Who said “Tis better to give than receive.” ?
We’ve all heard it…or at least those of over 40 have heard it. I’m not so sure it’s a common saying today. But do you know who is credited with saying it?
I did not remember… I admit I had to look it up. St. Paul tells us that those were Jesus’ words. Verse 35 is part of St Paul’s sermon in Ephesus “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”
Wise words, indeed. For me the wisdom comes from the indisputable fact that the act of giving makes the giver feel like they’re getting the gift. I’m sure you’ve experienced it. Whether it’s making your kids smile on Christmas or a Birthday, or finding that “perfect something” for someone you care about…the look on the recipient’s face makes you feel a warmth and happiness that is impossible to describe. Anyone who has done charity work will tell you they always end up feeling like the lucky ones in the equation.
It’s a very genuine, organic feeling that I don’t think any other living creature is capable of experiencing.
A couple of weeks ago, my thoughtful Wife, Lynn announced “I signed up to be a Salvation Army bellringer…do you wanna come with me?” I was rather surprised by the way she made this commitment without me…she obviously wanted to do this, whether I came along or not…and I was somewhat ashamed that I hadn’t thought of it myself. To be honest I haven’t thought of doing much charity work at all since retirement. I spent 44 years in Radio and every one of those years included charity-work. With your help we collected a million toys for Toys for Tots, we sent kids to college, we helped schools, fought breast cancer and collected thousand of pieces of clothing for needy Detroiters. It was easy for me to justify “having done my part”. I am retired. But then I thought about it and realized, you simply can’t retire from being a thoughtful human.
I LOVE working with organizations like The Salvation Army. Today, while standing in the cold, ringing that bell by their kettle, I recalled my first real introduction to the great work they do and why I think it’s so important. Over 20 years ago, I was at a luncheon/fundraiser for them at the old London Chophouse in Detroit, when that iconic restaurant was on it’s last legs. WOMC’s Gene Taylor was there as emcee. To my surprise, he was wearing a Salvation Army uniform…full dress jacket and pants with hat. He actually was an officer in The Salvation Army. I soon learned that he took his work with that group very seriously. He told me about a very basic, street level program they were doing called The Bed and Breakfast Club. Since my Radio show was called “The Breakfast Club”, I was curious about this program…”how does it work?”, I asked. “Well, it’d be easier to show you than just talk about it. You should come with us on a run.” he replied. “Yeah…I’d love to.” I said. “Great! meet me at the Salvation Army building tonight at 7, we’ll go out.” Gene said.
Not wanting to seem like a person who was “all talk and no action”, I agreed…I went home and hours later put on my long johns, my Carhart overalls, heavy boots and hat. We met downtown and loaded up an old food truck, the kind with the fold-out side that has a serving counter, with big cans of boiling soup and boxes of sandwiches. Twenty minutes later we turned down a very dark Detroit street in a part of town I’d never seen before…no working streetlights…a burned out car in the middle of the street…abandoned building with no sign of life. Gene Taylor was driving…I was standing in the back. He cut the engine and we sat there with the lights on. Within minutes people started wandering out of those buildings like slow moving zombies. Layers of old clothing for warmth, plastic bags tied around their shows, rags wrapped around their hands in place of gloves. They slowly lined up single file at the truck and we stayed until we’d given away ALL of the food. I’ll never forget the one man who said “Is it OK if I take an extra sandwich for Dan up there? He can’t walk very well.” It was that night I learned about The Gift of Gratitude. On the drive back I asked Gene why he didn’t engage any of these people in conversation about The Lord…or The Salvation Army…or anything, really…just treated them all with great respect and kindness. Even the ones who spit and swore at us. Especially those who did that. Gene told me that a basic principle of The Salvation Army was you can’t begin to touch a person’s heart and mind if their stomach is empty. That gave me gift #2…The gift of selflessness.
Today, my wife and I had a blast collecting in Downtown Birmingham. We made up songs…developed a choreography for ringing two bells in unison and I got to see what real giving is all about. Teenagers who are making an hourly wage, going to work but finding a couple of valuable dollars to put in the kettle…Moms and Dad teaching their kids their first lesson in charity by having them put the money in the kettle themselves…people who drove up to the curb, rolled down the window and offered some cash..construction workers who dug out a dirty, wrinkled $20 from their jeans, and even local business heroes like Link Wachler who was taking his 88 yr old Father out for lunch. Everyone was generous…no one was on their cell phone…no one was texting. People wanted to look another human being in the eye and without saying much…make the connection we all need so much…the connection of caring and love. Now…today…especially this week.
So Merry Christmas, America.
No one can take that away from us…helping each other out is part of our nature…it’s who we are…it’s one of the many things that makes us great.
Sometimes we just need to be reminded how we are a part of this connection of kindness…it’s a birthright…and even if you lost it, you can get in back in a second.
It’ll be the best gift you get this year.-Jim