It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
General Motors declared bankruptcy last week. This iconic company which once represented what was good and powerful about American capitalism is now anemic and fighting for its financial life.
Under bankruptcy protection, GM will be allowed to write-off over $172 billion dollars in debt. To become leaner, the company will close 11 plants and hundreds of dealerships. This bail-out is intended to give General Motors a fresh start, but who will give the laid-off workers a fresh start?
In the state of California, which represents 10% of the U.S. economy, the governor is proposing more cuts to correct a trillion dollar budget deficient. These cuts aren’t just a way to eliminate excess spending from the state’s budget, but will also impact peoples’ lives in substantial ways:
- $117 million – Eliminate the Adult Day Health Care program.
- $550 million – Reduce funds to counties for certain health and social services.
- $230 million – Restrict the In Home Support Services program to the most severely disabled who can’t breathe on their own and are partially paralyzed.
- $680 million – Additional cuts for K-12 schools; including eliminating summer school programs.
- $470 million – Reduce state worker pay by five percent. (source www.sfgate.com)
So goes California – so goes the rest of the United States. So goes General Motors – so goes many other businesses, large and small, which provide food for our tables, allow us to pay our mortgages and help us to save when the unexpected occurs.
My family is lucky. We have income and we are able to pay our bills and have a little left over at the end of the month. This abundance is indeed a gift and one we do not take for granted. Other families are not as fortunate. Perhaps it is times like these that remind us the most of the importance of serving others.
However, serving is not only measured in the amount of money we give, but also in the amount of time and care we put into the act of service. If we performed just one act of service each day, the mercy and compassion would grow exponentially and eventually, every soul needing some help would be touched.
The Three Acts of Service
Serving others and the acts of service can be divided into three primary categories. The first is community service. This type of service is when an individual or group helps another person or group. The services offered can be financial donations and they can also be donations of time and talent. The goal is to improve the quality of life of those touched even if church and community resources are dwindling.
The second kind of service is personal service. Personal service involves one person helping another. A friend helping a friend or a neighbor offering a hand to a neighbor can be personal in nature and is sometimes never known to anyone else.
The third act of service is self-care service. Nobody knows me better than me. When my faith is lacking or my motivation is absent, I know better than anyone what I need to do to pull myself out of the rut and get moving again.
Community Acts of Service
As referenced earlier, many folks are facing a job loss or already may be unemployed. Additionally, educational, health and social programs are being reduced or eliminated everyday across the United States. If you are being called to serve in your community, consider these opportunities:
- Cook or serve meals at churches or homeless shelters.
- Volunteer to read to children or teach at a summer school program.
- Spend time with the elderly.
- Help out at an animal shelter by providing food and care.
- Volunteer to work at a local non-profit agency. Donate your specific talent and skills to the organization. Web design, marketing and legal counsel are critical, and expensive, services that would be gladly accepted.
- Consider providing more than just food to homeless shelters. Items such as combs, toothbrushes, toothpaste and shampoo are needed. Also, books, magazines, newspapers, computers are helpful.
- Sponsor a food drive where you work or at your children’s school.
- Prepare box meals and deliver them to the homebound or ill.
- Make math or reading flash cards for the schools and daycares in your community.
- Perform random acts of kindness.
Organizations worthy of your consideration
Mary Beth and I have been burned in the past with groups and organizations with less than honorable intentions. While their marketing material and promises were attractive, their true substance was lacking. Over the past several years, we have served the following organizations and believe in their mission:
- Christian Foundation for Children and Aging. CFCA believes in the potential of the poor to effect change in their own lives and in our world.
- HeartConnexion Ministries. HeartConnexion Ministries is a Christian organization dedicated to helping individuals experience grace beyond shame and empower them to find personal wholeness.
- Feeding America. Feeding America is the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity. Their mission is to feed America’s hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage our country in the fight to end hunger.
Personal Acts of Service
The day before my wife’s recent surgery, I was surprised and overwhelmed by generous personal acts of service. The office manager sent an email to everyone asking for meal donations so I would have one less thing to worry about while Mary Beth was in the hospital.
When she took me to the freezer and opened the door, I saw tray after tray of food that others took the time to prepare. The love that went in making these meals meant the world to me. Their service touched me deeply.
In addition to meal preparation, here are a few other ideas for touching others with heartfelt personal service:
- Offer to make home repairs for a neighbor who is struggling either financially or physically.
- Likewise, consider helping with housecleaning duties for those who are ill or who are dealing with an illness in their family.
- Volunteer to babysit for your siblings, children, or friends.
- Reach out to your spouse and surprise her with a “day off” pass. Commit to attending to the household chores so he can have a well-deserved day off.
- Plan a special outing with your child. Pick something that only you two share and make it happen.
- When you know a friend could use an encouraging phone call or email, drop what you are doing and focus on your friend’s need.
- Offer to pray with, or pray for, someone who is going through a difficult time.
- If finances allow, consider making a monthly car payment or purchasing a week’s worth of groceries for a struggling family.
- Give a hug to someone who needs it.
- Turn off the television or walk away from your computer and listen, really listen, to what someone close to you is trying to share with you.
Self-Care Acts of Service
I’m no good to anyone else unless I’m good to myself first. Our lives can be tiring and frustrating and sometimes the best way we can be of service to others is by taking care of ourselves first. Here are some ways I take care of me:
- I take time throughout the day to simply do nothing. I use this time to focus on how I’m feeling. Based on the findings, I will throttle my energy up or take it down.
- Every day I re-accept myself. Mistakes, physical flaws and self-limiting beliefs are all part of who I am. But, I do have the choice to accept myself and to remember I’m learning and growing each day.
- Exercise is an important component to my self-care. The attempt is to get to the gym four times a week. My workouts are as beneficial to my body as they are to my soul.
- Living an organized life. To feel less stressed, more clear-headed and move more confidently in the direction of my dreams, I develop a realistic schedule of daily activities that includes time for work, sleep, relationships, and fun.
- I schedule “quiet time” each day. My favorite activity is after the day’s work is done; I plug into some music and write.
Several months ago Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, predicted the United States would be heading into an economic recovering phase later this year. Other economists are less optimistic.
So goes the United States’ economy –so goes the world’s economy.
While the financial health of the world is still uncertain, we can at least be certain of the need to provide acts of service to those facing challenging circumstances and to ourselves. We don’t need bankruptcy protection, state legislatures or federal governments solely determining the rules and conditions for us. When we see a need, we can respond with the best intentions and resources available.
The acts of service extend beyond municipalities, denominational faith, or socioeconomic status and land in the hearts of each of us. We can choose to serve today. And when we do, a little more love and a little more hope is allowed to breathe in the heart of another.