1. The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley
You may have heard of this story. Within the book there is a passage referring to an interaction between two individuals. There are many adaptations, versions, and interpretations floating around. However, the core message remains substantially intact across every appearance: you can make a difference; even if you help just one person, you have made a difference in one life.
The profound impact you can have on an individual life is not to be under-estimated. While poverty, hunger, disease, and other tragedies are widespread, we cannot be discouraged by the magnitude. For there is a mutliplier effect in helping one person. That person might be lifted out of poverty, helped with the opportunity to succeed, and then set expectations for his or her family. The family is then given the same opportunity… And if the world turns in just the right way, that little boy or girlthat was rescued from poverty will never forget, and he/she will pay it forward to yet another needy soul.
And so it is with you. Start a wave of kindness by touching one life first.
2. It feels good for me
Now, on the selfish end of the spectrum, this is really quite simple. Service feels good to me. Aside from any benefit I have afforded or need I have filled, I can go home, sit on the couch and think about the fact that I have sacrificed my time and energy… For nothing less than the most selfless of activitities: serving others.
I love serving others for the feeling it gives ME.
3. It feels good for those I am helping
Aside from the obvious help I might be providing – rebuilding a house destroyed by a tornado, tutoring a young child, serving food on a cold winter morning in a food line – I also get the chance to enrich the souls of those whom we are serving. While they may have been hardened by life experiences, or unbearably shy, or impossibly stubborn, a heart does not beat without feeling.
I am creating a warmth in a person’s soul, whether they show it or not. In the best situation, I will receive hugs and kind words. In the worst, I can go home knowing that someone else will lie in bed that night and thank the Lord, me, or the air around them. In that you must believe.
4. It helps me appreciate what I have
What is the last thing which you desired? How long did you have to wait until you received it? For me, I probably wait anywhere from 30 seconds to two weeks. Two weeks I wait patiently. And then it appears.
And then I get up one Saturday and go to volunteer at Habitat for Humanity and I meet a family. The parents have waited their entire adult lives for a home without leaks in the roof and with a yard in which their children can play. The children have never lived in a house. Never. And yet they so patiently thank the volunteers and put in their hours of sweat equity. After all, what is one more day after so many years.
Service provides us a window into a world we may not already know. And it certainly gives good reason to appreciate that which we already possess.
5. It centers my soul
I get caught up in work. My dreams get drowned out and my inner being gets pushed aside. It is the reality of showing up everyday for many of us. If I am not doing something I am passionate about, I am slowly but surely being robbed of the fire within. The flame will never die, but the oxygen levels descrease and the flame turns a soft orange.
But I can’t let that flame get too low. Please, please, PLEASE… if I must, I will find someway to escape cubicle nation and get out of town. And for me, a mission trip, volunteer trip, or other service vacation is much more refreshing and provides me with much more vigor than laying on the beach and drinking my favorite beverage for a week straight.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the beach. But when I need to get back to what I love… I need to get away from the hustle and bustle or the plush vacation scene. I am always amazed by how much focusing on others can refocus my mind and heart on what truly matters to me.
6. I am likely to meet high quality people
I am a young professional in a big city. I’m somewhat personable, don’t mind striking up a conversation, and I like to think that I can make friends fairly easily. So I should be meeting people constantly and forming friend groups and on and on, right? Eh, not so much. Now, granted, I live at home with my parents, I don’t make an effort to go ‘out’ much, and I typically prefer blogging, reading, writing, and escaping to my mountain house on weekends.
Add in the fact that I find it hard to put a lot of trust in friends and my strong desire to surround myself with people who represent my aspirations, values, and beliefs… And that is a tall order for friends.
But, as I have taken a step away and made a conscious effort to engage in service projects and activities, I have found it much easier to connect on a deeply personal level with others who are involved. Why? My guess is the fact that we both showed up says a bit about the kinds of lives we want to live. Add in some sincere introductions and a desire to help others succeed, and there is a recipe for successful friend-finding.
7. What would I be doing otherwise?
Is it irreplaceable? Couldn’t I just take the people with me with whom I want to spend time? I have a DVR. Is the alternative climbing Mt Everest, a yearly trip with Dad, my cousin’s piano recital, or the one live concert that lies right smack dab in the middle of my bucket list? Ok, I would consider those acceptable excuses, but what about next week? Next month?
I can almost always find a reason for why it is not a good time. I’m tired. I’m stressed out. I just need some time to myself. But then I take a minute. What would I be doing otherwise? Does that activity or event reflect the type of life I want to lead? If not, I need to drop it, or come back to it later. Even better, I should do it after my service trip or cleanup day in the park. It will probably be more fun or feel more rewarding at that point anyways.
8. It might ignite my passion.
Hey, you never know. Last week at camp, a newfound friend told me an awesome story of transformation through service.
Several years ago, he had a friend volunteer as a camp counselor. He spent a week focusing on others, particularly all of the campers. And he began to realize something: his work was not really his work. It was somebody else’s work. He had a desire to make a difference. He found his passion. And he showed up at work the following Monday and respectfully submitted his two weeks’ notice.
Scary? Yes. Awesome? Absolutely. It might take a step back to take two steps forward. It’s worth a shot.
9. It gives me an excuse to get away.
I have yet to meet a colleague at work that did not respect my desire to engage in service. It can be easy to shift my vacation plans to suit client needs. It can be easier to respond to a request to shift my vacation plans to meet client needs. After all, the beach will be there on Tuesday after that important Monday meeting.
But that family is in need now. And they are expecting me to show up. Camp is going to happen whether I am there or not… The difference is that I would place a hardship on someone else and create a brand of disappointment and a lack of trustworthiness. That is plenty of incentive for me to stick to my commitment to serve.
Service is a great excuse to get away. If someone gives me a hard time… I might consider asking the question: Am I really in the right place?
10. Problems do not solve themselves.
Yes, somebody else might show up if I don’t. But they might not. The problem is not going to solve itself. A child in need does not go around asking for help. Fresh-cut lumber does not ask to be built into a house. Hurricanes and tornadoes do not post fliers for the clean-up effort before they sweep through town.
I can be an advocate. In fact, I need to be an advocate, because the problems will not solve themselves.
11. We are the answer.
I will leave the debate over whose responsibility it is to solve the world problems to higher minds than mine. But one thing I do know is this: it does not matter whose responsibility the problem is.. . I am the answer. I am the solution. And so are you. We have the ability to pick up the responsibility and run with it. And we have the ability to make the debate obsolete. Individuals take action, organizations provide the platform. I’ve never seen a corporation show up to a service event. I’ve seen plenty of individuals.
We are the answer.
12. We can, literally, change the world.
Period. The end. That’s all. Here’s proof.
So why not start today?
Please leave a comment and let me know why you engage in service. What are some of your best stories from service-related activities?