From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace: In giving, we rejoice

by Lori Fontana

(From the Dec. 20, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

I saw a great quote the other day, attributed to Lord Rochester: “Before I got married, I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories.” Since I do have six children, the quote caught my eye. And, as a matter of fact, I’ve tried many a theory with my children, and have learned that there is no one theory that will work at all times, for every child.

Should we parents, then, just throw up our hands and let our children raise themselves? No, I think we can decide on certain basic principles for child-rearing and then work at them over the years, trying different approaches and discarding ones that don’t work for us.

Compassionate inclusion of others in our lives is one value my husband and I have held fast to as we raise our children. We want our family to be part of a community of people. We want to be loved and cared for, challenged and held accountable by people who love us. Completing the picture, we strive to be aware of the needs of those around us and meet those needs, as we are able. And we want all this for our children, too. How can we implement this theory?

We’re all very busy. How can we fit another project or errand or person into our circle of life? Including people means just that — drawing others into the daily routine of our lives. Are we playing cards tonight or watching a favorite movie? We can invite our elderly neighbor over for the evening. Making a trip to the mall? Maybe a young mom with three little children would like to go with you, especially with your extra pair of hands to corral her little ones. Have a big pot of Irish stew on the stove with enough to share? Perhaps the single dad you know with four children could join you for supper. In each of these scenarios, everyone benefits.

Years ago, our society was much less structured as far as “social services” go. Mostly, people just seemed to do the neighborly thing. Mothers fed hobos who came to their doors during the Depression. Aunts and uncles took in children who were orphaned. Food and news were shared across the backyard fence, and when someone had a need, usually a neighbor or family member could meet it. Though it was often a sacrifice, people just did it.

In today’s rush of activity, much of that neighborliness has been lost. Most of us aren’t even home for the majority of our day. Often we know our neighbors only enough to wave as we drive by. The front porch is a thing of the past. Yes, we still have “a heart” for those who suffer or are in need. Look at the incredible outpouring after Sept. 11. But today’s giving is often to agencies, which in turn have more direct contact with the needy.

This kind of giving is valuable. But I want my children to know that they have something valuable to give as persons; and in their giving, they will also receive — the one who is vulnerable and impoverished in some obvious way has a great gift to give also.

Giving to agencies is a very efficient but detached way to show compassion and charity to others. We need some of that, but we also need to roll up our sleeves to embrace people in need, and perhaps get messy in the process. We must draw the needy into the everyday fabric of our lives. One family we know has “adopted” an elderly bachelor, Henry. He is invited to their family birthday parties, First Communions, graduations, and all holiday celebrations. He doesn’t always come, but he knows he is welcome. The family goes to his house some Friday nights to play Rummy and drink root beer. Sometimes they work together on very challenging 1,000-piece puzzles. And the family calls him for a ride when their car breaks down.

There is mutual give and take with this relationship. Henry would seem to be the needy one; but, in fact, the family who has drawn him into its circle needs him, too. Including this elderly gentleman fulfills a basic need for community that our monetary gifts to an agency don’t give us. St. Francis’s prayer is really true: “In giving, we receive.” And when we teach our children to give of themselves to others, to include others in their lives, our world becomes more compassionate and a little closer to the reign of God.

(Lori Fontana works in evangelization ministry in the Diocese of Yakima.)

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