We’re all consumers, and darn good at it. We daily eat, shop, demand, desire, acquire. Much of consumerism is healthy and for our benefit, such as purchasing food to nourish our bodies, reading to expand our minds, and buying gifts to show love and kindness to others.
But every single day we are offered opportunities to be givers, opportunities that are so commonplace that most of the time we miss them in our crazy busyness, our multi-tasking, and our single-minded focus on whatever is our immediate project at hand.
We tend to think of giving as purposeful and planned: I need to make a nice dinner for my husband tonight, my sister’s birthday is coming up and I have to find the perfect gift, my kids need help with a science project and that means giving up the next five weeknights of my favorite TV shows. Signing up for a volunteer project, making a meal for a new mom, and visiting a sick neighbor in the hospital are all expressions of giving, but they’re intentional—they must be arranged before being executed. But what about the giving that is truly free and lightweight—the unexpected opportunity to bless another person, even if only momentarily, that presents itself in your everyday routine?
Honestly, I’m guilty of just not seeing them.
I wanted find out how many unpretentious giving opportunities I was missing, simple moments to stop thinking momentarily about what I want and what I’m doing and just give freely to others who were not expecting to get something they might want or need.
So I decided that for a week I would try to be aware of chances to give when I least expected to, when it meant simply offering something kind to someone I don’t know or someone I didn’t expect to run across as I run around. I literally opened my eyes and heart to looking for chances to make someone smile, to help in little ways, or simply make someone feel momentarily cared for when they were least prepared.
During that week, here is what I discovered about giving unconditionally and without planning: it’s easy, it’s free, and it rarely interrupted my plans. Plus, I’m pretty sure it blessed me more than the recipients as I saw them smile, watched their shoulders relax a little, and heard them share a tiny piece of their lives or just say “thank-you.”
Below are a few ways I discovered we can easily give to others in the midst of our normal, crazy, busy, self-driven days.
I frequently bake for my husband. He’s a triathlete so I keep it balanced, but he loves it and thus I love doing it for him. A few days ago I was making him scones in a really cool baking pan he got me for Christmas and I happened to glance outside, my eyes landing on my neighbor’s house across the street. I cheated my hubby that afternoon and took half the scones over to them. They weren’t expecting me, or baked goods, to show up randomly at the door and were tickled. It cost me nothing except the five minutes I spent chatting with them and telling them the gift was “just because.”
This cost me no time at all because I did it in the midst of checking out of stores. My favorite was with an elderly lady (think matronly, gray-haired grandma) working at JoAnn Fabrics. To be honest, I feel sad when I see seniors work in retail; while I realize some of them do it for the socializing and exercise, I also know it’s exhausting and that for many of them, it’s not a choice. This gentle lady had about two-dozen tiny silver scissors stuck to her large name tag, so I asked her about them. She told me each was an award she got for doing an outstanding job at customer service! She then told me she could trade some of them in for a gold one. I got so excited I actually said to her, “Girl, you go do that! You deserve it!” She grinned as I walked away.
Okay, this sounds so nothing, but I’m not kidding about it. When I drove through my neighborhood and side streets and waved at people who were walking for exercise, walking their dogs, guiding their golf carts down the sidewalk, washing their cars in the driveway or playing catch with their kids in the street, one thing consistently happened: they waved back. And every one of them smiled! I didn’t lose a single second of my time doing this, but it was seriously so neat to see that a three-second lifting of my hand inside my car caused people to grin, a sign that something—even briefly—lightened their heart.
We tend to think of giving as purposeful and planned…what about the giving that is truly free?
Once again this is an opportunity that comes along when you’re doing what you normally do. I had pulled up to the gas pump at the same time as the car in front of me. An older lady got out and we swiped our credit cards at the same time. I caught her out of the corner of my eye as I waited and punched buttons and saw her pull and reinsert her card several times, so once my gas was flowing I walked over to see if I could help. The instructions on the pump were so faint in the sunshine that they were nearly impossible to read, so as she repeatedly tried to enter her zip code she couldn’t see the numbers and kept putting in too few or too many. I simply offered to help, asked her zip code, and got her gas flowing. She was very thankful and I was back at my car before my tank completed filling.
5. Say Yes When You Want to Say No
I said “yes” to something I didn’t particularly want to do, for someone I don’t even know, and because of it I was given a chance to tell a total stranger, “You are beautiful and selfless.” She is a 51-year-old single mother of three grown children, who works 50+ hours a week, and is caring for a 2-year-old foster child. She initially took in his mom, too, and tried to help her get on her feet after she became homeless. But the young woman didn’t care about the kindness, didn’t value the mentoring or the encouragement or the comfort of a safe home. One day, she walked away from her rescuer and her little boy with barely a shrug of her shoulders.
This kind lady, who gets home every night at 7 p.m. with a tired and cranky toddler, has made a difficult decision to request that he be moved to a permanent foster home. They have bonded, so it’s going to be painful for them both. I hope my unexpected opportunity to bestow kind and encouraging words on her is something she clings to when he moves; that she remembers that she provided love and safety and nurturing and a real home at a critical point in his young life. Hers is a love that will last.
6. Don’t Text, Call
My son-in-law’s father fell off a ladder a recently and broke his arm. I had a note in my phone to text him before his surgery, to let him know my husband and I would be praying for him. But that very morning I got a text from my daughter saying that he had been rushed to the hospital with bleeding in his brain as a result of an undiagnosed head bump during his fall. I don’t ever call Earl or his wife, Tracie; generally I keep up with them on Facebook or via text. But as soon as I could, I put in a call to Tracie. My heart hurt for her, knowing she was worried and scared while her husband lay in ICU and awaited the results of diagnostic tests. She was weepy, and I knew without doubt that my voice meant worlds more to her than a text. Sometimes, we absolutely must remove the ease and detachment that our smartphones allow us and connect with our mouths. So many times, the only way our hearts can be knit with others is through our voices.
After reading this, you probably recognize that you’ve done similar things to bestow brief kindnesses. The key is being aware that we’re not aware, and making a mental note to pay a little more attention to others in the midst of our regular routines. When we do that, the opportunities to give simply arise all around us. My goal is to put them on repeat until they become just a normal activity in the midst of my every day.
You’ll also like Stop Look and Listen to People Passing By, Anatomy of a Strong Woman, 9 Marks of a Beautiful Woman (on the Inside), Want to Help Foster Kids? How to Become an Advocate, and How Running Became About More Than Fitness to Me