We often hear, “I gave him the shirt off my back, and I get nothing from him in return”.
But in reality, if I give a gift and expect a return for it, it is not a gift; it is a trade. So, we cannot dignify this giving as a gift if we expect something back. Jesus recommended that we give or lend without concern for return.
This is no easy task to achieve. We do not want to be taken advantage of. We must be careful about who we lend or give to. We cannot be a door mat for anyone. It is bad for us and bad for them. If we give to people, it must be because we really want to. I believe that I should not say “yes” to anyone unless I really desire the yes. Then, if I do not get a return, I can and will live with it. I am not guided by “shoulds” that others put on me.
I should do this; a priest should do that. I cannot let the “shoulds” control me. If I am disappointed, it leads to anger and resentments. I do not need more anger.
So, I need to figure out whether I am giving a gift or making a trade. My attitude will tell me which. If I have expectations, it is not a gift. It is a gift if I want to give without strings. Then I can be at peace no matter what comes.
To live this way, I must be prepared to say “no!” If I cannot say yes gracefully, I should say no. A no is better than anger against the person to who I am giving. So, is this a gift or a trade? Do I really want to give it?
Fr. James O'Leary
Someone who was depressed recently told me that her whole life was a long mess. There had been nothing good in it; no redeeming moments. That is how depression works. Happily, I had known this person for years, and so I was able to check off many of her gifts and blessings. One by one, she conceded them all. Life is rich; we only have to look honestly.
I think life is so much richer than most of us realize. But we must “Dig down deep.” That is, by the way, the name of a song. If we do not get beyond the superficial things in life, the headlines in the paper, we will never get to the rich part. People enrich us if we really listen and get to know them. There is enough in any person to change our whole outlook if we could hear it. People enrich us, present and past. Shakespeare enriches us, William Butler Yeats, Mozart, they all make their contribution. Children, with their openness and honesty, can enrich us beyond belief. I think children show us who we really are if we listen.
When we reach for or touch the depth of God inside us, then we realize how rich life can be. The process is called prayer. It takes no talent, no superintelligence, no training. It takes willingness. It enriches us.
A story: An Italian family took a boat to the U.S. about 1910. They knew nothing of such travels. They packed food for the journey, mostly apples, and ham sandwiches. After four days at sea, the young son came to his father and said that there was a room upstairs with real food. He had to have some. The father said, “We have no money to spare.” The son begged. The father gave him a dime to see what he could do with it. The son returned with the dime and said, “It’s all free. It’s part of the ticket.” The father said, “We have been starving when there is a feast upstairs?!”
Life is rich. God our Father has set a feast. Yet so many people are going through life on apples and ham sandwiches. Wake up. On the menu, tonight is a gourmet’s delight. We can feast. We do not need to settle for survival.
- Fr. James O'Leary