December 25, 2013

‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’

“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words  the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Acts 20:35 NIV


     Regardless of your faith, the Apostle Paul’s admonishment should be a caution to every one of us.  Tearing into Christmas packages is exciting, especially when the spirit of Santa lives under your roof. You listen to squeals brought about by Barbie dolls, bicycles, iPods, video games and all the gifts that put smiles on faces. 
      But we shouldn’t stop there.  When’s the last time you put a smile on a stranger’s face?  How about your children?  Have they discovered the blessing of giving to people they don’t know?
     When the presents are exchanged at your house, try this.  Load up your family and take them to the nearest nursing home or retirement center.  Ask for permission to visit with the residents.  You don’t have to buy anything.  Just a stack of child-made cards will work magic.  Lonely faces will light up like the brightest Christmas tree.

      Most of us know this simple truth, but sometimes it takes a gentle tap on the shoulder to remind us.  My tap came with a phone call.  My 89-year-old mother took a tumble, broke a bone and needed rehabilitation for a few months.  She’s making progress, but my regular visits to see her are therapeutic for me, too.
      After a couple of days in the hospital, Mother was assigned to a rehab facility. My initial focus was on her.   Our family wanted to meet everyone who was entrusted with her care.  We’ve found The Oaks’ staff to be caring and professional.  But it’s easy for us to get so absorbed in our own challenges that we look without really seeing.  I confess.  And shame on me.
     Now, on daily visits to room 102, I’ve started looking to the right and left.  In those rooms are people’s mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters.  I’m slowing my stride, trying to make eye contact with other residents.  A pause, a hello and a friendly wave almost always bring back a smile. One by one, I’m learning names.  And when they hear their names, the smile bursts into a grin.
I hurt for my mother.  I want her back, walking the halls of her retirement community and slipping notes of encouragement under doors of her friends.  Card-writing is her personal ministry.  She does her part to keep the post office in business.  She misses teaching Sunday School and going to church.  She wants out of the wheelchair.  She believes she’s really 69.  She can’t believe there’ll be 90 candles on her next birthday cake.
     But there’s a lesson in her latest calamity.  For our family, it might even be a gift—one that is presented each time we visit her.  By looking around, we see how blessed we have been.  The late Dr. Norman Vincent Peale reminded us to be kind to our neighbors, for they are having as much trouble as we are.  Oftentimes, more trouble.  
     That’s why during this season of receiving—regardless of our faith—we should heed Christ’s words, echoed by Paul.  The greatest blessing is giving.  Insist that your children put down the toys for an afternoon.  Take them to a nursing home or retirement center. Visit strangers.  Make new friends.  By giving joy, your children will experience the magic of receiving joy, too.