The giving equation


15 Oct 2019

While service requires sacrifice, there still needs to be a perception that sacrifice brings benefits of commensurate value to the giver, the community or both. If there is inequity in value, then it may be time to make some changes.

Our lives are busy. I certainly find that there are moments when I have an urge to stop and review why I am so wrapped up in so many things and why I can’t seem to find a moment to take a break. Often, I find that this occurs when something ends: the end of a school term, with the passing of a loved one or sometimes at the end of the day. Whatever the stimulus is I am prompted to consider and evaluate what life is and what I hope it to be.

Much of our lives are taken up with our families and occupations. For the most part our energies are well placed. Our families and occupation are the most significant aspects in our day to day life. Our families offer us a foundation and belonging that cannot be found elsewhere. Through our occupation we serve society by what we do and are able to provide via the workplace. Regardless of our family situation or occupation, if done well, we can add immense value to others and bring about wholeness; personally, and in community.

Achieving balance

These primary components of life are vital to wellbeing but conversely can be the cause of great tension and anxiety. Some of the things that cause us distress are beyond our control and cannot be rectified by the individual. Opposed to this we, the individual, may be the cause of tension through a lack of attention or placing a disproportionate amount of energy into one of these areas at the expense of the other. Balancing the energy and time allocated to each is key to a sense of contentment.

As we age and move beyond the workplace each of us must discern what we are able to offer in retirement.

Being engaged and by providing service in a voluntary way can bring us more joy and freedom. By offering the skills we have perfected over many years we are able to maintain a sense of tranquility. As we age, we become wiser. Life has a way of changing us and making us more insightful. In retirement our ‘occupation’ often provides more than what we were able to in our working lives and becomes truly sacrificial as we are no longer compensated financially for the service given.

Commitment to family

Our families are deserving of our complete service. We give our abilities, time and love of other in these areas freely. We are called to serve those we are related to. This is a central component of family. When a loved one is ill or when a family member passes away we often have a moment of great revelation – without family life is empty. Our dedication and passion in other areas is insignificant when compared to the fundamental commitment we intrinsically have to family members.

Service is sacrifice. In families we see this in a multitude of ways. Caring for a loved one when ill, caring for young children throughout each night, driving children to training, cleaning the house are all examples of sacrifice. We find that serving in these ways is rewarding even if the rewards are not immediate or even acknowledged. Our commitment to family is intrinsic and pure.

In the workplace we sacrifice our time. In most cases work is enjoyable as we are using skills and abilities that we are good at, enjoy and have refined over the years. We are also rewarded financially, and we are able to quantify the hours given to what the rewards can offer us and our family. In most cases service and sacrifice in the workplace is positive and causes little concern.

Offer our gifts

In addition to family and occupation each of us has many other areas of interest. Each in a unique way is of service to others. In sporting pursuits, we find the benefits of health and fitness, along with the belonging experienced as a member of a team or club. On committees and boards, we use our insight and wisdom to help guide a community but also strengthen our relationships with others. In service activities we may offer our gifts or simply complete menial tasks that are required for others to be provided for and in doing so we provide for people in ways we will never know.

Tension creeps in when we consider the aspects of our lives and find that the sacrifice is not equitable. Where we see a difference in what we offer compared to what is returned in some way or the benefit to the community we find that joy is absent. Service needs to be joyful. We enter into service knowing it will cost us in some way but are happy to accept this cost. We are content because we can see the value in the giving. When this becomes clouded or is no longer true we experience a sense of desolation.

Service is variable

When we pause to review our busy lives we need to be open to the fact that service is in fact variable. In a family situation we may find that the cost of giving is too much and change is required. In the workplace we may see that where we are employed and what is asked no longer align. In our other commitments we may see that what we have been part of has evolved or our priorities have distanced us from the enjoyment we used to experience.

In these situations we must respond if we are to be able to maintain our own sense of contentment and ability to love and serve as we should. In reviewing the busyness of life you may find that change is required and that ending a commitment, although difficult, is required and that you are able to give in a new way that is more beneficial to others.

Reflection is important if we are to be able to serve as we are called to in Jesus. Maybe as Ignatius found we can be more whole and helpful in the world if we enter into reflection and discernment in a more constant way.

This article first appeared in Madonna spring 2019 issue.

Brendan Nicholls is the liturgy coordinator at St Ignatius, Geelong.
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