|"Charity" by William Adolphe Bouguereau, 1878|
In college I worked on a volunteer Rape Crisis Response team.
For three years I took turns carrying a pager for 48 hours each month, responding to dozens of summons from the hospital and the police office to help women who had just reported a rape.
I stayed with women as they went through the physical exams to "prove" they had been raped, I held their hands as they talked to the police, I fed them, I listened, I gave them new clothes and underwear out of my backpack when the police had to keep theirs as evidence, and-- while they rarely cried-- I waited with them as their hearts broke.
It was a hard job, and to this day I am not quite sure what possessed me to sign up or to keep at it for three years.
In fact, I dreaded every time I had to carry the pager. I lived in constant fear that it would go off and I would have to drop what I was doing and go. It wasn't that I didn't feel that what I was doing wasn't important, it was just that it was a pretty thankless job. Most of the women I helped were too much in survival mode to thank me for my help (and I would never have expected them too), most of the doctor and nurses were too busy to pay me much attention, the police officers usually saw me as a nuisance, and except for the occasional friend or sister who acknowledged my presence rarely did anyone appreciate what I was doing. Still, I knew that being there made a difference and so I kept showing up, but it was hard.
I remember one time in particular, Jon and I were newly married and our friends were visiting from out of town on a Sunday afternoon. I had just made dinner and we were just about to sit down to eat when the pager went off. I called into the office and learned that there was an 18-year-old girl at the hospital who needed my help.
More than anything in the world I did not want to go. I didn't want to leave my friends and my fresh baked dinner. I knew what awaited me, 8 + hours in the hospital filled with a lot of sadness and heartache, and I just plain didn't want to go. I seriously considered not showing up. I reasoned that the girl didn't even know that I was suppose to come and she would be okay without me anyway.
In the end my conscience won out and I went... but I wasn't happy about it.
I grumbled all the way to the hospital, I grumbled all the way across the parking garage, I grumbled all the way up the stairs and into the emergency room. Yet as soon as I saw the girl who needed my help I forgot all about my friends and dinner and poured my heart into helping her.
Ten hours later, I drove home just as the sun was coming above the mountains.
As I parked my car in the drive way of our little house I made myself take a moment and remember what I felt like. Even though it had been a sad night, I felt deep joy. I knew that I had just been an administering angel to that girl in her time of need. I knew the Lord had blessed me to say and do things that would help her. I felt sad remembering how much I had not wanted to respond to the call, and how I almost hadn't gone.
This, I told myself, is what charity feels like.
Charity is giving service even when you really don't want to. Charity is giving service even when it goes completely unrecognized. Charity is giving service when it is the hardest thing you have ever had to do. Charity is giving when you have nothing. Charity is completely loosing yourself on behalf of someone else.
In those moments in my car I realized that charity is the type of service that makes us freeze in our tracks and yell, "That is asking too much!"" ... Charity... suffereth long... vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up... seeketh not her own... Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth." (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8)
It is putting your dreams on hold to be there for a siblings who needs you, it is carrying a baby when your body aches in pain, it is caring for your elderly parents in your home when it would be easier to pay someone else to do it, it is getting up in the middle of the night with a sick child, it is answering a friend's phone call when you know she is going to need to talk for hours, it is waiting all night with a girl who has just been raped... it is, literally, giving of yourself.
Just like the Savior did.
Real charity is never easy to give, which is in exactly how you know you are giving it.
What times in your life have you given, or received, true charity?