Is Doing Your Part Enough?

Posted: October 3, 2015 in Altruism, Generosity, Medical School
Tags: , , ,


King David was on a serious streak of military victories when he stopped everything to ask an unusual question: “Is there anyone left in the house of Saul, that I may show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” At a moment when he was riding this wave of conquest, David chose to ask about if there was an opportunity for kindness. He went on to take care of Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth (say that fast, three times) who was lame in both feet. And by take care of, he gave him all of grandpa (Saul’s) land and invited Mephibosheth to dine with him everyday for the rest of his life. He used the words “always” and “continually.” Do we use those words when we give or otherwise act in an altruistic way? I think, instead,  we say things like “I’ve done my part.” If I’m honest, I typically think about what is a reasonable contribution, go ahead with that and give myself a little pat on the back for my generous act. Or when helping someone who is going through a tough financial patch, we say something like “I’m helping him until he gets back on his feet.” Both statements sound perfectly fair, but they also imply a limit on the generous act. Once I give my part, that’s it. Once you are back on your feet, the bank is closed. But what was interesting in David’s story was that the person he was helping was lame, in both feet. This medical fact is mentioned twice in the story. There would be no “getting back on his feet.” And that was fine with David. He simply wrote a blank check and said “You shall eat bread at my table continually.”

But today, giving blank checks makes us nervous, so we rationalize our limits on giving by saying things like “I only have so much money or time or energy” or “If I keep giving, I am enabling so and so’s dependence” or  “What about my turn?”or “This relationship is one-sided” or “I’m being taken advantage of.” And for each of these statements, there is probably a reasonable story to back up why we may  stop giving. But are we even following the rule enough to introduce these exceptions?

What if we stopped counting? What if we gave “continually” sort of offers? What if we dropped our expectation of reciprocation and gratitude and simply offered those we work and live with a permanent seat at the table? What if we just gave free refills no matter how many times we’re called to the table? I imagine a freedom from constantly assessing whether everything is balanced and fair. I imagine a different kind of impact as generosity makes people take notice, but continual generosity makes people change. Will things be unbalanced? Probably. Might we get more than our fair share of work? I think so. Will we even get taken advantage of? Very possibly. But perhaps  the point of David’s story is that we can let even that go and simply eat together at the table. And perhaps the question, then, is not “Have I done my part?” but “Have I done my whole?”

  1. Malaika says:

    What a thoughtful perspective JB! I think this really echoes the compassion of Jesus and how there are no limits to God’s love. In the same way, we do not need to limit our giving to others. We may not always have the financial means but it could be giving time, cooking a meal, paying a visit etc. Thanks for this motivating post!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Waithanjĩ says:

    I couldn’t have said it any better Malaika.

    Liked by 1 person

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