By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published December 9, 2010
Doing good deeds can be quite dangerous at times. For example, you might feel so amazingly virtuous that you start suspecting a halo is attached to your head.
I confess this has happened to me. You see, I sometimes get the “glow” of goodness, which comes from realizing I’m making a big sacrifice for someone.
Maybe you’re visiting a friend in the hospital, taking food to a new mother or washing an elderly neighbor’s car. You’re really in the Christian zone, so to speak—and you may almost envision the dictionary definition of “saint” with your photo next to it.
Until it all comes crashing down, that is. Until the person you’re washing the car for points out all the spots you missed. And the lady you cooked for mentions that she’s allergic to chicken—which, of course, is what you made.
At that point, the warm and fuzzy feeling connected with good deeds starts to feel more like a bad itch. Instead of a big “thank you” and a giant smile from the folks you’re so graciously serving, all you get is a shrug and a sneer.
Well, when it happened to me, I must confess I reacted rather poorly. It’s not that I said anything to the folks whom I thought I was helping. Instead, I moped about and wrung my hands.
I even went so far as to wonder: If the folks you’re trying to help end up complaining, and you end up feeling morose and inept, why even bother helping them?
Well, according to worldly wisdom, if you don’t get properly thanked, you shouldn’t bother at all. It’s easy to imagine a newspaper pundit like Dear Abby emphasizing how vital it is for folks to be acknowledged for their good deeds, so they’ll feel “validated.”
Fortunately, a wise priest gave me deeper wisdom from a Christ-centered, not worldly, perspective. Msgr. Richard Lopez reminded me that whenever we feel underappreciated, rejected or neglected, we have a hint of what Jesus felt.
After all, Jesus had to deal with scheming Pharisees and indifferent crowds. He had the sorrow of seeing his friends run away from him when he most needed them. In Jesus’ case, as Msgr. Lopez put it, there was “so much given and so little received or understood.”
And that, of course, is exactly what happens to many Christians today. They give so much of themselves as they visit the sick, the imprisoned, the elderly and the dying. Sure, some people respond with a huge smile and a giant “thank you.”
Others may hardly seem to notice—or, even worse, they may accuse do-gooders of having the wrong motives.
As Mother Teresa put it, “If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.” She added, “Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.”
In “The Hidden Power of Kindness,” the author, Father Lawrence Lovasik, defines saints as people who “were cheerful when it was difficult to be cheerful, patient when it was difficult to be patient … and agreeable when they felt an urge to scream.”
Jesus didn’t seek approval in the eyes of the world, nor did he expect to be “validated” when he helped people. Yes, some people loved him and followed him—but others completely rejected him, spitting in his face and clamoring for his death.
When we try to follow Jesus, we can expect to run into difficulties and misunderstandings. At times we may feel like doormats.
But rather than giving up, we need to remember why we serve others. It isn’t for the pats on the back or invisible brownie points. We do it out of love for Jesus Christ, and that’s enough.
Or as Mother Teresa so aptly put it, in the final analysis, “It’s between you and God.”
Lorraine Murray’s latest book is “Death of a Liturgist,” a fun-filled mystery featuring Francesca Bibbo, Detective Tony Viscardi and Ignatius the hamster. Artwork for this column is by her husband, Jef. The Murrays are parishioners at St. Thomas More in Decatur. Readers may contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.