One of my favorite things about birthdays and Christmas is the opportunity to give someone just the right gift. The smile that lights them up and the joy on their face warms my heart and I would give it a million times over if I could.
Maybe, like me, you experience joy when you give to others and would love to do more. But does more always mean spending money? Of course not! Serving others isn’t just about money. It’s about investing yourself into the lives of others and allowing them to experience the joy of Christ through you.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Not sure where to start, or feel like you’re just too busy? Or maybe you’re someone who struggles, like I have, to “put themselves out there.” I promise you that God has opportunities out there for you to give and serve. Here’s a few ideas to get even the busiest of us out there making a difference:
1. Volunteer at a local hospital or nursing home: We have the most amazing volunteers that come to the health care facility I work for. There are so many areas where they bless our residents – manicures, reading out loud to someone who cannot see well enough to do it themselves, bringing their children for short visits to residents who are lonely, playing piano for chapel services and hymn sing, performing vocally or instrumentally for special occasions, caroling at Christmas time, helping maintenance with smaller projects, pushing residents in wheelchairs to activities, and even assisting with fundraisers or benefits for employees experiencing a major life event.
This is just a fraction of the volunteer opportunities that we have in our facility – can you imagine the many that are out there in other places? I might be biased, because I have always loved working with the elderly, but there is almost no greater gift than seeing the pure joy that makes their eyes sparkle when they feel cherished, or when they are able to hold the hand of a child. And you can be part of it. Just reach out to a local facility near you and ask to speak to their volunteer coordinator.
2. Take a meal or some baked goodies over to the neighbors: There doesn’t have to be a reason for you to take something to the neighbor. Of course, if they just had a baby, just moved in to the neighborhood, or just had a surgery, those are all great reasons to bring them some of your delicious cooking. But you don’t have to wait for a “reason” – maybe your “reason” is just that you want to show kindness. So next time you make that big pot of chili, a pan of lasagna, a kettle of soup, or a double batch of cookies, package it up in a nice container and take it on over to bless your neighbor. You may even start a friendship you didn’t expect.
3. Volunteer to watch your friend’s kids for a few hours so they can go out on a date: My best friend is known for volunteering to watch the kids of her married friends so that they can have a few hours to themselves. What a wonderful blessing to give them – time to reconnect and just “be” together and focus just on themselves and their relationship – without the strain of worrying about what the kids are up too. Know a single mom or dad? Giving them some much needed “me time” or time to just go out with adult friends is just as important as the time couples need to reconnect. Are you able to help out a stay-at-home mom? Sometimes the small things, like grocery shopping without the distraction of the kids constantly wanting your attention can mean the world to a busy mom (or dad).
4. Help out with the yard work: You don’t have to be a landscaper to help with the yard work. Maybe your elderly neighbor needs help moving the snow from her driveway, or the pregnant mother down the street needs some help mowing her lawn because her husband doesn’t work in town. Helping out with simple day-to-day tasks isn’t glamorous but it’s a great way to be the “hands and feet” Jesus to those right in your community. Outdoor activities like this are also a great opportunity to gather some friends or family and serve together. Not sure where to start? Contact your local church – they often have a good handle on church members or just people in the community who could use a helping hand. The church might even have a group you could join that helps take care of the “hands on” tactile projects that are out there. Before my boyfriend moved to his current city, he had a great group of guy friends that spent a certain portion of their time serving others from the church – moving boxes, painting houses, repairing roofs, moving snow, raking leaves…you get the idea.
5. Organize a benefit for someone in need: The facility I work for is well-known for organizing benefits for employees that are experiencing life-altering events, such as a major car accident, cancer, organ transplants, or the unexpected loss of a loved one. The nursing team and I recently helped organize a baby shower for an employee who lost her spouse shortly before their first child was born. It wasn’t fancy, but it meant so much to her and her family that we cared enough to “come around” her during this difficult time, and at the same time, celebrate the joy that was coming with the soon-to-be arrival of this precious little one who will carry their daddy’s legacy. This is another great way to team up with friends, coworkers, or others you may know through church or a community service group to bless and love someone in need just like Jesus did. I guarantee that you will be blessed 10 fold in ways you didn’t expect.
6. Spend some extra time with your family: I live about an hour from my nieces and nephews, so while that isn’t excessively far away, it’s not like they live just down the street, so the time I get to spend with them is limited. I’ve learned that you only have a small window of time to invest in the little ones before they are “too big” or “too cool” for you and aren’t as jazzed about having you around. So last year, I decided that instead of presents for their birthdays, I was going to put some money into the collegeSAVE accounts I started for them and then take them for a special weekend to spend with me all by themselves – no other siblings around. I have one more that I need to take on her birthday weekend, but it’s been such a hit so far! They love the one on one attention they get from me and my boyfriend when he comes over, and we make a point of doing simple, but fun activities: cooking their favorite meal together (spaghetti is the one most often requested), checking out new parks and spending oodles of time on the tire swing, going to the local pool to swim for a few hours, eating a “fun” meal at McDonald’s or the Pizza Ranch, and playing “tea party,” “pirate ship,” Battleship and dress up – just to name a few. I figured it must have been a hit when I asked them if we should do it again this next year and they all shouted “Yeeeeaaaaahhhhh!” at the top of their lungs. I’m not sure who is looking forward to it more – them or me.
7. Listen: This may seem relatively simple, but when is the last time you took even 20 minutes to really listen to someone and just hear their heart. They may talk about things that don’t even really affect you, but they are affecting them, and to listen to their hardships and their joys is a privilege only known to a few. You don’t have to have perfect answers, or any answers for that matter – you can just listen and let them know that you care and you will be praying for them. What better way to serve another person than by lifting them up to only One who can satisfy their needs?
8. Write a letter of encouragement: Again, you don’t have to have any special words. Just put your pen to the paper and write a short note letting someone know why they are valued, why you appreciate them, or just to let them know that you’ve been thinking of and praying for them. The smallest gestures can often have the biggest impacts.
Now that you have some ideas, it’s time to get moving! I challenge you to choose one area to serve in this next week and make a difference in your family and/or community. After you’ve served, I would love to hear how God worked in your life. You can share your story with me here:
Father, please bless those who are choosing to give of themselves this week, in whatever way you would call them to serve. Show us what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus to our friends, family and community – may we be a light that is ever shining your love upon others. We praise you for your unending blessings and grace.
In Jesus’ Precious and Matchless Name, Amen.