3 Ways to Serve Better at Christmas
Is giving to people in need part of your Christmas? It is for many, many people. In fact, for a great number of people, it’s the only time of year when they do for people in need. Everywhere we turn there is another opportunity to donate to some sort of Christmas campaign aimed at providing gifts for disadvantaged children or families.
Several years ago, I suggested that my family, including my grown children and their children, adopt a family with few resources to provide a good Christmas who otherwise would not have much Christmas. It was a great experience, and I was especially grateful that my young grandchildren were personally involved.
But the truth is I have mixed feelings about this sort of giving. On one hand, I see the joy Christmas giving to people in need that comes to both givers and receivers–children who otherwise would not have much Christmas, parents who cannot provide for their children as they would like to get a reprieve from their sadness. On the other hand, children and families on the receiving end of Christmas giving have needs throughout the year, but they are much less likely to get the help they need. They are remembered at Christmas but not so much the rest of the year.
Christmas is not merry for everyone
In Compassionaries: Unleash the Power of Serving, I write about the resentment some people in need feel when they receive help from “haves.” They resent needing the help of others to provide for their family. They resent the circumstances of loss of employment or illness or unexpected financial stress that led to their need for help from others. And who can blame them? Perhaps they have been self-sufficient for some time but just a paycheck or two away from the “needy” category, and it happens—an extended illness costs them their job, or their car breaks down, and they cannot get to work.
Then there are the masses of people who do work, but they cannot get good paying jobs, so they work multiple jobs, minimum wage jobs, to make ends meet. There is barely enough income to keep the lights on and put food on the table, but nothing for Christmas. For these folk, Christmas is not a happy time but another reminder of how hard life is for them.
Who of us would not resent these circumstances? No wonder these folk have to force a “Thank you” when well-intended “haves” give them gifts at Christmas.
I have a friend who grew up in a family that was dependent on others’ help—at Christmas and throughout the year. When I asked how he felt about that, he said he was embarrassed when his special needs mother asked for help and when others helped them. When possible, he would avoid being present when people came to their apartment with help at Christmas. They had only good intentions, but my friend was reminded of his family’s needs when they came, and it wasn’t a comfortable feeling.
A better way
So how do we help others at Christmas without creating more resentment or anger or hurt? How can we know when those we are trying to help resent our help? I have 3 suggestions:
Don’t just help at Christmas.
A big part of the problem is too many of us think of helping people in need only at Christmas. We are dependent on the culture to remind us there are people in our community who could use our help. Make a point to go back to those you help at Christmas in March or June to help them. Ask them if there are other ways they could use your help other than toys at Christmas. Establish a relationship with them by sitting down with them and learning about them. They will appreciate this more than anything you give them at Christmas or any other time.
Thank the people you help for allowing you to do so.
I learned a long time ago the value of thanking those I serve for allowing me to help them. This surprises them because it has not occurred to them that they are doing those of us who help a favor, but they are. They bless us by receiving from us. They bless us by allowing us to give. They bless us by allowing us to be obedient to the example and commands of Jesus to serve others. When we thank those we serve, we shift the power of the moment from us to them . . . and that’s always a good thing.
Honor others’ dignity when serving them at Christmas.
Some churches put on a Christmas Shop at Christmas. Behind this approach is the desire to protect the dignity of parents who want to give their children a good Christmas but don’t have the means to do so. So, the church buys a wide range of gifts for children of all ages, separates them into boys and girls and age categories, then allows parents to “shop” for their children, maybe asking them to pay a few dollars for what they get. Two things happen in this scenario:
- Christmas gifts to children come from their parents rather than strangers.
- Parents participate in providing Christmas for their children tamping down any resentment they may otherwise feel.
This is a better way. Families are helped . . . in ways beyond toys and the usual Christmas benevolence. I recommend it heartily.
Share the word
If you see in this blog thoughts others need to read, share it. It may not be too late for some who will be attempting to serve others this Christmas.
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