SoulCare® Practices

Serving Others Serves Ourselves

I grew up in a world that was fond of the saying, “God helps those who help themselves.” The sentiment of this pithy grabber showed up in ancient writings long before Ben Franklin made it popular. Then, it made its way to Little House on the Prairie.

I saw a meme the other day that said, “Falling down is an accident. Staying down is a choice”--Unknown. It reminded me of the saying I grew up with. 

I can appreciate the intent behind these proverbial sayings. The encouragement to pick ourselves up. The reminder of our free will and agency. The importance of self-reflection that surfaces things that keep us stagnant.

Proverbs aren’t universal truths. They are things that are sometimes true about life. The implications of these sayings dangerously verge on questioning, “What is wrong with you?” The fact is, we sometimes cannot move without the help of others. Proverbs like this can make us feel broken and helpless.

In my experience, some of the best self-reflection that leads to health comes through helping others. I’m more inclined to think, “Sometimes you will feel strong enough to help yourself, and other times you will need the help of others to help yourself, and often that help comes by helping others who may or may not be able to help themselves.”

Imagine that run-on sentence on a t-shirt.

Research has shown that serving others benefits the one who is serving. As I get older, and I learn things such as blood pressure being reduced through volunteerism, I listen up.

It’s hard to quantify if my blood pressure has been reduced or my life has been extended through service. I can’t measure the physical results myself. However, I most certainly can recognize the results for my mental health, worldview, outlook, and relationships. When I get out of my own way to serve others, my thinking is clearer. I become more tolerant, less selfish, more inclusive, more understanding, and less judgmental. My way of being in the world has been shaped by allowing other beings to affect me through a shared, selfless experience. Serving serves everyone.

When I do something for another, I am often invited into their world. In their world, I observe things that rhyme with my own world and remind me that we are all very much human. I am more aware of my sense of belonging. I make friends in the process. I observe things that cause me to recognize things I should be thankful for. I find myself becoming more empathetic. Perspective. Community. Identity.

Serving others doesn’t always mean signing up for a large volunteer commitment doing something you don’t like. Service to others does not require bloodletting or martyrdom.

I have a friend who once told me he doesn’t enjoy volunteering because he hates the “rah-rah” and frenetic energy surrounding it. That’s because my friend had only been exposed to service in a 3000-member church where everything looks like a parade and a Community Service Day in his town where 1000’s wear matching t-shirts and helicopters fly over to capture the news. He’s not interested in being seen and celebrated for his service. Now, he sometimes shows up with his guitar to visit hurting people and no one ever hears about it.  The letters and notes he receives from people who have been deeply touched by his altruistic generosity are more precious to him than any public recognition he could ever receive.

Give yourself the freedom and prerogative to choose something that gives you joy. Something that gives you life and energy as you do the same for others. A bit of sacrifice in the process is healthy and rewarding but beware of thinking you have to punish yourself for it to count. If you find yourself feeling stuck, angry, resentful, or wiped out, you should probably examine alternative ways to serve.

Are you a newbie to service? Think about small ways you can serve others before going elbows deep. Go shopping for your house-bound neighbor. Ask your spouse or significant other what you can take off their plate to lighten their load. Make a meal for an overworked friend and deliver it . . . just because. Pick up trash.

Where should we start? I’d encourage you to start somewhere that doesn’t live or die by volunteers. Oftentimes, organizations are so thirsty for help, that they don’t take the time to find out about who you are and what the best fit for you will be. Don’t just jump at an opening for a warm body. Do some soul-searching. Ask yourself some simple questions like, “How far am I willing to travel?” “How often am I willing to commit?” “What do I really enjoy doing?” “What are the needs around me?” “Do I need to volunteer to do something that’s established or, can I create my own way of service to others?” “How is my uniqueness best suited to serve others?”

Then, give it a try. If it doesn’t work, give yourself permission to change gears. It’s okay if you don’t find the fit for you at the first try. There is something and someone who needs your unique fingerprint. And, you need them.