Throwback Thursday: The Joy of Helping Others

If only I had money, I’d do so many things to help others, especially the unfortunate,” is a familiar cry.

Don’t feel dissatisfied if you lack money. You can give an awful lot even without money. In fact, money is the least important of all the things we give away. This may surprise you, but it’s really lots of fun giving of yourself without the thought of being paid or getting a return favor. I know because I’ve tried it.

Until a year ago, I was in the competitive so-called rat race with fellow employees striving for the best position with my company. For many years I worked under terrific tension on Wall Street from early dawn until late hours of the night, with little time for adequate meals and no time for pleasure or exercise. Finally, a coronary caught up with me. I realized after it was almost too late that you just couldn’t take “it” with you.

Now that I’ve taken early retirement, I’m completely divorced from my life of rushing and pushing for power and prestige. I know I’m now a new man. I even comb my hair differently and am garbed in casual attire I’ve never dared wear before.

It’s refreshing to live a life of leisure, not exactly idleness because I’m busy without being under tension. But I’ve reversed myself. Instead of trying to get, I now try to give.

An elderly lady who lives around the corner doesn’t have an automobile, so I drive her to town whenever she wants to browse, shop, or visit her hairdresser. I pick her up a few hours later. Her stimulating conversation is all the “pay” I require.

It’s just an inescapable fact. It doesn’t take much effort to carry in empty garbage cans for my neighbors. After all, I’m only taking a stroll with my poodle, and I’m the one who benefits most from the extra exercise. Getting paid for these and other little favors would spoil the fun of helping others. The most profitable compensation is the satisfaction of knowing life has been made a little easier for some of the older citizens who live near me. And somehow, you always get out of life what you put into it. The text about casting bread on water (Ecclesiastes 11:1) still holds true.

For example, I mentioned to the lady I drive to town how much I enjoyed Beethoven’s Ninth over the radio. She returned in a few minutes with a season pass for the local symphony concerts. When we returned to her home, I wondered why she wanted me to wait.

“I’m glad you like good music,” she remarked as she handed me the pass. “For years, I’ve been a subscriber, just to help the Concert Association. I’ve never attended a concert-just a don’t like them. Enjoy them! Of course, I will! In fact, I had been dawdling with the idea of spending seventy-five dollars for a subscription. You may keep the pass; I hope you will enjoy the concerts.”

My wife and I have made it a practice to regularly tithe our income (giving 10 percent to the church). My unpaid tithe amounted to almost a thousand dollars. Several months before the end of last year, I had been hospitalized following a severe heart attack.

By coincidence, l owed a similar amount on medical and hospital bills, even though Blue Shield and Blue Cross Insurance had paid the major portion of them.

Unfortunately, my checking account was too small to cover both tithe and medical bills. Besides, I had just terminated my employment on December 1. But my wife and I decided to pay our first obligation-to-God-which was our tithe. A few days before the end of the year received a check from a source that had never before provided funds. And, as you may have guessed, it was more than the tithe I had paid.

Don’t be afraid to praise the performer whenever you hear a skillful performance. You’d be surprised how little appreciation is ever really expressed. If you are unable to give it in person, by all means, write a short note of thanks. It doesn’t take much effort and costs only little postage.

All too often, musicians, preachers, and public servants are criticized when they don’t come up to par. They are, after all, human and crave a few crumbs of appreciation from those they serve, especially when they do a good job.

Not long ago I attended a thrilling concert. During the intermission, as is my custom, I sauntered about. My attention was unexpectedly focused on the conductor, sullenly pacing back and forth. Not being one with inhibitions, I boldly approached him and said, “‘The first half of this concert was truly inspiring to me. It’s the best performance I’ve heard this season.” And I meant it.

The conductor stopped in his tracks and glared at me. Had I said something wrong? Then his face burst into a broad grin. After that, I was like a long-lost buddy. He introduced me to his wife, seated a dozen paces away.

The second half of that concert was even more breathtaking than the first. The taciturn conductor suddenly became talkative as he related his past musical achievements and expressed his future plans. He was so engrossed that he was late making his reappearance on the podium.

After the concert that night, I felt as though I were riding home on clouds astride Pegasus instead of over bumpy roads in my Impala. Do you think I was happy to have expressed my sincere appreciation? Of course, I was. How did you get the idea of helping others in a big way? I had been a Boy Scout and had done my daily good deed. However, a short time ago began preparing a book on the lives of the great hymn writers. During my research, I was amazed at how many of them gave SO much without thought of being paid.

Frances Ridley Havergal, for instance, had little money to give away, but she dedicated her mellifluous voice to praise her Lord. She was often urged to perform as a concert soloist, but she refused to sing anything but sacred music. She left a legacy of great hymns-far greater than money–as reflected in her declaration of love to Jesus: “Take my voice, and let me sing/Always, only, for my King.”

Charlotte Elliott published anonymously her immortal hymn, “Just as I Am,” in the annual publication The Yearly Remembrance, of which she was an editor. She finally admitted authorship to it when she was questioned. “Far more has been done by this single hymn of my sister’s,’ wrote her brother, Pastor H. V. Elliott, after Charlotte’s death, “than all of my labors in the course of a long ministry.”

Maeterlinck was right when he said, “An act of goodness is of itself an act of happiness. No reward coming after the event can compare with the sweet reward that went with it.”

In your frantic quest for money, you may find that happiness has eluded you whether or not you acquire wealth and power. But when you help others, even without money, you will find that your own life has become enriched and ennobled. Like Abou Ben Adhem, you will be the one who receives the greatest blessing of all.

Originally published in Message Magazine’s February 1979 Edition by Donald W. McKay.

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