In this season of giving, I want to share a few thoughts about giving of self. Years ago I read an LDS novel by S. Michael Wilcox, called One-Winged Dove. It was the poignant story of Ben Christiansen, an Institute Director, and his wife, Ruth. They became involved with Laurel, an innocent and lonely young woman who had been raped and left carrying a child. Ben and Ruth reached out to Laurel, who had no family to help her, even taking her into their home and arranging medical, hospital, and adoption help. However, Laurel ran away just before the baby was born and they never found out what happened to her or the baby.
The main character in the story, Ben, grapples with some of life’s most searching questions. Why is there such pain and suffering in the world and why, even when we earnestly desire to give of our love and resources, can we sometimes not help to ease it? Ben previously expected that his love and service should produce positive changes in the lives of the recipients. “If they did not,” he said, “I thought I had somehow failed, and more love, more giving sacrifice would have produced the results I sought.”
What I Learned from Ben
I related, because at that point in my life I, too, had been expecting results from my giving. Consequently, I had carried scars that sometimes threatened my belief in myself. How could I feel good about myself when so many of the people I loved, served, and cared about did not change, except, perhaps, for the worse?
There were the Beehive girls whose negative home situations carried them further and further away from gospel ideals in spite of my lessons, love, and prayers. There was an emotionally disturbed girl I took in, loved, taught, and labored over, only to see her sink more deeply into serious mental illness, which plagues her to this day. Some family members too had resisted my best efforts to help them.
So I, like Ben, had longed to understand. In the story he finally learned from the Lord that “giving, no matter the results, must always be its own answer. It must always be enough. Perhaps the most difficult lesson in life is to accept that answer without cynicism or despair or any hesitancy to give more.”
As I pondered what Ben learned through his inability to change lives he cared so much about, I drew several conclusions about my own giving. First, if I give hoping for results that will benefit me, feed my ego, or flatter my pride, my giving can be manipulative and self-serving. If I give to show evidence of my righteousness and feel thwarted when the results do not bring me praise, my motives are suspect. If I believe I should be able to love enough to motivate right choices, how can I explain the third of Heavenly Father’s children who turned from His perfect love, preferring their own way?
True Giving Of Self Has No Strings Attached
Giving was never meant to be a tool to get others to act the way we want them to. Rather, it is an ennobling experience to refine the soul of the giver while extending an invitation to the receiver. If we give with true concern for the well-being of the other, regardless of the outcome, we have not failed. The Savior gave his divine gifts knowing that many would not choose to accept them. His victory in making the Atonement possible for all men did not depend on their acceptance. Respect for the right of others to choose how they will respond safeguards agency.
At Christmastime I need to remember that if I give service or goods to look good, to feel good, to be seen of men, to prove that I’m needed or important, and I “have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3).
However, If I give, especially of myself, with real intent, with real love, then regardless of the results, the giving is enough.
When We Give without Expectations, We Can Continue Giving
Now that the important message has become part of me, I can say, “Beehive girls, I dare think of you again and can do it with tenderness and continued prayers that you will gain strength to find your way. Remembering you is no longer like a reminder of personal failure.”
To my mentally ill friend, “I am sad that life continues to be so hard for you. But I can feel peace knowing Who is in charge, and that I did my small best to help.”
Beloved family members, I am learning to respect your freedom to see things differently than I do and not take it as a personal affront when you do not make the choices I would prefer. This perspective of giving of myself without expectation can free me from past hurts so I can continue to love and give willingly, without fear, in the future.
Can We Learn to Give as Christ Gave?
President Spencer W. Kimball said, “Never did the Savior give in expectation. I know of no case in his life in which there was an exchange. He was always the giver, seldom the recipient. Never did he give shoes, hose, or a vehicle; never did he give perfume, a shirt, or a fur wrap. His gifts were of such a nature that the recipient could hardly exchange or return the value. His gifts were rare ones: eyes to the blind, ears to the deaf, and legs to the lame; cleanliness to the unclean, wholeness to the infirm, and breath to the lifeless. His gifts were opportunity to the downtrodden, freedom to the oppressed, light in the darkness, forgiveness to the repentant, hope to the despairing. His friends gave him shelter, food, and love. He gave them of himself, his love, his service, his life. The wise men brought him gold and frankincense. He gave them and all their fellow morals resurrection, salvation, and the eternal life. We should strive to give as he gave. To give of oneself is a holy gift.” (The Wondrous Gift , 2).
In this season of giving, may we give of ourselves with no demands for certain reactions, with no expectations that the responses of others will fill the empty places in our hearts that only God can fill. May we restrain ourselves from giving out of obligation, false pride, or desire to impress. May we avoid over-extending our finances or our energy, but instead, give of ourselves and our love to the few who need us most. Then we can say, “The giving itself is enough.”
Note: Darla has a rich background in writing and editing and has been one of Meridian’s most consistent and most-read columnists since 2002. To learn more about Darla and her books, Trust God No Matter What! and After My Son’s Suicide: An LDS Mother Finds Comfort in Christ and Strength to Go On, visit her website: darlaisackson.com. Also check out Barnes and Noble Nook Books and Amazon.com.