It’s strange realising that something you used to think was trite and preachy is actually worth thinking about.
In other news, I was just hugged by a homeless person.
Growing up in Christian culture, you get very used to reading Inspirational Stories. (These being capitalised because, unlike stories that happen to be inspiring, these ones are likely to end up with glossy covers and the words “An Inspirational True Story of a Teen Who Found Her Way” emblazoned across the front. The inspiration is built right in.)
You hear about teens who succeeded at basketball and followed Christ, young adults who volunteered in the third world and followed Christ, and kids who preached the gospel to their classmates and followed Christ. Interestingly, the basketball, the volunteering, and the preaching are all equally unconnected to “following Christ”: apparently the way people follow Christ is by having a cool Bible and putting posters of Inspirational Poetry up on their bedroom wall – actions have nothing to do with it.
I used to roll my eyes at all these Inspirational Stories. I still used to read them, though – because they were there, I was bored, and I secretly wanted to star in one of them.
(I will never star in one of them. Which is sad. But happily, I just got hugged by a homeless person, which pretty much made my day.)
There was one theme that kept coming up in the Inspirational Stories: that helping people is really not a sacrifice; it’s a blessing.
Volunteering at a soup kitchen? A blessing.
Helping tsunami victims? A blessing.
Being nice to people you don’t like? A blessing.
Working your arse off for people who won’t notice? A total blessing.
Giving all your stuff to charity? Huge blessing.
Apparently, the more self-sacrificing you were, and the crappier it felt, the bigger the blessing. Which made sense, sort of – you’d get character growth (a good thing, supposedly), and then a really cool reward in heaven (also good, if vague) to make up for not enjoying it one little bit.
I would read the umpteenth story of an Inspiring Teenager serving the world in unappealing ways, and gushing “It’s a real blessing, it really is!!!” And I’d roll my eyes, and wonder if I could convince them to act as my personal slave if I promised them vague “blessings” for doing so.
Because, really, “blessings” are all very well. But sometimes doing the right thing sucks, and we should either be doing it even though it sucks, or not doing it at all. Sugar-coated promises of blessings we won’t get are just patronizing.
That was ten years ago. I’ve changed a bit since then.
Today, I got hugged by a homeless person. This being because I
1) gave him twenty dollars
2) gave him an Easter egg
Not exactly earth-shattering, especially when you consider that I regularly spend more than that on junk food, silly hats, or dvds I’ll never get round to watching. But it’s much more than I’d have done a few years ago.
Today I am starting to figure out some stuff that teenaged-me would have rolled her eyes at. And one of them is that when people say that sacrifice is a blessing, they might actually mean it.
Giving up something – whether it’s money, time, anger, revenge, possessions, or whatever else – can be hard, but it can also be liberating. Realising that this thing I hold so tightly to simply doesn’t matter compared to loving the people around me is freeing, in a way I was never expecting. It’s wonderful being able to take something I have, and say “You know what? This really isn’t important. I’m going to let go of it, and make someone else happy in the process.”
It is, in short, a blessing.
Today I got hugged by a homeless person, because he thought I’d given him a gift that warranted a hug. I wish I’d been able to tell him that I felt the same way.
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