You have received without paying, give without pay.
One of my greatest internal struggles is that I’m not sure how much I truly serve. I serve as a priest, but I also get a paycheck for my work. To truly serve, would be to give without being paid anything. If that is the bar for true service, I’m not really much of a servant. One of the reasons (of many) that being part of summer camp is important to me is that I am actually serving there without getting paid. Of course, even that can be debated as children from my parish, as well as my own son, are campers, so I receive some benefit serving them.
If one has the understanding that everything good that we have is from God, then anytime we are “giving” we are actually “giving back.” I think it is important that we have a consciousness of giving back to God from what He has given us. We’ve talked about “stewardship” in our churches as offering of time, talent and treasure back to God and the church. We’ve talked about the “tithe”, which is supposed to be a ten percent offering of our treasure back to God. Again, we need to emphasize the “back” in giving back. When we give, we think “sacrifice.” I’m making a sacrifice in giving to God, or to someone else. When we think of “giving BACK”, then we think blessing and gratitude. I’m giving back with gratitude from what He has blessed me with—time, talent, treasure.
For this reflection, let us focus on the time and talent aspects of stewardship. It is important that we “give back” time and talent to God. The time portion, I have come to understand in recent years, is the personal time we spend praying, worshipping and learning. It is not the time we spend volunteering. That is talent. There are plenty of people who spend a substantial amount of hours volunteering, which is good, but who never take time to pray, worship, read Scripture or learn about the faith. That ultimately ends up being a bad thing. Because if we don’t understand the Lord, or have a relationship with Him, then we will only be “giving” and not “giving back” and our giving ultimately will reap a material reward, rather than the spiritual reward that comes from “serving.” The time component in relationship to God is important, because it helps define whether we give or give back, whether we work or whether we serve.
Going now to talent. Everyone has some talent that can be used in order to provide sustenance for ourselves. Not everyone is going to be the CEO of a company. Some people will gain sustenance from a less glamorous job. And just like everyone has a talent that can be used to provide sustenance for themselves and to be a cog in the wheel of society which needs all kinds of talents and all kinds of jobs in order to function correctly, we can all use probably the same talents in our off hours to serve as a volunteer. Summer camp is one way that I personally can volunteer my talents. Another way I could volunteer, but I have not done so, would be to serve as a tutor, and help people learn to write. Another way I hope to volunteer in the future is as a police or fire chaplain. I enjoy pastoral work, I respect our first responders, and I would love to volunteer sometime as a police or fire chaplain. Why not now? Frankly, I’m too busy. However, “I’m too busy” can’t be a perpetual excuse. I volunteer working for our summer camp, and have for the past twenty-plus years. As I get older, especially if I retire one day, I hope to volunteer even more.
There is a spiritual benefit from volunteering. You feel like you are serving and not just working, and you feel like you are giving back and not just giving. But there is a personal benefit—it just feels good. It feels good to do something and receive no payment in return. Most of the time when I volunteer, I receive gratitude from the participants which is worth even more than any money I could make. But even without that, there is just the intrinsic feeling that I’m doing something noble, helpful and pure. My service to the church is not “pure” because I get a paycheck for it. The purest form of service is when we serve expecting nothing in return. It is important that we all spend some time doing volunteer work. One important thing about volunteering is that we don’t have to suffer volunteering. We don’t have to engage in some kind of work that is foreign or frustrating to us. Take the talent you are already using in your job and give a portion of it back as a volunteer. Or take a talent you have that you can’t use in your job and offer it as a volunteer. A great example of that is coaching youth sports—most coaches do not do that as a full-time job. They are lawyers, or doctors, or teachers, or businessmen/women who enjoy sports and who enjoy serving as coaches, not only to serve but because it opens an entirely different dimension and opportunity than there regular jobs do. Whatever job you have and whatever role you have in life, it is important that we serve and not just work. It is important that we give back, and not just give.
As you know, one of my favorite ways to serve is to mow grass. I’ve been mowing the lawns of my two neighbors for years. They get the benefit of free lawn service. But I also get a benefit—exercise and a better-looking neighborhood. Service can be enjoyable—I certainly enjoy serving in that way.
Lord, thank You for the gift of life, of breath, of another day. Thank You for the talents I have that allow me to work and provide sustenance for myself and my family (list them). Help me to have a consciousness to not only work, but also to serve; to not only give but to give back. Thank You for the many gifts You have given me. Help me to see the opportunities to give back to You, while also serving others. Amen.
Look for opportunities to serve and to give back as a volunteer.