I once knew a family for whom everything went wrong. Consistently. For instance, the father of the family decided to retile the leaky roof on his house. But when winter came, it wasn’t done, and they all crowded into one room, and all got ill.
They had a massive vegetable garden, kept chickens (this was in America!) but somehow there was never any money. The mother of the family kept telling everyone how many years it was since she had bought a new dress.
If there was illness going around, they caught it. The children were scrawny and sickly. The mother had frequent psychosomatic illnesses which made it painful to her to move, and periodically the church pitched in, taking them meals and cleaning the house. |And then, the house was clean and the children well fed.
The father worked, but was adolescent, demanding home-made blueberry pies for dessert, for instance. The mother was overwhelmed. The children consequently were not particularly brought up, rarely helping about the house.
They switched churches frequently, once they guiltily felt they had exhausted the resources of love and compassion and helpfulness of their current church.
The father had a dead-end, low wage job. He wasn’t particularly bright, and probably didn’t have the greatest career prospects whichever field he entered. And then he got a destructive promotion to an itsy-bitsy managerial position, which meant no paid overtime, which sent the family further downhill. They were never able to keep any cash in the bank.
I and my friends often discussed this family, and wondered why they were financially struggling, when apparently they worked as hard, or harder than other people.
* * *
Interestingly, there was another family in the same church we attended, whose sole breadwinner had exactly the same job. Neither man was particularly brilliant, and the second family had two more children.
Yet, this family thrived. The children worked hard and brought in money from their part-time jobs doing baby-sitting, and yard work. The mother was a genius of thrift. They had many friends who helped them.
What was the difference? Energy, survival smarts, practical intelligence?
And another small thing. I knew both families, and did various small favours for the first family—took meals over, gave them things, hired their kids at overly-generous rates. Nothing helped very much. The other family, when I thought of it, helped me, though I was better off–introducing me to writers they happened to know; giving me useful information on the town I was new to; and lots of practical tips.
The other was essentially a selfish family, never to my knowledge helping anyone, always absorbing the help of others, while not appearing grateful, simply because all the help was just a drop in the bucket compared to their needs. I don’t mean to imply that they decided to be selfish; I mean the struggle to keep their heads above water, and compete—for the mum did have aspirations for her children—absorbed all their energies.
Recently, I put my finger on the essential difference between two families. One was selfish, only looking out for itself. The family that sought to bless other with what they had, even if it was just information and connections, was blessed. They eventually bought a large house in a good part of town on one limited income. The children all went to college. The family that just looked out for itself, never volunteered in church, for instance, did not thrive.
But when I came upon that difference it was an ah-ha moment. Was the selfishness linked to the fact that there was no flow of blessings in their life? I thought of other families I knew, who may have had money, but did not have blessing, as defined by friends who love you, a loving family, an enjoyment of life, health, well-being, shalom. They were all selfish.
Conversely, the families I knew, whether Christian or not, who were blessed with versions of the good life, which is, to my mind, a combination of success to some extent, financial sufficiency, friends, good family relationships, being respected for the content of one’s character, internal peace, were giving families, both on a personal level, and in involvement through volunteerism with the church, community and schools.
It’s the law of the tides. Give even when you are busy and overwhelmed, and blessings come back to you. What you sow, you reap. But to sow sparingly or not at all in the field of life, means a meagre or non-existent harvest. And the surest way to be blessed is to bless.
I realised that the hardest, least blessed times in our family’s life was when we were selfish as a family, trying to conserve time, money and resources, chiefly because we were overwhelmed. Things changed when we decided to be generous and to bless other people in small ways, mainly with money, but also with time and energy.
And I became determined that we would certainly NOT be a selfish family. I began, to look out for small ways our family could bless others. Lending things, giving our things to people we knew who needed them (even buying a replacement on occasion!!), rigorously giving away things we no longer needed, storing things for people, giving money, having people over for meals, helping people move, just sowing good seed into the field of life. Partly because one of the things I really want in life is God’s blessing, and it is in blessing that we are blessed; it is in giving that we receivel it is in sowing that we reap.
Sometimes, when one is busy and overwhelmed, one almost has to decide to, by faith, take the time to help and bless, knowing that that is the sure way to be blessed with the time, energy and blessing one desires oneself.