Giving of yourself can help you lose your ‘self’
Editor’s note: This is the ninth in a 12-part series of letters Paul Graves is writing to his grandchildren in 2012. They are based on the Peace Prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.
Dear Katie, Claire and Andy,
Have you kids seen the 2000 movie “Pay It Forward”? I don’t recall us talking about it before. It is about a boy around Claire’s age who is challenged by his new social studies teacher to create a project that can help change the world.
He decides to set in motion a plan to not only pay back good deeds but to pay those deeds forward to people not originally affected by the first good deed. The dramatic lesson in the movie is still being acted out by so many who have seen the movie. “Pay it forward” is still a positive and popular term in our selfish culture.
This idea isn’t the only thing I think about when reading the next step in St. Francis’ Prayer of Peace: “For it is in giving that we receive.” But paying it forward is part of the intent. The spiritual intent of this prayer is that peace can happen when we give of who we are. A side benefit is that we are blessed by that giving.
What do we give? Well, sometimes we give part of what we have – food to the food bank, clothes that are in good shape to a thrift store or a rummage sale. Sometimes we give part of who we are – helping another kid because “it’s the right thing to do,” sticking up for your brother or sister out of your love for him/her.
What do we receive? So many people have told me that they feel good when they volunteer, or give something away to a person in need, or contribute to a cause important to them. “Giving is its own reward” is one way to say that giving makes us feel good.
But there is even more to this peace-step, kids. I see it in the different way that Mother Teresa and Alcoholics Anonymous have rewritten this particular step. Mother Teresa said, “For it is by forgetting self that we find.” AA also says, “For it’s by self-forgetting that we find.”
Why would forgetting our “self” be so important? And what is it that we “find”? Kids, this different way of speaking helps me better understand the original intent of the prayer than “giving and receiving.” And here is why.
Whenever you give something of who you are, you are forgetting that part of your self that is selfish – “It’s mine, you can’t have it!” You think about another person’s happiness or well-being before your own. The wonderful mystery of that giving, though, is that you “find” another part of your being, a person beneath the selfish part.
That “find” is what you receive in giving. You are connected to another person, and that makes you a better person – if even for just that moment. Then later, you can remember that feeling as very good. You might even say, “I’d like to feel that way again.” So you may continue to give something of yourself – at first anyway – because it feels good to your selfish self.
But the more you give of your time, your compassion, your smiles, or whatever, you’ll think less about how good it feels to you; and you’ll think more about how it makes another person happy.
The other person’s well-being becomes enough for you. And that, my precious grandchildren, is the beginning of being compassionate and loving of others.
Giving you love,
The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, is the founder of Elder Advocates. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.