A Little Better Off
The world is colorfully decorated with countless individuals who freely give of themselves in order to bless others. These are “contributors.” Their resources, talents, skills, perspective, values, insights, gifts and abilities are offerings and somewhere, someone else is better off because they gave.
What makes a person give, though?
The reasons are probably endless. Obviously, there are those who give because they were recipients at one point in time. Additionally, some people give simply because they were taught to and it seems a natural part of living. Still others give to assuage feelings of guilt or to offer penance for wrong-doing. I have a close friend who contributes monthly to city services, usually highway clean-up, but that’s only because he can’t seem to stop speeding. (In his opinion, giving his time weighs in as more desirable than paying fines.) Some people are forced to give.
That last reason sounds bad, but it’s a personal one, so hear me out. My parents taught me to give an offering at church by making me give an offering at church. Initially, they gave me coins to put in the offering tray, and then I graduated to bills. All the while, they were teaching me that I needed to give from my own money, because an offering was a way to give back to God from the pool He gave me. I did the same with my own children, and they all give freely now without any prompting.
Over the last two weeks, I interviewed different women about ways in which they were “contributors.” Their responses reflect a vast diversity of ideas and values, but the themes of family influence and work surfaced repeatedly. So did the idea of, “a little better off.” Read on and see if you see yourself in any of these women’s stories. For the sake of privacy, we’ll call them “Monday,” “Tuesday,” “Wednesday,” “Thursday” and “Friday.”
ME: Would you say you have an internal need to contribute?
Monday: (Retired Pastor; wife and mother of 3 adults): No.
Tuesday: (Women’s Minister): Yes.
Wednesday: (Stay at home wife; mother of 3 adults): Yes, to people who are in need.
Thursday: (Pediatric Nurse; single mother of 3 adults): Yes.
Friday: (teacher; single mother of 3 young adults): Yes.
ME: So what do you think prompts you/influenced you to give or to contribute?
Monday: Having been the recipient of clothes and food when I was young and poor, I have always wanted to give back. I didn’t like being on that end of the rope.
Tuesday: My parents were giving people—even though we didn’t have much. I remember as a little girl selling items to raise money for an uncle’s funeral. Now it just always feels good to contribute, whether it’s my time or my resources.
Wednesday: I don’t know. I’ve always had a little more than others around me and I’ve always felt like I should share.
Thursday: I give out of love. I have a heart for children. I see their needs, learn their stories, and my heart is full for them. I have an obligation to give them excellent care. Caring for them is my gift.
Friday: I would say God. I feel like because I’ve been given so much, I should give back a lot. I want my kids to understand that and feel it too—recognize we have so much more than we need, and there is plenty to offer. Also, my parents gave in meaningful ways. They offered hot meals and warm beds to countless people during my years at home. They were preachers and teachers too. Giving was just what they did even though we didn’t have a lot of money.
ME: In what ways do you fulfill your need to give?
Monday: I am careful to hear a person’s story and respond to real needs if I can. I have to check myself to see if I am responding out of guilt though, like when a guy on a street corner says, “I need a dollar for beer.” I would also fulfill a need through organ donation if I knew the person and the family was okay with it.
Tuesday: I contribute to my household by working, cleaning, doing household chores, and taking care of my husband’s needs. And the pets! Lol. Also, hospitality isn’t really my gift, but I try. (*Author’s note—this woman could teach hospitality with her eyes closed! She just doesn’t see it in herself.)
Wednesday: I give, and I try to get others to give as well, to multiply the giving. For example, I’ve been motivating my family to give this year at Thanksgiving to parents who want to be able to give to their children for Christmas.
Thursday: When I see African children who don’t know their culture or tradition, I try to teach them. I feel like I have to because as a Black African in America, I am very blessed, but the younger ones forget. They are better when they know where they come from and when they have respect for God and other human beings. And I take care of children. My children are medically challenged cases. Their complications include spina bifida, paraplegia, dysphasia and many other conditions. But I love my children. I have to take care of them.
Friday: I teach, and sometimes I give until I am exhausted, but my soul feels satisfied. My students come to me about everything, and they know I’ll listen and do everything in my power to help. With my own kids, I try to parent in a way that teaches them to go beyond themselves and touch other lives. At church, I serve women and children. In my home, I’ve taught a women’s bible study for over a decade. And I also donate money, clothes and food throughout the year, and make my children do the same.
ME: When you reflect on how you’ve contributed natural gifts and talents over your lifetime, what do you see?
Monday: I see freedom. I see people happy. When others accomplish a yearning in their hearts, it is encouraging to them. For me, it affirms my walk with God and strengthens me to keep giving, even when it hurts.
Tuesday: Wow, I don’t really see many gifts and talents in myself. I do have a passion to pray for others. And I have compassion. I also enjoy counseling and teaching.
Wednesday: I get things done and I influence people. These are my talents. My family knows that when I set my mind to it that we’re going to do something, it’s going to happen. In this case, it means we’re helping other people in a bigger way than just I could alone.
Thursday: Joy. Progress. One of my cases is so excited to work with me over Zoom. She will work hard for me and this means she is getting circulation to her legs. Another cannot move at all; he shows me how he is feeling with his eyes. We even joke together. He is only 9, but his parents rarely come see him anymore. Offering my gifts and talents means he has happiness and laughter in his life.
Friday: I see that my life has been aligned neatly. The things that come naturally and easily to me, like teaching, have a place in the world. When I use them in that place, others benefit, and it feels good. It feels right—like I’m a part of something bigger than just myself and my little space.
Each of the women I interviewed expressed a satisfaction in giving, in contributing something they had to someone else. I think that is more valuable than many people realize. Deep satisfaction can make you sleep more easily, smile more often, hug a little longer, and listen a little better. I would daresay, it can make you contribute to someone else’s well-being.
Whether you give tangible items, time, money, talents, gifts, ideas, perspectives, guidelines, balance, caretaking, or whatever, your contribution matters because it impacts someone else in a way that would not have happened without your offering. That counts, and it counts in a very real way. I will echo “Friday” on my closing thought: When we contribute, we become part of something bigger than just ourselves and our little spaces and the world grows a little more connected, and a little better off.