Give Until It Feels Good

This commandment could actually be, “Give until it feels good, and not beyond that.”

One year during pledge time in our congregation in North Carolina, the minister spoke about the joy of “giving until it feels good,” as compared to “giving until it hurts,” which is a more common saying. The idea was that we shouldn’t think of giving as depriving ourselves or as an obligation foisted upon us, but rather as a means to help us feel good about helping. In our denomination, we are encouraged (but not required) to follow a modern tithe (5% to the church, 5% to other worthy causes, either in money or in service). I’ve found that I really do feel very good when I give both money and time to causes in which I believe. I feel satisfied, connected, and like a contributing member of my community.

The trouble I have is that I tend to be an all-or-nothing type person (I think I may have mentioned this before). When I decide to volunteer time, I like how it feels to volunteer a little bit of time, so I start giving more and more and more until I burn out and don’t have anything left to give. I’m a bit more frugal with my money than I am with my time, so I’ve never experienced the analogous situation with financial giving. However, I do notice that when I feel a need to step back from giving of my time, I also step back from giving money. The purpose of this commandment is to remind myself to give in moderation, so that I continue to meet my own needs while giving of myself to other causes and individuals.

I don’t think I had as much trouble with this balance before I had children. I think the main reason was that it was easier to meet my own needs before I had kids. Pretty much all of my free time was spent in meeting my own needs, with a little bit spent meeting the needs of my husband and friends. I never had to go out of my way to have “alone time”. I also never had much trouble going to the bathroom by myself or eating a meal without getting up 173 times. It was easy to take on volunteer roles and put in a fairly large number of hours and still adequately meet my own needs. Back when I was working full time, I volunteered as a reading tutor, a co-coordinator of a teen program at our church, and did 12-hour shifts as a volunteer doula at the hospital on weekends. I also demonstrated for various causes and donated money generously to a number of organizations. As a mom, a lot of the energy I would otherwise put into service is given to my children. I have tried to continue to give of myself at the same level as I did before kids, but that’s not worked out as well as I would have liked.

In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin lists her Four Splendid Truths. The second is: “One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy; One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.” This summarizes the balance I would like to strike. I want to meet my needs so that I have enough in reserve to give of myself until it feels good. And I want to keep this balance in mind so that I don’t overextend myself and end up throwing in the towel. I can love without reserve, but I think I need to be a little more careful when giving of myself.

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