Joyce said...

Yup! :)

Tedi Trindle said...

Excellent. It's hard not to think about service in December, isn't it? I've got a related post brewing.

Joyce said...

Post it when it's up! Can't wait to read it.