I think there is a natural inclination in us to turn down the assistance of others, especially when we are volunteering. A participant offers me something, and my gut reaction is to turn them down. I think, “I don’t want to take anything from them—they are struggling enough without me consuming their food.” I mean it with the best intention. Knowing how much food I consume as a twenty-two year old male, it would set anyone seriously back no matter their financial status. Really it extends from a desire to give freely without taking anything in return, but I realized recently how selfish this thought process is.
Susan and her husband had already offered me some of their lunch directly after I had finished mine, and later she was practically insisting that I take some water. I was thirsty, but I went through the same thought process of wanting to give without taking. But it seemed as if the only thing she wanted was to be able to help me. That’s the interesting part of the situation. I’m there to help her, and all it seemed she wanted was to help me. So I took the water. Service can easily put us in a mindset of “we are the helpers and they are the people we are helping.” But this outlook places us above those we’re serving: “I have something to give and you can only receive,” “You don’t have anything to offer me that I could need.” And this idea completely contradicts what the intention of service is. We want people to feel fulfilled, not small. This can only be done if we recognize each other’s common dignity.
Everyone has something to give. Recently I started running my ideas of service through a “neighbor lens.” Loving our neighbor as ourselves is the language of the Gospel after all. I consider how I would treat a close friend that I loved if they were in the situation of the participant. If that person needed help installing some windows and I offered my assistance because they couldn’t afford to hire someone, would I turn down their water when I was thirsty? No. So why should I turn down water from a participant? It only creates distance between us that says, “You are not my neighbor.”
Christ came to give the ultimate gift. He gave himself fully for the salvation of humanity. If anyone had something to give and needed nothing in return it was Christ, but even He asked the Samaritan woman for a drink. Christ teaches us that loving our neighbor does not mean denying what they have to offer.
Vinnie is serving as a Home Repair Crew Member and is a member of the McCreary Volunteer Community. He is a 2014 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Opinions expressed in volunteer blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of CAP or the Volunteer Program.