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Imagine you’ve lived a long, full, and productive life. Now, you find yourself at the pearly gates waiting to gain entry. Upon arrival, the gatekeeper doesn’t ask how many pairs of cute shoes you have, where you went to school, how much money is in your stock portfolio, or how many kids you have. Instead, you’ll be asked, “Who did you help? How were you of service to others? How did you use your life to benefit others?” The very idea of one person helping another dates as far back as the beginning of civilization.

Your Esteemable Acts® task this week, if you choose to accept it, is to explore the concept of service. What does it mean to you? What does having a consciousness of giving mean?

What Do You Have to Give?

Everyone has something to give, regardless of how small or seemingly unimportant the gift may appear. A simple offer of kindness can make someone’s day. That single act can change the course of your life as well as theirs. There are many ways you can be of service. Here are just a few examples: contacting a friend during their time of need, calling a friend for no good reason other than to say hello, offering a smile when someone feels unloved, appreciating someone’s effort, acknowledging the actual work someone has done for you OR for someone else, spending time with a friend, listening to someone who needs to be heard without judgment, holding open a door for the person behind you, paying someone’s bridge toll or parking meter, sharing your skill or expertise by mentoring another person, welcoming a new neighbor into the community, and sometimes it simply means saying THANK when someone does a kindness. There are many ways to serve.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been the poster child for someone who is selfish, self-centered, and self-absorbed. I’ve spent my life asking, “What is in it for me?” Recovery helped me change that mindset. Gradually, I started to think of who I could help and what I could do for another. The longer I stayed sober the more I developed a consciousness of giving. What a concept.

A Consciousness of Giving.

Developing a consciousness of giving is not always easy. In fact, for many folks, it’s down right hard, especially if you are a taker. But while the process of change is not easy, the formula is simple: willingness (action) + time = a shift in thinking. Every experience becomes an opportunity for service. Sometimes we give for the sake of giving and sometimes we give because we know that when we succeed as a collective group, we succeed as individuals.

Benefits of Service.

There are many benefits to being of service to others. (a) It’s rewarding to watch a person’s face light up when you offer help. There are opportunities to serve at your job, in your home, with a friend, at your place of worship, or just in your community. All you need is a willingness to take action and a little bit of time. Here is one interesting thing about the word “willingness.” I learned early in my life that “Willingness without action is fantasy.” So today when I speak of being willing, it means my feet are also moving in the direction I say I want to be going. (b) Service to others allows us to make amends for past mistakes, That is especially true if the person is still alive. But what if they are not? While you cannot make direct amends to those who have passed away, you can offer service to those left behind. (c) Service to others creates opportunities for new friendships. When being of service in ways that really feed your soul, you become connected to a community of like-minded people. (d) Service to others makes us nicer people because we care about others. (e) Finally, service is a way to get through the tough times.

For me personally, every time I’m faced with a challenge, it is my service work that enables me to get through the pain and grief. I am currently dealing with many losses over the past two and a half years. I buried my husband, whom I was with for almost 24-years. I buried my mother who was 2 months shy of he 90th birthday. And I buried three cats: Mango, Kiwi, and Pumpkin. The latter two died within 2 weeks during the month of August. Non-animal lovers won’t appreciate the pain one feels if they lose a furry family member. It can be devastating losing one pet, but two within a very short period of time is exceptionally hard. Being of service has allowed me not to get stuck in my feelings. I have not avoided them nor do I pretend not to have them. I’m just not spending 24 hours a day lost in my feelings. But by being of service, which has included sharing my feelings, I have shared my experience, strength, and hope. And it’s made me feel more connected to others because of my vulnerability.

Where do you Start?

Where do you start? Perhaps think about the things you are passionate about. Are you interested in animals, the environment, politics, teaching, the homeless, education, travel. The list is endless. But the key is to think of what makes your heart sing and your spirit sparkle. Are you involved in your place of worship? Are you politically inclined? Are there mentoring opportunities at your job or in your profession? Is there a class you can teach or an article you can write based on a skill you have? You might also think about the the organizations you support.

With all the benefits, there are still reasons why many people don’t get involved in service activities. Some people believe that giving requires big actions, such as paying someone’s rent, buying dinner, sharing your personal belongings, giving thousands of dollars to charity, or volunteering many hours of your precious time? It can include those actions, but it’s the act of giving that is big. Giving doesn’t take much, just a willingness to give is enough. Doing someone’s laundry, running an errand, or preparing a meal for someone who’s ill is an act of giving. Taking out the garbage without being asked, volunteering to help out a neighbor who works long hours, or offering to pick up the kids are all examples of things we can do in the name of helping another person. Spending time with a friend, listening without judgment, or putting money in someone’s expired parking meter are other ways to serve.

Maybe today your gift is simply refraining from making an obscene gesture or cutting someone off in traffic. Maybe it’s having the courage to forgive an unforgivable person or treating someone with kindness even when there’s no crisis. Maybe it’s not participating in gossip, or being a voice against gossip. Perhaps your act of service is being an example of courage. Courage breeds courage.

Each time you have the courage to do the right thing, you give someone else permission to do the same. That’s an act of service.

Francine D. Ward
Attorney-At-Law, Author, Speaker

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