Saturday, September 10, 2005

Spiritual Joy and Meaning from Selflessly Serving Others

Good morning, Happy Souls!

Are you feeling motivated this morning? I certainly hope so. I know that I am!

Usually, I try to give you expert advice from others or lead you to Web-based resources. But when it comes to spiritual subjects, sometimes it just seems right to describe my own experiences. Since the Holy Spirit dwells in each of us, this is one way to use God as an "expert" for today.

When I was a child, my first awareness that others needed help came in the grocery store. An elderly woman had a shopping cart full of canned dog food. I asked my parents why anyone would need so much dog food. My Dad said that many poor people ate dog food because it was cheaper than "human" food. After that, I was always the first one to bring in canned goods with meat in them for food drives. I imagined someone having their first non-dog food meal in years from my can. I always enjoyed spending my own money to buy the can because it made the gift seem more worthwhile.

I compared the warm feeling that I had from such experiences with the temporary pleasure that receiving gifts gave me. There was no comparison. I liked giving better!

But not just any giving seemed to serve the purpose. I found it was often painful to give in public. I was always worried about the reaction I would receive. For example, I worked for months on a plastic pendant for a girl I admired when I was twelve. I enjoyed doing this and thinking about her. But when the time came to give it to her, I wished I had never started the whole process. What if she didn't like it? Fortunately, my friend was a gracious person and she made me feel appreciated . . . but there was a lot of pain in the anticipation.

Gradually, I began to realize that anonymous giving could be wonderful. One of my favorite ways of giving is to put money into a Salvation Army kettle when the bell ringer is looking in a different direction. When that happens, I put in extra money. I later imagine the bell ringer's surprise when she or he finds all that money in the kettle.

My consciousness of others expanded over time, and I began to realize that there are some things we need others to do for us. There was a terrible accident in my junior high school and a teacher was suddenly in jeopardy. Everyone was so shocked by the accident that the teacher's vulnerability grew. I decided to write an anonymous letter to the town newspaper praising the teacher for doing the right thing in the midst of the tragedy. That letter helped turn the tide of emotion, and the teacher continued to inspire and help another generation of students. That experience made me want to help again.

I began to realize that it helps others if someone simply watches out for who needs help. I try to play that role and make the help almost imperceptible. An early example came in a sports contest. Another boy and I had similar results and it was hard to tell who had won. I thought he had won, but most others didn't see it that way. As everyone sat there wondering what to do, I simply congratulated the other boy and said that I was impressed that he had outperformed me. It was no big deal. I felt special joy, though, when later the head of the camp specially recognized the other boy for his win . . . and I could see the happiness on the boy's face. If I hadn't validated his win, his joy would have been lessened. It was a tiny gift . . . but a valuable one.

From that experience, I began to realize that some gifts can help others to be more spiritual themselves. For example, I was very ill when I was 13 and had to be hospitalized for two weeks. My physician was a good Christian and he was worried that I might die without having accepted Jesus. He spent a lot of time talking to me about Jesus, and I came to understand a lot of things that I hadn't learned in Sunday school. I could see that he was happy to see me learn. I continually complimented him for helping me. He began to feel some pride in this, I could see. So one day, he asked me who was the source of the information that I was so grateful for. I said that he was. He told me that I was wrong, that he was only a conduit for the Holy Spirit. I could see the pride release itself from him, and I learned a good lesson for my own spiritual communications: Be a conduit for the Holy Spirit and take no personal credit for doing that. I felt good that I had helped him improve his own spirituality by being such an avid and interested learner.

As a teenager, I learned about the emotional pain that many people feel when I used to visit my girl friends. Almost all of their mothers were lonely for someone who would listen to them. They would talk nonstop for three hours as long as I would sit there and just be with them. I later found out that most had problems in their marriages. I found that I could give my simply validating someone with my interested attention. I began looking out for role models of people who did this well, and I got better at it.

Gradually, I began to realize that most troubled people find a release from some of their pain if another person shows caring for them and points out opportunities to live at their best self. I began to make suggestions of how these troubled people could contribute more to others. When they made those contributions, I could see endless joy come into their lives. It was the same joy I was feeling.

We all seem to have a need to selflessly serve others. When we express that need in ways that encourage others to do the same, the joy and meaning in our lives reaches new heights. It's a great sort of natural high. I can only recommend that you try it today.

Here's a way to do this. Find the most unhappy looking person you can. Ask them if you may sit down and talk to them. Ask them about their life and listen intently. Do this until the person relaxes and begins to have a conversation with you rather than a monologue about what's bothering them. Then ask the person how they find the greatest joy in helping others. Your companion will probably share a beautiful story. Show your joy in their story. Then say something like, "Wouldn't it be great to do that all the time?" Chances are that your companion will realize that she or he can create that experience much more often . . . and will go out to do so after you finish talking. Share your own stories about joy you received from helping others in ways that are different from your companion's example. You will have given your companion the gift of knowing about other ways of creating joy for others and themselves . . . and may well inspire them to try some of these ways.

Have fun creating joy today . . . and every day!

Please do share your own experiences. I look forward to learning from them.

Please feel free to let me know what else you would like to learn, and I'll do my best to help in future blog entries.

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May God bless you.

Donald W. Mitchell, Your Dream Concierge

Copyright 2005 Donald W. Mitchell


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