December 22, 2022

‘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.

            But we shouldn’t stop there.

            When is the last time you put a smile on a stranger’s face? How about your children? Have they experienced the reward of extending a random act of kindness? If Paul were preaching today, he’d encourage us to discover and embrace the blessing of giving to people we don’t know.

            With COVID-19, RSV and flu ramping up, here’s an idea to put on your New Year’s resolution list—near the top, as soon as safety protocols allow. Make a promise to take your family to a nursing home or retirement center. 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 the simple truth about the importance of empathy for others. But sometimes it takes a gentle tap on the shoulder to remind us. My tap came with a phone call in 2013. My then-89-year-old mother had taken a tumble, had broken a bone and was hospitalized.

            Before long, I learned that my visits to check on her were therapeutic for me, too. There were to trips first to the hospital and then to a rehab facility. My initial focus was on Mother. My sisters and I wanted to meet everyone who was entrusted with her care. Initially, we were absorbed in our family’s challenges. It’s so easy to look without really seeing.

            One day when I was walking down the hall, my eyes “opened.” What I saw—in rooms on the right and left—were people’s mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, grandchildren and other loved ones. I made a point to slow my stride and to make eye contact with other residents. A pause, a hello and a friendly wave almost always brought back a smile. Mother was in rehab for a short time, but I learned the names of her neighbors. And when those who were otherwise strangers heard their names, their smiles burst into grins.

            We hurt for our mother. We wanted her back, walking the halls of her retirement community and slipping notes of encouragement under doors of her friends. God gave her beautiful penmanship, and card-writing was her personal ministry. I teased that her mission was to keep the post office in business.

            At 89, she believed she was just 69. She missed going to church and teaching Sunday school. She wanted out of that wheelchair. Two months after blowing out 90 candles on her birthday cake, she went to Heaven. But on her death bed she said, “I can’t lose. If God lets me live, I get to be here with you. If I go to Heaven, I will be with your daddy. I love you. Don’t fret for me. I can’t lose.”

            Looking back, I know that Mother’s mishap was an opportunity to be reminded of an important life lesson. For our family, it might have even been a gift, one that was presented each time we visited her. By looking and seeing, we were reminded how blessed we were.

The late Dr. Norman Vincent Peale encouraged us to be kind to our neighbors. He said that they were having as much trouble as we were. Maybe more.

            That’s why, during this season of receiving—regardless of our faith—we should heed the words of Christ, echoed by Paul. The greatest blessing is giving.

            When the time is right, insist that your children put down their toys for an afternoon. If safety protocols allow, take them to a nursing home or retirement center. By giving joy, your children or grandchildren will experience the magic of receiving joy, too.

            Merry Christmas!