The prayer of Saint Francis has always struck a chord with me. It’s essentially a prayer to be the good in the world. To bring forgiveness to injury, to conquer hate with love, to bring light to darkness, faith to doubt, hope to despair and joy to sadness. Can you imagine a world where that sort of prayer was in the hearts and minds of every person? But St. Francis does not end his petitions there, sainted man that he is. He asks that he seek more to understand, love and console than to be loved, understood or consoled. It is the most selfless prayer I have ever come across, and it’s an aspiration in my life. But there is something in this prayer that is an astounding revelation. If you pray to be so selfless, you will be the one pardoned, the one to receive and the one to be brought to eternal life. Paradoxical? Seemingly. True? Absolutely.
Though there have been countless stories of the benefits of giving and even studies that prove more benefit to a benefactor than a recipient, I have been given the gift of firsthand experience. We all know how good it feels to give a gift. We all know how richly rewarding it is to bring a smile to a sad face or a ray of hope to someone in despair. Giving creates an emotional high, but apparently it also provides a physical high. The Cleveland Clinic reveals that giving has all kinds of health benefits – giving guarantees a healthier, happier and longer life! Who knew? ( besides St. Francis).
A year or so ago, I was walking out of a drugstore. An elderly black man was standing outside and asked me if I had any spare change. Refusing to help anyone in need is not in my DNA, so I fished in my purse for my wallet, only to discover that all I had was change. There was not one single bill in my wallet. Maybe I should be the one asking, “Brother can you spare a dime?” The man gratefully accepted the many coins I placed in his hands and blessed me profusely for my generosity.
Now I feel bad. What I offered probably couldn’t buy him a coffee at the Starbucks next door. I can do better.
An ATM stood at the far end of the parking lot and I ask my friend to stop so I can get some cash. Of course, when it was dispensed, I got a handful of twenty-dollar bills. My friend sees this and hands me three ones and we drive back to the man. He’s still standing on the curb when we pull up and offer him the three dollars. “See how God works!” he declares into the blue sky. “This is a good woman,” he tells my friend. “This is kindhearted woman and you are blessed to be with her.” Now I am somewhat embarrassed, humbled and ashamed that, in exchange for my offering of three measly bucks, I am high-fived all over heaven. This poor man can buy a cup of coffee now, but he won’t be getting any latte or frappuccino, let alone anything to nourish his skeletal body.
Oh Lord, there is tug of the conscience so strong I cannot ignore it. I have to do better.
The man blessed me for eternity when I gave him one of the newly dispensed, twenty-dollar bills. My friend was dubious and admonishes me for the generosity. “That’s why you don’t have any money, Mayo,” he scolds. He can’t take away my helpers high or the buzz I got from the blessing.
Goodness is headed my way, because that’s just the way it works. It’s an inescapable karmic and universal law. Even if the only reward I received was a quieted conscience and good feelings, that’s more precious than money. “Somehow, some way that twenty dollars is going to come back to me ten times!” I proclaimed with faithful certainty. This friend has known me long enough not to argue. He’s not going to change my belief that I have to help those less fortunate even when I’m close to being in need myself.
He deposits me at my house and I am practically skipping up the steps fueled on helpers high. The mailbox is full and I grab the letters – most of it junk – and I indifferently flip through each envelope. One is addressed from my bank, and I am sure it is another credit card offer or worse, a bill of some sort. I’m tempted to tear it up but I open it instead. I’m stunned. Perhaps a bit scared even. It’s a check for a little over two thousand dollars for an escrow payment overage.
Coincidence? Hardly think so. The exact multiple of 20? Of course. I said I would somehow receive 10 times what I gave, but I am always underestimating the Power in the Universe. It was 100 times what I gave. Just didn’t expect it so soon.
Helping someone in need? Fabulous. Getting reimbursed in multiples? Miraculous. The emotional, spiritual and physical benefits of giving? Absolutely priceless.
Oh, the bit about dying in order to be born to eternal life in St Francis’ prayer? Doubtful it means a literal death of the flesh. My take on it is that it’s about the death of ego and selfishness and a rebirth into a meaningful life of spirit that cares more about others. Deep down, I think most of us already know that it is in giving that we receive.