Now that Christmas is upon us, many are thinking about exchanging gifts. The gifts of greatest value cannot be bought in any store. How about the gift of a good example for your children, a listening ear for your spouse, encouragement for your friend, the gift of gratitude for your employer, kind words for your neighbor, and a smile for everyone you meet.
Sometimes spiritual gifts are not enough. A smile – however warm – is never warm enough for a scantily clad homeless person plodding through a winter snowstorm. According to a Russian proverb, “A word of kindness is better than a fat pie.” However, this is not true for someone who is starving. Words of kindness cannot be digested in an empty stomach. Basic physical needs – food, clothing, shelter – have to first be met before kind words can have lasting value.
Do you love mankind? Of course you do. We all do. Perhaps we have shed a tear while watching a TV documentary on famine in a remote corner of the world. But which is easier, to utter platitudes about the love of mankind or to reach out to one man in need? Isn’t it better to be kind to one person than fill the air with hollow words of love for all? Christmas is the perfect season to reflect on giving. Giving not from the top of our purses, but from the bottom of our hearts. Let’s also remember we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.
Because Christ said the poor will always be with us, some use this as an excuse to do nothing. We may be tempted to believe the problems of poverty are overwhelming and one person cannot make a difference. Yet, if only one starving person in a thousand can be fed, it makes all the difference in the world to that person. Mother Teresa spoke on the same topic: “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But if that drop was not in the ocean, I think the ocean would be less because of that missing drop. I do not agree with the big way of doing things.”
Another deterrent to giving is the ingratitude of some recipients. But do we give to receive thanks or to help someone in need? The pangs of hunger are just as severe for the ungrateful as it is for the thankful. The British cleric Francis Atterbury (1663-1732) expressed a similar sentiment when he wrote, “Should we grieve over a little misplaced charity, when an all knowing, all wise Being showers down every day his benefits on the unthankful and undeserving?”
Some are in need because of their own actions. Perhaps excessive drink or drugs led to their downfall. But we don’t want to use the weakness of others as an excuse not to help. True compassion sees the need, not the cause. Be awake to the needs that surround you, but blind to their causes. Of course, we don’t want the impoverished to grow dependent on handouts. The causes of poverty need to be researched and ways must be found to end it. However, those in need NOW cannot wait. It is wise to give to the “undeserving;” after all, who among us is deserving of God’s love?
Giving is love in action. For love to flow, we have to be liberated from fear. Some fear that if they were to give, they will end up with less. But that is nothing to fear, but something to welcome. You see, it is true, if we give we will have less. Less selfishness, less suspicion, less guilt, less remorse, less attachment to the unimportant. But we will also have more. More joy, for example, for the surest way to have happiness and peace of mind is to give them to someone else.
You have probably been bombarded with an endless chain of requests for donations. Understandably, another request may not cause you to leap for joy. But that’s okay, for though The Lord loveth a cheerful giver, He also accepteth from a grouch! You can make a difference. You can help the homeless, for example. You can donate toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, mittens or gloves, socks, blankets, and scarves. Even better, you can organize your own group of coworkers, friends, and neighbors and pool your contributions. Best of all, you can even give the greatest gift of all, yourself. You can do this by working as a volunteer. Call the Director of Volunteer Services of your nearest hospital, church, or charitable organization.
Lebanese poet and mystic Khalil Gibran (1883-1931) had this to say, “There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward. And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism. And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space. Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth.” Look in the mirror. Look behind your eyes. Prepare today to smile upon the earth. Prepare to give without remembering and to receive without forgetting.