Please don’t volunteer at a homeless shelter or retirement facility or children’s hospital [*just*] this Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Far too often, especially during this time of year, our focus is set on ourselves. Somehow we’ve turned a season dedicated to giving and sharing into what we can give, what we can do, what we are up to, what works best for us, what traditions are important to me and my family, etc.. Because we are selfish in nature, I would bet that a lot of November and December community volunteerism is more about ourselves than the people we are serving.
Before you completely discount me, think about things you’ve heard yourself or others say after a day of serving:
“I love that I got to make someone’s day.”
“Did you see how I cheered them up?”
“It feels so good to serve on a day like today and remember how blessed I am.”
Sadly, in the frenzy of the holidays, the selfish motivation for service can get worse. Out of guilt for our excess, we go and serve – perhaps to appease our self-centeredness or maybe justify our over-spending. In an effort to teach our children to be grateful for all that they have we take them to observe those that have not – but don’t remedy the have-not part. And if that is the motivation for our service, we actually use the poor, the powerless, and the disenfranchised.
If you’re not convinced, think about your social media feed. I see a lot of posts and pictures of community-serving around the holidays. We post about serving because we want people to know we care about the deeper meaning behind the holiday – but in the process, we are broadcasting our good deeds, and even violating the same poor and powerless that we are there to serve. Taking pictures of someone without their permission to show how we’re serving them is downright exploitative. Even when have their permission, why do we feel the need to broadcast what good we have done? Whatever happened to “treasuring things in our hearts” (Luke 2:19)? Whatever happened to “not letting our left hand know what our right hand is doing and serving in the secret” (Matthew 6)?
I’m not proposing a ban on “doing good” this holiday season. In fact, I’m really pro-generosity, especially during an easily selfish season. What I’m really proposing is a motivation-check this holiday season. Before we load up the cars and roll out into the community, let’s ask ourselves some really good questions:
1. Why am I doing this?
2. Who am I serving today?
3. What will I tell my friends and family about what I did today?
4. How can I make this a regular habit?
The fourth question is a really significant one, because if we’re not serving regularly, we’re totally missing out. Regular service with a consistent organization/ministry/group helps us form relationships, shifts our perceptions, teaches us sacrifice, and changes our hearts.
Maybe the homeless woman receiving our scoop of mashed potatoes this Thanksgiving knows that we need her smile more than she needs ours. After all, she sees a new starch scooper every week, and rarely the same face. She knows that it makes us feel good to serve so she returns our smile. But what if this holiday, we made it about her and not about us? What if we committed to coming back on a regular basis and learning her name and her dreams? What if we committed to serving because we are honoring a Lord and Savior who took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist and served his disciples? What if we didn’t declare our good deeds through social media, but served quietly and humbly? What if we committed to helping things change for the long-term, not just the moment?
What if this holiday, instead of serving once for the year, we made a new year’s resolution to serve regularly, consistently, and faithfully all year long?