When faith and hope fail, as they do sometimes, we must try charity, which is love in action. ~ Dinah Maria Mulock. *
I noticed that quote this morning on Twitter. Just one of dozens of messages downloading on my screen every minute or so, it caught my eye because charity has been on my mind lately. Specifically I’ve been debating whether people who are uncharitable deserve charity from others.
That dilemma doesn’t come in a vacuum, or for no reason. It’s actually the result of a recent, uh, discussion I had with my husband. I won’t go into details, but I was trying to be nice, to give the benefit of the doubt, to someone who was acting thoughtlessly. My husband wasn’t happy. He didn’t like that I was putting that thoughtless person’s needs ahead of ours, and, exasperated beyond patience, he said, “I really hate that about you!”
To be fair, his reaction wasn’t because he’s an uncharitable person. I think it was because his first and foremost instinct is to protect me, our children, and our extended family. To him this other person was posing a “threat,” in a sense, and the logical reaction was to take care of me, and I frustrated him when I refused to follow his advice.
Still, his remark struck me, mostly because he rarely criticizes me. But how ironic to be criticized for trying to do something nice for someone else.
I’m not telling this story to ask for a pat on the back. If that were the case, I wouldn’t also divulge that I wasn’t happy about “being nice.” I did what I did grudgingly, not graciously. The other party was rude, didn’t “deserve” consideration in my not-so-humble opinion, but I gave it anyway, because that’s the way I was raised.
My mother was a single mom back in the days before women chose that lifestyle. We struggled financially and went without, frequently, but we got by. My mother was never bitter. No, she was always thankful for what she had. In truth, she used to drive me crazy! While I was whining about the fact that my friend Susan’s pile of Christmas loot could have filled a pickup truck, and my gifts could be counted on one hand, my mother reminded us to be thankful for the roof over our heads and the food in the fridge.
It wasn’t until I was much older that I came to understand that our ability to stay in our home, and my mother’s ability to put that food on the table, were due in large part to the charity of others, mostly friends from our church who saw a need, then filled it. So it was natural for Mom to teach me and my sister to be charitable to others. And that didn’t just mean charitable with money, or time. It meant to be charitable in spirit as well.
In fact, my mother could have been the poster child for turning the other cheek. When my sister and I fought, she said, “Sisters don’t fight.” It didn’t matter what caused the argument, who was right or who was wrong. The only thing that mattered to Mom was that sisters (family) should stick together. Sisters shouldn’t fight. Her teachings must have hit home to us because we rarely did fight, and rarely do now. And when we do, we’re quick to apologize, quick to make up. Time is too short to spend it being angry with someone you love so much.
Actually, I think time is too short to spend it being angry, period. So when confronted with people who are rude, who do thoughtless things, yet who happen to need something from me, I’ll often hear my mother’s voice in my head, urging me to take the high road, to think that maybe there’s a reason that person is acting the way he/she is. I hear her telling me that maybe that person just received bad news, or maybe he/she doesn’t feel well. So I try to heed her voice, whether I want to or not. And when I don’t, when I let that compulsion to ignore their needs win, I usually regret it.
Some say charity begins at home. Some also say God helps those who help themselves. But I’ve been on the receiving end of charity too many times to know it’s not that simple. And I can only hope that each time I meet someone who might be grouchy, might be rude or inconsiderate, that if/when that person needs something from me, I’ll hear Mom’s voice reminding me what she taught so many years ago, and that I’ll give the benefit of the doubt, whether it’s deserved or not.
* Dinah Maria Mulock. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved December 19, 2011, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/d/dinahmaria312049.html