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Guest Post:Is Charity All About Attitude?

by Emily U
Emily is a newly-minted grown up.  She recently finished grad school in biology, is facing the realities of having bought a condo at the height of the housing bubble, and has a 2 year old son.

Last summer I started a new job.  My office has a small staff of a half a dozen people, so I’ve gotten to know each of my co-workers somewhat well.  Soon after I started the job I realized that another woman in the office, I’ll call her Tracy, lives only a few blocks from me.  Tracy doesn’t drive, so she either takes the bus or walks to work.  I don’t know how old she is, but I’d guess she’s just south of 70.  One day as she was leaving, I asked if she wanted a ride home, and she eagerly accepted.  It was a spontaneous offer, and I hadn’t thought through any future expectations the offer would create.  Well, now I give her a ride home every day, and I have a bad attitude about it.  

 

After working with her for several months, I now know that Tracy can be very grumpy.  She complains a lot about her job.  She sometimes yells at people in our department (but she’s never yelled at me).  She curses.  She knows we leave at 4 pm every day, but still acts surprised when I ask if she’s ready to leave.  She fiddles with her purse and coat for what seems like a long time.  She walks slowly, and I am eager to get home to my son.  I don’t think she’s ever delayed me for more than 10 minutes, but at the end of the day, 10 minutes feels like an hour.

 

Giving Tracy a ride home takes very little effort, and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t do it.  I have no plans to stop.  But part of me wishes I had never made that first offer to give her a ride.  The truth is, I just don’t like her very much.  There, I said it.  So how can I get my heart on board with my actions?  I’m not giving her a ride home to win myself points in heaven, because I don’t believe there’s a scoreboard up there with my name on it.  But I keep thinking of Paul’s words:

 

“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” (1 Corinthians, 13:3)

 

I think the church gives us lots of opportunities to do right (visiting teaching, cleaning the building, working at a cannery), and sometimes my heart is into these things, and sometimes it’s not.  Sometimes I do them anyway, sometimes I don’t.  Is there value in doing the right thing when you really don’t want to?  I think so.  But obviously it’s better to have a good attitude about it, because Paul said it’s not charity unless we’re feelin’ it.

 

Are there things you do on a regular basis that you can’t get yourself to like?  What has worked for you to have a better attitude about such things?

 

 

 

 

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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14 Responses

  1. Sarah says:

    I don’t have any answers to your question, but I hope others do. I’ve been feeling similar emotions lately towards my sister-in-law. I am happy to help out when needed, but I feel like I often over promise when situations look bad (like the recent emergency hospital visit in her first trimester of her second pregnancy) and then end up taken advantage of later when things are going better but she feels those offers are still in place.

    I guess I’m just throwing in a “me, too!” so you know you are not alone. 🙂

  2. Caroline says:

    I’ve never really liked the extremism of Paul’s remark. Seems to me like it’s obviously better to do good, even if it’s grudging, than to not do good. Though, like you, Emily, I appreciate the idea that it’s better if done with charity.

    I think you are a saint for giving this difficult person a ride home every day. Whether or not you enjoy doing it, you’re still making this woman’s life better in a very meaningful way.

    And the idealistic part of me wonders if maybe at some point some more likable qualities might become apparent if you hit on the right subject matter to talk about.

    As for me, I don’t always have a very good attitude about taking care of my son. I adore him, of course, but he drives me nuts much of the time. I certainly can’t say I enjoy doing a lot of the motherly tasks that I suppose I should be doing with the utmost love.

  3. G says:

    oh my, I hope that other people chime in with good suggestions because I could sure use them too. i still have so much “sweet spirit” training ingrained in me; I just suffer through things that I would rather shrug off.
    good luck with this.

  4. Zenaida says:

    I think sometimes people (myself included) can resent the fact that they need help, and then get grumpy with the very hand that feeds because they wish they didn’t need it (or maybe I’m projecting). I really admire you for giving that service even though it is inconvenient and seemingly unappreciated. It seems like charity will be built by continuing with an act of service.

  5. Emily U says:

    I think you’re right, Caroline, that Paul’s remark is extreme. It’s certainly not the only extreme thing he said, and I have no trouble rejecting the “man is the head of the woman” business or cutting my hair short, so maybe I shouldn’t let this verse about charity bother me too much, either.

    And I know what you mean about taking care of your son. Being a mom tries my patience every day, and I really look forward to my son’s bedtime every night.

    I hope you are right, Zenaida, that time will help my attitude. It probably will, if only because I don’t have the energy to maintain my negativity forever.

  6. mb says:

    I use the following when I’m in such situations. Maybe it will be helpful.

    1. I realize that the reason I’m upset is because the annoying person is not living up to my expectations. I’m annoyed because they are not acting the way I want them to and I’d really like to be able to change that. I’d like to be able to control their behavior, but I cannot. Nor, for that matter, should I.

    2.I rehearse the fact that I have three choices: a) I can get mad and annoyed and smoulder over it, b) I can decide to stop being with them ( tell them I can no longer offer rides, any other such thing), or c) I can decide to just cheerfully do what needs to be done to manage around their annoying behavior and to be cheerful no matter how they choose to react to that. (That could include telling her you can’t wait any longer and cheerfully leaving without her when you need to leave quickly, negotiating resolutions to her transportation woes, arranging a trade-off with her or cheerfully waiting or whatever you decide.) Any one of those three choices is perfectly legitimate. I just need to decide which one I want to choose.

    3.I make sure I have plenty of other reasons to be cheerful and I tap into them fully when I’m interacting with the annoying person.

    4.I steel myself to be completely honest in my interactions with the person. I spent too many years of my life not saying things just to keep the peace or be polite. It makes more problems than it solves. I need to (calmly) tell the truth about what I think and feel. That’s harder than I’d like to be when it involves someone older than me, but it needs to be done.

    I haven’t got it all down yet. But the above has helped me a lot. And interestingly, when I employ them, my feelings of charity for the annoying individual actually increase.

  7. mb says:

    Emily,
    Your comment about Paul and your teaching Biblical studies makes me want to ask, have you read What Paul Really Said About Women: The Apostle’s Liberating Views on Equality in Marriage, Leadership, and Love by John T. Bristow?
    If so, what did you think of it?

  8. mb says:

    oops, got it wrong. It’s Emily CC who teaches.
    I’d be interested in either Emily’s thoughts.

  9. Emily U says:

    mb –

    Thanks for your good advice. It takes a lot of maturity to do the things you suggest, and I hope I’m up to it! In any case, just being aware of the fact that we are choosing our reactions and behaviors (whether we’re really conscious of it or not) is helpful.

    I haven’t read the book by Bristow, but it sounds like something I should pick up. Sounds like a great book group idea.

  10. EmilyCC says:

    Great post, Emily! This is something I think about a lot. I like to think the more I do certain acts of service, the better my attitude gets, so I practice. I’m getting good about taking non-friends’ kids at a moment’s notice, I can make a dinner rather happily, but I could get angry and/or judgemental when I did either of those about 3-4 years ago. There are other acts of service that continue to be hard for me, so I’ll keep practicing, I guess. And, I’m with mb: I also feel better when I’m honest with them and maintain my boundaries.

    mb, I’m no Pauline authority (though the book sounds interesting, I’ll put it on my Goodreads list). However, we have a new blogger coming on board who is. Maybe she’ll weigh in.

  11. Alisa says:

    As I read this yesterday, I could totally empathize but not think of a good solution. For me, mb’s #4 hits at it. I can imagine this woman complaining over and over, and just listening to that would really drag me down. In these intances, trying a different approach to responding to her complaints might be good, for your own growth as well as hers.

  12. EBrown says:

    Paul reiterates the Jesus meme that it’s what’s in your heart and not do much what you do that ultimately matters. Although Jesus and Paul extol the corporal works of mercy there is a tension there between taking care of ” the least of these” and being a “whited sepulchre.” That being said, I don’t think the situation of the first poster is the one contemplated by Paul, as she is not satisfied with her attitude, which is conflicted, but facing in the direction of caritas. Moreover, caritas in the Pauline sense is not the same as “like.”

    We must remember Augustine who prayed, “Make me chaste, Lord, but not yet.”

  13. Kiri Close says:

    Personally, yeah, i do feel there is quite a bit o’ ‘something’ great in the charity we want/don’t want to give, but give anyway.

    However, having said that, don’t run faster than you’re able, Emily.

    That’s my 2 cents (as I truly love to serve, not be servile to, others).

    As all things, this situation is difficult.

  14. Kiri Close says:

    & you never know, Emily: ‘Tracey’ may end up being your best friend in the long run — and as we all know, the BFF’s we have (& the BFF’s we are) complain a lot & we make allowances for that (e.g., this very X2 blog).

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