Generosity & Volunteering helps us cope positively with suffering … while selfish people struggle badly with suffering
How do we respond to the events of life?
I’d suggest that the Christian Life (as should all the great Religions in the world), help us to respond positively about the good and “bad” things that happen to us.
This is because the Christian Life helps us realise three things if we want to be happy:
1) my life is not just about me – it’s about US (ie. you and I, not the USA).
2) I do not have full control of my life – perhaps not even 50%!
3) The Christian Life is full of gratitude for what we have, even if waiting for more.
The structure of prayer that we grow up with, the rituals and liturgies that we celebrate, are all helpful in giving us positive things to do to discipline our “thinking” when we are suffering.
Why? Because the rituals and prayers turn our vision away from ourselves to the community and world around us, as well as Heaven “surrounding” us in invisible ways that we just “feel”.
Even so, the story of Job has its low points, as we hear in today’s First Reading. At times, the suffering gets to be too much: and that happens to us as well. Job teaches us that, although we complain, don’t lose hope. Although we might be angry with God, don’t throw God away.
The reason why we should keep hoping, and not throw God away, is because, when we are sick we turn inwards and become the victim: and a victim needs a rescuer! Now, a victim sometimes has to blame themselves for part of the difficulties. But, even when totally innocent, other people are usually the cause: God is not causing the suffering!
The Gospel shows us that God is very interested in removing our pain and suffering. The healing of Simon’s Mother-In-Law reveals a real connection between a healthy life and our service to the community: after she was healed, she immediately started serving the group.
What about us, especially those of us who are not sick, are we actively serving others?
There is a strong connection between good health +happiness, and not being sick.
As we grow older, the importance of significant service to the community and our health will become even more important. When we are young, we need a certain freedom to develop our skills and basic resources. However, even the youth benefit greatly from some community service for the good of others: if nothing else, it creates a strong bond of love and concern between themselves and older people who can then assist them to develop.
A certain Jesuit College in Sydney, Australia, introduced mandatory community service “work” for the senior students, to be done with the fathers of the young men. The positive effects for the school community and the young men themselves was immediately obvious:
The older students were more encouraging to the younger students; bullying reduced substantially; and academic grades slowly improved for many of the students.
Our emotional well-being and academic performance are very much connected.
What about middle-life with children and the stress of managing, and providing for, a family?
The results are also clear: families involved in community events/ community service, are happier and more connected – less likely to suffer family breakups. There is research to support this
As one website explains: Why volunteer? With busy lives, it can be hard to find time to volunteer… Volunteering offers vital help to people in need, worthwhile causes, and the community, but the benefits can be even greater for you, the volunteer. The right match can help you to find friends, connect with the community, learn new skills, and even advance your career. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/volunteering-and-its-surprising-benefits.htm
We probably don’t think of Jesus as a “volunteer” but, in fact, we see Jesus as a volunteer “doctor” in today’s Gospel: healing people for many hours. The humanity of Jesus was strengthened by His volunteering, which gave him endurance during the suffering of the Cross.
Recently, a Doctor in Sydney, Australia (an immigrant himself), was giving free services to the sick during the pandemic because many people are out of work. Friends in Israel gave foster-care to a troubled teenager: it was hard work, but so rewarding for them.
In recent weeks I’ve been much inspired by the courage and generosity of several of our Oblate youth, here in Nairobi, who have been sacrificing the little salary they receive – and sometimes others – so they can give food to the orphans in various locations around Nairobi. And they feel good about it. Sacrificing time, transport money, etc. They are healthy and happy.
What about us? Do we volunteer? Do we want to be more healthy? Think about it.
Our ability to endure suffering positively draws on the energy we’ve created by our generosity.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI